15 More Things You Can Do Right Now To Help Your Career

A few months ago, I published a very popular article entitled 15 Things You Can Do Right Now To Help Your Career. Here’s the fifteen tips in summary (though the original article fleshes them out):

1. Make a list of all of the things you did today/this week/this month to help your organization, and file them away.
2. Send a thank-you note
3. Work on your writing skills
4. Design some classy business cards for yourself
5. Send a quick contact email
6. Suggest a solution to a persistent workplace problem
7. Pick up the phone and make a call
8. Work on your language skills
9. Make yourself more presentable
10. Polish your resume
11. Read something on topics you plan to be facing in the future in your career
12. Prepare some comments in advance for your next meeting
13. Work on your public speaking skills
14. Clean your work area
15. Figure out where you want to be in five years – and create a plan for getting there

After that article was published, I had the opportunity to discuss it with a lot of people who had many other interesting suggestions. I also began to really look at the things I could be doing to help my own career in great detail. Before long, I began to see many more things that I could be doing at any given moment to help my career, so here are fifteen more to add to the list above.

Schedule a lunch Do you know someone in the workplace or in the community that you admire? Try to schedule a lunch with that person, then spend that time getting to know them and finding out what things make them tick and make them successful. This can provide a lot of insight for your own life. Alternately, you can plan a lunch with a coworker that involves planning for a project or other such task.

Propose a project If you can connect something that you’re passionate about to your current employment and thus propose a project that lets you funnel your passion into your job, do it. Write it up in detail and give it to the appropriate person up the food chain. Even if it isn’t something that meets what the company is looking for, you’ll get credit as being someone who thinks outside the box and provides interesting insights.

Talk to an administrative assistant Spend a few minutes chatting with the administrative assistant for any person inside or outside your organization that you contact regularly or might need to meet with in the future. A healthy, friendly relationship with the administrative assistant for anyone important to your career can do nothing but help you.

Plan a dinner party A successful dinner party can often help you build a better relationship with people important to you. My advice is to invite a sampling of professional acquaintances and personal friends as the mix of people will create lively conversation and can cause people to really open up and connect with each other.

File your papers This might seem like drudgery, but every time I go through and file my unfiled stuff, I find four or five things that need doing that have been forgotten about. Take care of these all at once and you’ll spread your name out there as being a person that gets things done. Plus, it also neatens your work area, which creates a good impression.

Connect people who could use each other I don’t mean setting them up on dates, I mean when someone asks you for help, try to connect them to someone who can really help them. Quite often, this wins you kudos from both parties and you help everyone become more productive. For example, if someone new comes to the office, don’t hesitate to be the person that shows them around, answers questions about the office, and connects them to people worth connecting to.

Send a handwritten birthday note to a professional friend I do this every year to a pretty wide array of professional contacts. Not only is the note personal in a way that an email never can be, it’s also a sign that you’re taking effort to remember and think of them, and it keeps you fresh – in a very positive way – in their mind. Only do this to people that you have a reasonably strong connection to – this can be kind of awkward if you send it to someone who you don’t know well. The perfect person to target is a person you were close to in your own office who has moved on to another organization or even to another career.

Offer encouragement Telling people on occasion that they’re doing a great job and that you appreciate the help they give you is always a good thing to do. Take a few minutes to tell someone you work with on a project that you appreciate their efforts – quite often, you’ll find that when you really need them, they come through for you.

Draft a report Regularly, I have to write lengthy reports on various things associated with my work. To aid in this, I usually start drafting them pretty early on and save them in a “draft” folder, usually when a particular piece of it is fresh in my mind. This not only allows me to avoid a dreadful day of writing a mind-numbing report, but it makes the report substantially better because I’ve written pieces while they’re fresh on my mind. Not only that, I can usually turn in a stellar report very quickly, impressing my supervisors.

Get rid of the junk immediately If a memo or an item that is likely junk crosses your desk, glance at it and toss it immediately. Don’t let that stuff build up, because it slowly eats away at your space and at your time. I used to be awful at this and soon I’d wind up with a huge pile of junk that I didn’t have a clue about, so I would have to burn a good amount of time going through it, deciphering memos to figure out if they were important, and so on. Just get rid of the junk as soon as you see it – it keeps your work area neat and saves you valuable time later on.

Start a side business Figure out what your passion is and start a side business that incorporates that passion. Draw on the work connections you’ve built up at your current and previous employment to aid with it as it grows. Eventually, the side business can become the main business (The Simple Dollar might just do this in the future for me).

Think about how your work directly connects to the bottom line of the organization I’m shocked how many people, especially in technical fields, never really consider this part of it. For some jobs, the connection might not be obvious, but keep working at it. Are you developing a project? Look at the pieces you’re doing for that project, then seek out what the potential for that project is by finding the planning and the projections for it. Connect those pieces together and you’ll have a great story to tell during your reviews and also great things to report when interviewing and meeting with others. This is often very valuable if you’re in a small organization or a startup.

Cut checking your email to at most twice a day Seriously. Just turn it off. I work in a very technical environment where many others check their email constantly, but they never seem to be able to complete big projects that require steady focus. My advice is to do an email session mid-morning and then one just before you leave in which you set up your tasks to do for the next day.

Clean out your inbox Some people do this by declaring “email bankruptcy” and just wiping their inbox, but my policy is a bit different. During my email sessions I empty my inbox, period. I file everything into various folders that tell me which tasks are priorities, which ones can wait, and which ones are saved just for reference. By doing this inbox triage regularly, I don’t “lose” stuff in a cluttered, chaotic inbox, which means I haven’t accidentally made Joan in accounting irate because I don’t get back to her.

Eat an energy booster in the early afternoon Almost every coworker I have gets tired at about two or three in the afternoon, and it has been true at other jobs as well. My solution? Eat an energy-packed snack about an hour before the doldrums take effect. I eat a light lunch, then about an hour before the doldrums, I eat an orange or a banana and drink a fruit smoothie. At just about the time that everyone else is zoning out, I take off and get a ton of stuff done while others are trying to stay awake. This has made me appear very productive many times in the past.

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  1. Andamom says:

    Trent,

    I work for a huge organization — and have to work within the bureaucracy of this place. So, some things on your list would not be applicable to me.

    Here are some things that are on place:
    1) Get a mentor
    2) Take part in firm-wide initiatives — like walk-a-thons, volunteerships, planning, etc.
    3) Volunteer for extra projects that benefit the group/team to increase visibility to senior people.
    4) Take any online training offered by the firm.
    5) Network with others in the organization in other forums both internal and external to the organization.

  2. UncleOxidant says:

    How about:
    * Take a 20 minute nap in the early afternoon as an energy/productivity booster.
    * network with people in the same field but outside of your current company (it’s nice to know what’s going on in your profession outside of your company – some people become too isolated within their own company)

  3. Trent says:

    Andamom: that’s correct. There are things on there that work better for large organizations and others that work well for small organizations.

  4. Networking surely helps bringing new ideas to the person as well as inside the company. Focussing on contribution while getting along smoothly is the catch.

  5. Grant says:

    I don’t think “Cut checking your email to at most twice a day” applies to everyone. I work in IT and get requests throughout the day for various items that may take anywhere from 1 to 20 minutes to complete or reply. Obviously, I don’t purposely interrupt myself if I’m in the middle of cranking out a bunch of work on a larger task, but I check my email quite often. People really appreciate when you can respond to them quickly rather than wait until the end of the day if it’s something that’s only going to take a minute to do. And it’s enthusiastic feedback from the appreciative people you work for (or with) that can really help your career.

  6. Trent says:

    Grant, as I wrote above, these tips don’t apply to everyone. They can’t – if you write tips so generic that they are useful for all, then they cease to be useful.

  7. MD says:

    Thank you for mentioning the value of being civil to administrative assistants. Most of the admins I know, inlcuding myself, are more apt to be accomodating toward those who treat us like vaulable members of the organization all of the time, rather than only when they need something from us or our bosses.

  8. ck_dex says:

    Hmmm, the birthday card idea could be risky in a work climate where older workers may be sensitive to their “seniority”. There is nearly always some tension between different generations of workers.

    I’d prefer to send a quick note to a colleague who had done something notable in the context of work, or just call up someone you want to keep in touch with and jaw for a while. I have former colleagues who do this all the time, but never related to a personal event like a birthday.

  9. Karthik says:

    Thank you for practical tips. Email is a time waster. There is a good podcast on Managing Emails at http://www.manager-tools.com. It helped me a lot to focus on the day to day job and move away from answering email as the prime job.

    Karthik
    Bangalore.India.

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