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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

14 Ways to Improve Work Performance and Get Ahead of Your Career

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14 Ways to Improve Work Performance and Get Ahead of Your Career

I have a friend whose parents can be a little “absent.” They will disappear for months on end – meaning they don’t answer calls or emails and don’t reach out or connect. And then all of a sudden they appear with an invitation to go to dinner at a fancy restaurant and they give him $500 to go shopping. This is what my friend calls The Grand Gesture.

Sure, it’s nice – but it wouldn’t be necessary if there were just some regular check-in’s and opportunities to visit together from time to time.

I see improving work performance and getting a leg up on your career in the same light. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference – and there are a ton of little things you can do, day in and day out, to make that difference you need when promotion time rolls around next quarter, next season, or next year.

1. Set Goals

Goal setting can happen anytime you need it – you can set daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, quarterly goals…shoot, you could set hourly goals if productivity was that important in your work.

We all need something to shoot for, so give yourself that target with your goal setting.

Don’t forget to make your goals as “SMART” as they can be: specific, measurable, achievable, results oriented, and time-bound. Write them down, and get them done!

2. Visualize Your Future

This is just another way of goal setting, but a little more bigger picture.

Where do you want to be next year? In five years? Ten years? Is an advanced degree in your future? Do you see yourself in a President or CEO’s office?

Visualize that future – really see yourself in the position of your dreams! And spend some time writing about it.

Check out this one simple technique to help you better visualize.

3. Know What You Want

This is not the same as knowing what you DON’T want. Do you want to work evenings and weekends? No, that’s something you don’t want. Do you want to be an account executive? Okay, that’s better.

Before I became a mid-level manager, I used to say that I didn’t want to advance in higher education because I didn’t want to be that far removed from students. And that was keeping me in lateral positions, not allowing myself to grow.

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Once I reminded myself that I could make the choice to be more connected to students, I gave myself permission to pursue more promotions. And I figured out what I wanted. Then I went out and got it!

4. Invest in Your Own Professional Development

You may work for a company who will pay for you to attend conferences and seminars; and you may be lucky enough to work for a company that will pay for additional degrees and training programs. Or, you may not.

Either way – professional development IS an investment, whether you are spending your own money or just your time. And it’s an investment to consider seriously so that you don’t waste time or money.

What skills do you want to develop? Is there a career path you wish to follow? How and where will you find the information about these things?

Figure out where and how to get it – and if you must develop your own curriculum do get it done, so be it. Equip yourself with these work related skills will get you a successful career.

5. Read more

This is a little similar to the previous point, but reading is something you should be doing more of anyway. Mental Floss cites six scientific reasons why you should read more,[1] including longer life, relieving stress, and helping you transform as a person. More benefits of reading can be found here.

I don’t know about you, but I feel strongly that transformation can help you with that getting ahead in the workplace.

We’re not just talking about non-fiction stuff either. Fiction reading actually aids in that transformation, as you are potentially identifying with the characters and taking yourself to places and worlds you may not see…EVER. Nothing like a little transformation to improve your outlook on life and work.

The flip side of this is also to read more about your vocational field and staying current in your industry. The last thing you want to do when you’re looking to get ahead in your job is to look out of date and unfamiliar with trends and new insights.

Go ask your supervisor which industry journals you should subscribe to and see what she has to say about that. I’m pretty sure you’ll get a positive response.

6. Network Naturally

My former student and good friend Jeffrey Harrington at CSU-Chico started taking Campus Walks when he was still a live-in hall director in his early 20’s. Those daily walks didn’t always have specific direction to them…until they did.

Jeff started making connections all over the campus and people began looking forward to seeing him in their halls. He made connections and friendships that last to this day. And it’s all because he got up from his desk and took a walk.

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While you may not have the luxury of a college campus in which to stroll, there should be other options to network naturally and visit other floors, sections, or departmental areas where you can see people and be seen.

You might find a mentor, a new friend, or a different understanding of your organization that will give you a leg up when you are looking for that promotion next year.

7. Ask Questions

You don’t know everything about your job or your company already…do you?

Maybe you do, but if you know everything then you have no need for growth.

That’s not going to help you.

Next big department meeting? Ask about the new project that was just introduced. Next one-on-one meeting with your supervisor? Ask her how she landed in this field. Having coffee with one of your team members? Ask him what he likes most about working here.

There really is no such thing as a stupid question, especially if you ask it with sincerity. Generally speaking, people do like to talk about themselves, especially if they are asked about something they do well.

Be thoughtful and strategic – that’s a ton of free knowledge getting dropped on you.

8. Shadow a Big Wig

This one might be a little tricky – but ask your boss if any opportunities exist for you to spend a day with the Big Boss. Or maybe just your supervisor’s supervisor. Or find the time to sit in on the open Board Meeting or Executive Session that no one else from your peer group considers.

Just ask. The worst that can happen is you get told no. Then do one of the other things on this list.

9. Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

One of the most humbling lessons in my early professional years happened when I worked in the Saint Louis area. I was tasked with finding off campus housing for about 20 MBA students from China. For some reason the idea of this project infuriated me, and I was not really motivated to succeed.

I secured the housing and made arrangements for my department to make the deposit payment. I was about to drive over to the complex to deliver the funds when my supervisor called with bad news.

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The President of our college learned of the housing location and was beside himself. Not only did the housing I selected not have full kitchens for the students, the complex was more than five miles from the campus and not on a decent bus route. I had created a horribly unwelcoming situation for these students who were paying incredible amounts of money to study in the United States.

All because I had a negative feeling about something and didn’t do my best work.

After praying for hours and hoping that I would not get fired, my boss told me a piece of advice I have never forgotten: “Solve the problem first, and have your feeling later.”

So what does all this have to do with getting outside your comfort zone?

I didn’t want to be the housing locator – this was not in my wheelhouse and I obviously didn’t think it was my job. So rather than look at the silver lining – a chance to engage with some international students and give them a welcoming living experience – I opted to kick the dirt and stomp around rather than embrace the chance to learn a new skill or make the college President feel at ease.

So when you have the opportunity to do something different, new, or foreign to your own current experience, jump on it. Make it glorious. And if it’s not, then lesson learned.

10. Ask for More Work

What? Who wants to do more work? I’m sure you probably don’t…but what if asking for more work gets you a prime seat on the next big project that’s coming down the pike? Or volunteering for that extra committee gives you the opportunity to meet the VP from another department? These are small examples that could lead to big things.

Don’t go crazy – pick your extras carefully. And don’t ever shy away from the chance to learn something new.

11. Control Your Calendar

Unless you have an assistant who makes all your appointments and schedules all your meetings, I’m pretty sure that you can go in and hold blocks of work time on your own calendar to get stuff done.

Make time for this at least three times a week and close your door so you can really knock out some important tasks without interruptions. Show your laser focus when you turn in your project one day (one week?) ahead of time and you aren’t having to stay late to get things finished.

12. Get More Sleep

Do I really have to explain this one? Sleep deprivation is bad for your health, which can also be bad for your bank account. Forbes magazine cited research stating that increased sleep led to a 5% wage increase in its participants.[2] Not too shabby.

And if the wage increase doesn’t convince you, consider these other ramifications of sleep deprivation:

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  • plummeting memory and productivity
  • learning abilities slow down
  • poor relationships with your teammates

Unless you know something I don’t, these don’t sound like ways to get ahead in your career. Get some more sleep, already!

13. Exercise

I’ve had 9 different jobs at 9 colleges in 7 states – and the jobs where I felt the most successful were those where I developed a consistent morning exercise habit as part of my daily routine. Whether I was going to the gym, running, or swimming, I felt more energized and much sharper on my exercise days.

Exercise improves your mood, lessens your stress, and can also boost your productivity levels in the work place. Take this to the next level and organize a softball, kickball (yes, this is not just for grammar school anymore) or volleyball league with your colleagues and peers. Or challenge your supervisor to a racquetball game. Or not.

14. Enjoy Your Work…Or Find Something Else

Do you love what you do?

No? Why not?

Then why do you still work there?

Has anyone asked you these questions? If you just asked them yourself and you can’t come to any conclusions, then it may be time for a change.

Take the time to reflect on how you landed in this particular gig. Make a list of pros and cons about the position. Evaluate your real feelings about the work. And talk to someone.

It’s never too late to start again if you are miserable. We have a gosh-darn-rock-and-roll-American right to enjoy our vocation.

Final Thoughts

Advancement is still available through some of the old fashioned ways: who you know or how many hours you work. But any combination of these little things, done consistently and over time, should give you an edge to improve your work performance and get ahead in your career.

Enjoy all the new things you will learn…the new friends you will meet, and the journey that comes with it. Either way, you can’t lose.

Featured photo credit: Tyler Franta via unsplash.com

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Kris McPeak

Educator, Author, Career Change and Work/Life Balance Guru

9 Practical Ways to Achieve Work Life Balance in a Busy World 14 Ways to Improve Work Performance and Get Ahead of Your Career How to Switch Careers and Get Closer to Your Dream Job How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position 8 Impressive Questions to Ask During an Interview

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Last Updated on January 10, 2022

What to Do When You Hate Your Job but Want a Successful Career

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What to Do When You Hate Your Job but Want a Successful Career

Do you remember being invited to your job interview? Do you feel the same way about your job today? There’s nothing more soul-destroying than waking up Monday morning dreading the fact that you’re about to step back into slavery for a job you hate.

You savor every minute at home before sadly turning the key in the lock to close your front door. From that moment on, you’re counting down the hours and minutes until it’s ‘TGIF’. Your anxiety might even start simmering well before your weekend is over.

Your boss might be a bully or a manager who cannot actually lead and guide their team. Receiving mixed messages, being twisted and turned in multiple directions with none of the directives being for any real benefit can plummet your motivation and satisfaction so deep you’ll almost hit the Earth’s core.

You love what you do and what you trained for, but any potential ounce of enjoyment has now completely evaporated. You feel dead in the water.

You might be shocked at the suggestion that if you’re feeling these things, it’s actually a very good sign! You’re likely to be on the cusp of a significant cross-road that is going to change your life.

Is Hating Your Job Normal?

Do you feel horrible when you think about your job? Like everything in life, your job will always keep changing. Every day won’t be perfect. Some days will be challenging.

However, you’ll always know when things are not right. You’ll know whether you are having a bad week or you are in a toxic situation. If you hate your job, you are not alone.

A study conducted by Gallup found that 85 percent of the workforce in the world is unhappy.[1] If you hate your job, you need to examine where you are, whether you can improve your situation or if you should think of submitting a weeks notice of resignation to start a new job search.

How to Cope When You Hate Your Job

What to do when you hate a job that you once loved? The following key steps are going to set you back on the golden path to enjoying career success despite the muddy waters you currently find yourself in.

1. Recognize the Signs of Discomfort

Long gone are the days where we might expect to join a business or corporation and spend our lifetime working our way up into a cushy senior management role that will take care of us and our families for the rest of our lives. In fact, it’s actually risky business to even think this way.

Pay rises are less frequent. Your skills and opportunities to expand your skills are now limited by staying within one job or organization. By definition, having a career means being on a continuous journey of development.

Nowadays, the average person changes jobs in their lifetimes between 10 and 15 times. [2] Not changing job environments caps your capacity to grow your knowledge and strengthen your capabilities. You actually make yourself less employable.

With the globalization of many businesses, you’re not only competing against people in your local neighborhood for your ideal role, you’re competing with folks from other cities, interstate, cross-country, and overseas.

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Some organizations are evolving with a constant focus on being innovative, taking calculated risks, and embracing new technologies — those that aren’t are falling to the wayside. If you don’t flow with the changing tides yourself, you could quickly find yourself stuck stagnant on a sinking ship with no lifeline.

Monday morning blues are a key sign that you hate your job and it’s time to start thinking and doing things differently. What you are feeling is actually a blessing in disguise.

2. Work with A Career Coach And/or Therapist

When we really detest our daily grind, it’s high time to keep a lookout for the development of symptoms of anxiety and/or depression.

Don’t just look for physical signs such as feeling greater and frequent fatigue, increased emotional eating, poor sleep. Loss of motivation, concentration and lower general interest not just in your work but in your personal life activities and relationships…these signs should raise alarm bells.

Your friends and family might start reflecting they’re fed up of hearing about how your boss is constantly laying blame on you for their mistakes.

Tolerance has worn thin listening to constant complaints about your doing the work of two people yet never confronting your boss about it. Continuing to play the broken record of your pain is not only sucking the lifeblood out of you but your friends and family as well.

Don’t hold off working with a therapist and/or career coach when you notice these things. Both professionals will help you recognize the full picture of your experience and how it’s impacting you. Of greatest value is their helping you to start identifying changes you need to make and how to turn those into reality.

When your emotional, physical and mental resources are drained from coping with your soul-destroying nine-to-five, your mindset is unlikely to have the optimal sensibility to hatch your escape plan.

You’re likely to be operating from a fixed mindset of desperation than innovation and run the stakes of moving from one crappy job situation to another.

Invest focus to rediscovering your worth, career interests and learning how to dream big again. Go deep in exploration of what your values are around what you want your work to give to you and mean to you.

If working with a coach or therapist feels like an uncomfortable step for you, consider looking into undertaking a course that helps you work through these questions. Give yourself a gentle kick to ignite momentum in a different direction.

3. Change Your Workspace

Hostile or toxic work environments lead to competition, negativity, bullying, unrest, sickness, and high turnover. A toxic workplace is just one of the signs that you hate your job and can poison your personal and professional life.

Working in a toxic workplace feels horrible. And it takes little effort for the workspace to become toxic. Why do workplaces become hostile and toxic? When leaders cultivate the culture of me-first or kill or be killed, the workplace becomes toxic.

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Other organizations start well and fall into the trap of chasing power or money. At times, a single employee can cause the entire workplace to become toxic. And it takes a lot of time to restore such an organization.

The best thing that you can do for yourself and others working in a toxic environment is to get out.

4. Don’t Be Stagnant for A Long Time

Do your colleagues and loved ones congratulate you on your work anniversary? What comes to mind when they wish you the best in your career? You might start wondering what you’ve been doing over the past couple of years because you’ve been at a standstill. And you don’t like it at all.

It’s quite difficult to identify stagnancy in a job. And when you do, you’ll start feeling like you are doing the same things over and over. Before you realize it, five years have passed and you haven’t developed yourself in any way. This eventually leads to a lack of passion for your job.

You might feel stagnant at your job for several reasons. First, you could be the problem. If your job is easy and there’s no one to challenge you, you’ll find yourself going with the flow. Prolonged stagnancy can lead to burnout.

To avoid this, you need to ensure that your career challenges and excites you. While your career shouldn’t be your life’s purpose, it should be something that inspires and motivates you.

Regardless of your post, you’ll always need to be creative to move forward. You need to find simple ways to infuse creativity in your job. You can start organizing files or developing your design skills.

5. Read Simon Sinek’s Find Your Why

Reading Find Your Why by globally renowned organizational consultant and speaker Simon Sinek could be a transformational step in finding your way back to experiencing a successful and enjoyable career.

Sinek and his co-authors explain there isn’t really a difference between having a professional why and a personal why.

It’s just as much the reason why your friends and family love you as an expression of the work you put yourself into every day. It’s less about tasks and activities and really about what emotional and mental satisfaction doing those things brings you.

What results is a beautiful tapestry of people not just experiencing an incredible product or service from you. You love what you do, create and get to give and they love you back for channeling that passion into that service and product they experience to benefit from.

This article also guides you through to discover your why:

How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

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6. Try to Avoid Workplace Burnout

When you have a lot of duties and responsibilities at work, you’ll have limited or no time for yourself and your loved ones. Working all the time can lead to stress and burnout.

One of the popular types of burnout that you’ll experience is worn-out burnout. Worn-out burnout is usually experienced by employees who are always overworked with little or no positive outcomes.

Burnout usually happens because the cycle is continuous and it starts taking from your professional life, relationships, personal life, and your health. You can avoid workplace burnout by balancing your working life and personal life.

7. Consider Expanding Your Thinking and Entrepreneurial Flair

You might think “I’ll always be an employee” and the thought of starting a business might scare the living daylights out of you. Even then, there is a strong chance you have monetizable talents that could, at the very least, swiftly direct your mindset away from the chilling notion of being stuck in your dead-end job for eternity.

The thought of creating a product or service all by yourself could be dauntingly foreign. Doing something like this could feel like ridiculously fathoming a climb of Mt Everest when you don’t know the first thing about climbing or hiking!

But once you start looking and having explorative conversations with different mindsets about ideas, instead of debriefing the horrible day you had yet again in your job, things will start to change. Like Sleeping Beauty being awoken from slumber by Prince Charming’s first kiss, you’ll start discovering a whole new way of thinking you won’t ever want to harness.

Look at what skills you have to perform your current job. What skills have you acquired in the past that might simply have been dormant for a little while? Do you miss being able to exercise certain skills?

When you have the discussion with your career coach, you’ll discover there are probably many more skills, knowledge and experiences you could even package and sell than you realize. However, remember: it’s not just about the money. It never should be.

Even if you have been an administrator for many years, could the next step be writing introductory course administrators or young job seekers could benefit from? There is no better teacher or education platform to learn from than hands-on experience. It might be a side gig you create which you pitch to and deliver at high schools and job-seeking agencies.

You might create a face-to-face workshop and/or an accompanying course that you create and sell on online education platforms such as Udemy or Teachable.

Your course might inform and teach interview techniques and communication tips for working with managers and bosses. You might suggest what exercising initiative looks like and what individuals can do to help themselves feel comfortable and confident early in their jobs.

There often is nothing more satisfying than learning and knowing that someone else’s challenges and problems were overcome because of wisdom and experience we could share with them. We all have something we can teach and offer people. What might you have to offer?

8. Consider What You Want to Be Doing, Not Just What You’re Currently Doing

It’s time to start letting the masses know what you’re capable of, not just in terms of what you have done but what you’re aspiring towards and charging forward to achieve.

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Global recruitment firm Robert Half explains how personal branding is essential to progress and enjoy a successful career.[3] Providing an impressive sounding resume and a cover letter are no longer enough.

What we engage with and how we show up online and offline is taken into account more now than ever. So we need to be strategic.

If you are looking for opportunities to work in overseas companies in your industry, you might consider researching best practices other off-shore companies are engaging in and writing your own short LinkedIn post about it.[4] Or you may simply look to post a link to what you have found and provide short critical evaluations about it.

Start thinking about how you market yourself and stop leaving it to chance. Whilst many think social media is only for personal social items, consider how your engagement on these platforms portrays you to your audiences. Steer potential employers and business partners to see you as you want to be seen, not just as you are.

9. Get Back on Track by Learning New Things

When you are waking up each day with a sick feeling in your stomach knowing work duties call, there is a hard reality you have to face:

It’s your responsibility to make the necessary changes. It is no one else’s responsibility to make you feel happy or satisfied with your work. At the end of the day, it’s yours.

If you want to have a successful career, you have to take charge of the direction and types of experiences you want to have on your journey. Where do you want to go? How far and why? What training or opportunities might give you this? Is it executive coaching? Perhaps undertaking an MBA? Allow yourself to think laterally too.

Let’s say project management is a skill set you need to learn, or incompetent boss snidely commented you would never make it without these skills. Could volunteering to crew for an event speaking company platform fast track your learning as to what’s involved? Financial forecasting, marketing, resource and supplies management, working with different team member personalities and managing client relations…you could never gain hands-on experiential learning like this you via a classroom or online course.

The e-learning industry is forecast to reach $325USbillion by 2025.[5] With the quality of online learning gateways growing exponentially with very affordable costs of access to world-class teachers, golden opportunities to increase your skill set and knowledge are at your fingertips.

Never has there been a better time for you to design a career pathway and forge an enriching educational journey that feeds not just your professional curiosities but personal interests too.

Final Thoughts

No successful career has ever involved dancing to the same tune. When you find yourself despising your job more often than not, change is nigh. By using just one of these tips above, you can rechart your course to have a successful career.

In a short amount of time, you won’t only resuscitate the self-worth and recognition of our unique value that dead-end jobs can steal from you. You’ll enjoy deeper, prolonged levels of satisfaction, energizing self-discovery and opportunities to turn your career into a far more gratifying journey you could ever have imagined.

The best part is that you don’t even have to wait to land the dream job. The journey itself will be magical.

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Featured photo credit: Christian Battaglia via unsplash.com

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