From entry-level to senior management, most workers have something more they'd like to achieve in their professional lives. But advancing your career doesn't just mean getting a promotion or switching to another company. Every day, there are simple, little things you can do to improve your productivity, your job satisfaction and your overall standing with your colleagues. Here are eight habits you can start forming today to help your career.
Learn how to listen
There's a big difference between truly listening to someone and simply waiting to talk, said Dana Brownlee, founder of Professionalism Matters. Most people tend to do the latter when they're pretending to do the former, but if you make the effort to hear, process and respond thoughtfully, your colleagues will take notice.
Brownlee's advice: "Listen to others as if you'd be quizzed on what they were saying. Listening keenly not only allows you to extract better information, it makes the other person feel heard, which is huge in terms of building relationships. That type of skill, if nurtured and developed early, can be invaluable." [Bad Habits That Are Hurting Your Career]
Double-check and confirm
One of the biggest causes of workplace conflict is unclear expectations, both on the part of managers and employees. If one person gives directions in a vague or confusing way, and/or the other person assumes his or her own interpretation is correct, neither party gets the results and validation it wants. Adam Robinson, co-founder and CEO of hiring tech company Hireology, said the best way to combat this is to consistently check in about projects to clarify what the other person expects from you (or what you need that person to do).
Robinson's advice: "Accountability and communication are key when it comes to improving your career. In any role, you should confirm the goal and requirements, manage expectations and keep people informed. This will help you manage to the result you're looking to achieve. By proactively keeping people up to speed, they'll be aware of what you're working on and see that you are invested in achieving the goal."
Say "thank you"
Gratitude is a very simple but often overlooked tool for building strong relationships, especially in the workplace. Everyone wants to feel appreciated, and making a regular habit of thanking others for their efforts can go a long way, said Deidre Paknad, CEO of collaboration software Workboard.
Paknad's advice: "Work is a team sport and there are no solo victories. While most of us expect recognition and gratitude from our boss, give as much recognition to others as you'd like to receive. Be the person who recognizes the wins and actions of others."
Seek out quiet
Today's workers are always "on." Even when they're not physically in the office, people are answering emails, taking work calls and completing tasks at all hours of the day and night. The constant influx of notifications and communication can make your mental space awfully noisy, which can really hurt your focus at work. That's why Melanie Wells, founder and clinical director of national psychotherapy franchise The Lifeologie Institute, recommends taking a few minutes every day to remove these distractions and reset your mind.
Wells' advice: "Implement a daily period of quiet, of meditation or reflection [to manage] anxiety and stress. Carve out a brief period of time when you can get rid of the static and clear out the mental clutter so that you can focus and get back in the game. [Spend] 10 minutes in a quiet place with no distractions. You'll feel refreshed and ready to put forth your best work and effort."
Stick to a schedule
Some people go through their work day as if they're treading water. They deal with issues as they arise because they haven't planned ahead, and they may feel like they're struggling just to keep up. Setting a specific schedule and blocking out time to deal with specific tasks such as answering emails — and really adhering to that schedule — can help you manage your day better, Dana Brownlee said.
Brownlee's advice: "Don't be reactive; be very intentional and proactive. Instead of grazing through emails all day long, identify specific times to check and process email. Turn off the chime that announces each incoming email. Focus on one thing at a time and avoid the minute-to-minute distraction of random emails."
Who would you rather have on your team when a project is going poorly: Someone who tries to stay positive and get back on track, or a "Debbie Downer" who constantly laments the situation and blames others? Hireology's Robinson said that negativity is one of the worst habits that hold people back, in life and in their careers. Actively working against your inclination to complain when things get tough can really improve your team morale — and your standing within the organization.
Robinson's advice: "Nobody cares how busy you are, because everyone is busy. This shows a lack of awareness of other people, and ultimately doesn't look good [on you.] Having a positive attitude and not complaining shows that you're level-headed and do well under pressure."
Set goals and monitor your progress
Goals are a prerequisite to success, Workboard's Paknad said. They're how you define what you're striving for, what success looks like and how your impact is measured. Before you begin your workday, take a moment to write down and review your short- and long-term goals, and any progress you've made on them.
Paknad's advice: "Make it a habit to set and check your goals every day. When you can describe what you achieved, why it mattered and how much it's worth in real-time, your career and résumé will grow by leaps and bounds."
Be honest with yourself
Taking stock of your strengths and weaknesses — and being realistic and honest with yourself about them — can help you to do your very best in your current and future roles. This is especially true of your weaknesses. Wells, of The Lifeologie Institute, noted that taking full inventory of what she's not good at has been much more important than listing what she is good at, because understanding your own skill gaps means you can seek out the right people to complement them.
Wells' advice: "The best thing you can do for your career is to understand your strengths and weaknesses and admit they're real. For example, if you're creative, but disorganized, you will need to find a way to compensate for the fact that organization does not come naturally to you. That may involve a number of different solutions, but the key is that you should never try to be something you're not. No one can fake it forever."