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10 Ways to Push Yourself to Excel at Work in the New Year

10 Ways to Push Yourself to Excel at Work in the New Year

If you’ve played your cards right, 2014 gave you everything you wanted—a Christmas bonus, maybe a raise or a promotion? Not exactly?

Well, now you have a reason to take your game to the next level in the coming year. As Jack Dorsey so famously said, “Success is never accidental.” Take your future into your own hands with these 10 steps to push yourself to excel at work in the coming year, based on Stephen Key’s 5 Ways Successful Entrepreneurs Challenge Themselves.

1. Diversify your circle

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? The first step in getting different results is trying different things. I’m not saying you have to become “that” guy, but you can start by listening, paying attention, and being receptive to the people around you, regardless of their age or security clearance. Listen to what the kids are saying and listen to what the grandpas are saying. You might learn about an innovative solution to a problem, or an antiquated system that could use your expertise. Diversifying your work circle will widen your scope of influence and expose you to opportunities you won’t see otherwise. Take it from Steve Jobs, who recognized this crucial key to innovation early on:

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A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”

2. Read and/or listen to podcasts

This year, make it your mission to feed your brain. If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got. Think of business blogs and podcasts as your leafy green vegetables. Check out the Financial Times blogs, the Wall Street Journal, or some of the Company Blogs out there to see who’s doing what, where the best ideas are coming from, and what organizations on the cutting edge are paying attention to. Join a local business book club or check out these podcasts for some ideas on where to start.

3. Ask your clients what problems they need to solve

It was Bill Gates who said, Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” The tools you need just a phone call or e-mail away, because the most perfect feedback loop is one where you can continuously meet (or, even better, anticipate) your clients’ needs. How do you know what they need? Ask them! Every great business is built upon this principle: that excellence is a symbiotic relationship where you are not trying to sell someone on something they don’t need, but responding to their existing needs with tailored solutions. It’s arrogant to assume you know what your clients want. Instead, ask them: what’s missing from their process? What problems have they not been able to solve? What do they like that other companies are doing really well? Once you know what issues are most important to your customers, you’ll know what you need to work on to not only keep their business, but be a partner in their success.

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4. Increase your technological knowledge

This goal should be on everyone’s list every quarter, because technology advances so fast that there will never be a time when there isn’t something new we can learn, no matter what field we’re working in. Make it your goal to learn something new this year—how a process works, what a team you’re not on does, or where your suppliers source their materials. Take a bold step into a technology you’ve never studied before. Yes, change can be scary, but if you really want to own it in 2015, you want to be on the leading edge, not on the Luddite side of the bell curve. Start at the most remedial level if you need to, and remember this quote from our old friend Dr. Seuss:

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!”

5. Work with people who are smarter than you

There’s a certain type of manager who is afraid to work with young, smart, ambitious team members, for fear that they will eventually lose their job to an understudy. The downside to this attitude (which these kinds of managers never think about), is that when everyone beneath you is dumber and lazier than you, they won’t be jockeying for a promotion, but you will be a slave to micromanagement because no one will be pulling their own weight. It’s impossible to delegate, drum up new ideas, or even take a vacation if you’re not supported by intelligent, hard-working people who are good at their jobs. Anyway, a rising tide lifts all boats, doesn’t it? Get comfortable with surrounding yourself with brilliance, and you’ll shine too.

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6. Look around at the people who are successful in your company

Take a good look at the people in your company that you admire or want to be like. Now, take a look at yourself. See any differences? What about the way you dress, or what you do at work? Of course it matters if you’re capable and deserving, but at the higher levels of management, presentation matters a lot. No one who wears board shorts to work or does keg stands at the Christmas party gets put into a client-facing management position. If you really want to get ahead, it might be time to trade that ratty t-shirt in for something a little more polished, and cut back on the outlandish pranks.

7. Make your meetings more effective and productive

First, don’t waste people’s time. Come to a meeting with a purpose. If you use Outlook to schedule your meetings, put the agenda and all the questions you need answered in the invite. While in the meeting, type the answers in as people answer them, rather than taking notes, compiling them, and sending them out later. Don’t leave the meeting without having a thorough understanding of questions answered, to-dos remaining, and task assignments. Make your meetings effective and people won’t feel like they’re losing time out of their day for nothing.

8. Get organized

Let’s face it—your professionalism is somewhat dependent upon what people see when they work with you, and the messier your desk is, the more disorganized you are perceived to be. You may thrive in chaos, but a pile of post-its and empty coffee cups around your computer doesn’t exactly say “Please put me in charge of something important.” The knick-knack overload that makes your workspace so personalized and comforting could be working against you. You have to make an effort to at least look as together as possible if you want to be seen as management material instead of a minion.

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9. Establish expectations for the coming year with your supervisor

Look, your supervisor isn’t psychic. If you didn’t get what you want at the end of 2014, you should probably set up a meeting to review not only your performance, but also your expectations for the coming year. As Lee Iacocca once noted, The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.” Showing your boss you are committed to results is an important step in demonstrating your value as an employee. Entrepreneur Ramit Sethi has an excellent blog post with suggestions on what to cover in a meeting like this. Once you establish a record of how you’ve performed thus far, what you should be doing better, and where you expect to be in 12 months, you can make a road map of how to get there. Over the next year, all you have to do is show up, deliver what you’ve agreed to (and preferably a little more—see Step 10 below), and check in with your boss quarterly on your progress. A caveat: if your boss is resistant to meeting with you, dismissive of your goals, or refuses to establish expectations, it might time you thought about looking for a different job!

10. Make a habit out of going the extra mile

We’ve all heard this joke: Two men are sitting in a tent, and suddenly realize a bear is approaching it. One man starts putting on his tennis shoes, and the other man says, “Do you really think you can outrun a bear?” Tennis-shoe guy says, “I don’t have to outrun the bear—I just have to outrun you.” Take a look around. What do you have to outrun to really shine? Your own laziness? Your resistance to change? Because it’s time to accept that your coworkers aren’t your competition—you are. If you want 2015 to be better than 2014, you’re going to have to outrun the “you” of yesterday. Put on your tennis shoes and make a habit out of going the extra mile.

To quote Woody Allen, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” The other 20% is up to you—are you just going to show up, or are you going to shine? The choice is yours.

Featured photo credit: Gerd Altmann via pixabay.com

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Last Updated on November 19, 2019

Work Smarter, Not Harder: 12 Ways to Work Smart

Work Smarter, Not Harder: 12 Ways to Work Smart

I imagine that like me, you say that you never have enough time and that you just cannot cope with 60 dozen things all at once.

How on earth do you get out of that spiral?

Many people never sit down and look at how to work smarter, rather than harder and even longer hours. But not you, you’re smart enough to try to learn effective ways to work.

So how to work smarter not harder? Here are 12 smart ways you should be following:

1. Improve Your Time Management Skills

Easier said than done? Well, no actually, because there are a few simple rules that can really help you to manage time better.

For example, when setting up a top priority task, you need to switch off the phone and ignore your email first. Then you need to abandon any ideas of multitasking as that will slow you down and ruin your focus.

Finally, set a reasonable deadline and do everything in your power to meet it.

“When you’re born, you’re born with 30,000 days. That’s it. The best strategic planning I can give to you is to think about that.” — Sir Ray Avery

2. Speed up Your Typing and Use Shortcuts

These days we’re all keyboard slaves. So why not speed up your typing and try to get rid of the two finger syndrome. In fact, when you save 21 days per year just by typing fast!

This is exactly what I am doing now, so I cannot honestly say I am practicing what I preach!

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But help is at hand. Try some of these apps and games to help you type fast: 8 Most Effective Games and Apps to Learn to Type Fast

Using shortcuts on the keyboard is another time saver and can speed up your work.

For example, press F2 to rename a selected file, while CTRL + I will put selected text in italics.

There are so many of these. If you make the effort to learn them, they really can be helpful.

3. Learn How to Use Productivity Tools

It is well worth downloading all the useful tools and apps that can highly boost your productivity. Take a look at these 18 Best Time Management Apps and Tools and install whatever fits your needs.

Now that is really a great way of working smarter, not harder.

4. Use Your Phone Wisely

Instead of writing emails, sometimes it’s better to pick up the phone and talk to the person responsible. It saves time, especially for important or urgent discussions.

If that colleague works in the same office, it is even better to go and talk to him or her. It gives you a break, you get some exercise and you actually make human contact which is becoming quite rare in this electronic world.

5. Keep a Tab on Your Tabs

If you are like me, you might well find that you have a ton of tabs open at the top of your browser.

In order to find the one you want, you have to search for them as they are off screen. Having all these tabs open slows down your browser too.

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One solution is to use OneTab which can keep a neat list on the screen of all these tabs when you want to quickly get to one of them or you want to remind yourself which ones you have open.

6. Use a “To Don’t” List

We all know about to do lists and I find that they are generally great. They give me a great sense of achievement as I cross off the tasks done.

But often, I find that we are doing non-essential tasks or ones that can easily be postponed. That is why many people recommend the to don’t list.[1]

Some people prefer to savagely prune the to do list while others prefer to have two separate lists, to do and to don’t. You just have to work out what works best for you when you are trying to save precious time to become more productive.

7. Expect Failure and Fight Paranoia

When failure rears its ugly head, some people get a bit paranoid and fear that this may become a trend.

Projects will go wrong and failure should be expected rather than feared. Learning lessons from failure and analyzing what went wrong is the best way forward.

“Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.” — Richard Branson

And here you can find 10 Great Lessons Highly Successful People Have Learned From Failure.

8. Be Concise

Rambling on at meetings, in emails and even when introducing yourself to new clients can waste a lot of people’s time.

One way is to practice and sharpen your “elevator speech,”[2] which tells people in 30 seconds or less why they need your skills and how they can benefit from doing business with you.

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Just think of the many situations where this could be useful:

  • Making new contacts
  • Talking about yourself at a job interview
  • Meeting people at conferences or parties
  • Phone calls to new clients

9. Ask the Right Questions

“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” — Naguib Mahfouz

How do you get feedback? The secret is to ask the right questions at the right time.

When you do this, you are gathering the information you need to help in decision making. This will save you time and you will be able to cut meetings to a minimum.

Forbes magazine reports on research that they carried out on asking the right questions.[3] When that happens, the positive effects are increased by 400%. There are also other benefits in staff motivation and a positive impact on the company’s bottom line.

Lifehack’s CEO Leon has shared about how to ask for feedback to learn faster: How to Learn Quickly And Master Any Skill You Want

10. Learn as Much as You Can

You should always be on a steep learning curve. Look at your skills profile and determine where you need to fill a gap. Talk to important connections and network in your niche.

Keep up to date on trends and developments. It is a fact-changing world. When an opportunity arises, you will be the best equipped to seize it because you have never stopped learning. Just another way of working smarter.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” — Mahatma Gandhi

11. Look After Your Greatest Resource

No, your greatest resource is not time. It is YOU.

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If you do not get enough sleep, exercise and relaxation, you find that you become less and less productive. You begin to work longer and longer hours, which is the exact opposite of what you want.

What you should be doing is making sure you are in the best shape. It is useful to remember that you need a break of 15 minutes after every one and a half hours of work.[4]

Taking breaks and getting fresh air and exercise is one of the best ways of working smarter, not harder.

12. Don’t Fall into the Trap of Working Smarter and Harder

As a society, we are obsessed with doing everything smarter so we are more efficient and we save time all around.[5]

But the most important thing to remember is to accept when we are ready to switch off that computer and not fill up the time with even more work!

The Bottom Line

The key to greater productivity is to work smarter, not harder. Working smarter saves precious time and energy for the things that really matter — your life goals, your personal growth, your health and your relationships.

Stop working for more hours and start working smarter!

More About Working Smart

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

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