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Can I Tempt You Into Making One of These Resolutions?

By Marty Nemko

I know, I know. You don’t even bother making New Year’s resolutions any more because you always break them. But I’d like to tempt you by proffering the five most potent career resolutions I can think of. If perchance you could keep even one, even if only for a few weeks before slipping back into your wicked ways, your worklife would likely be much better.

1. Embrace work. So many people do what they can to avoid work: They procrastinate tasks until the last nanosecond, take sick days when they’re not sick, play on the Net instead of with that spreadsheet. Fact is, while shirking feels good in the short run, ultimately, at the risk of sounding like your parents, the more productive you are, the better you’ll ultimately feel about yourself and your life. Not to mention, you’re more likely to get a raise and less likely to be downsized.

2. Even if you’re a clerk, think like a CEO. Today, worker-bee jobs are ever more likely to be offshored or automated. The jobs that will endure and pay well require that vision thing. You can acquire vision if you remember to always keep your antennae out for a better way: to streamline a process, save costs, find a new profit center, etc. When you’ve come up with an idea, before sharing it with your boss, vet it with a trusted colleague. If the idea passes muster, to avoid your boss stealing the credit, bring it up at a meeting or email it to stakeholders for input.

3. Think time-effective. So many people forget that time is our most valuable commodity. Keep a little voice on your shoulder, ever whispering in your ear such questions as: Is it time-effective to take on this task? Should I delegate it? Do it perfectly or is good-enough good enough? As you’re doing a task, keep asking yourself, “Is this most time-effective approach?”

Meetings may be the workplace’s biggest time sucks. Here’s a time-effective way to think about meetings. Before calling one, ask yourself if it’s is really necessary? Would a group email do? If a meeting is needed, only invite those who truly must be there--don’t buy into today’s corporate-think that inclusion is the magic word. Often the benefits of being included are outweighed by the opportunity cost of attending. If you’re an invitee and think it’s time-ineffective to attend, explain that to your boss and see if you can opt out. Travel is a huge time suck, so if you do want to call a meeting, could it be done by tele- or webconference? ( makes the latter easy.) Work expands to fill the time allotted, so could that half-day meeting be shrunk to one hour? In advance of the meeting, send a tightly scheduled agenda plus any homework attendees should do in preparation. At the meeting, keep thinking “time-effective” and you’ll be able to stay within your agenda’s time limits.

4. Listen better. Everyone thinks they’re a good listener, but I ask you: “Think of all the people you know. What percentage would you rate as good listeners?” Well, they probably think you’re not so great either. The problem is that being a good listener seems much easier than it is. It requires you to focus 100 percent of your attention on what’s being said, the body language (especially changes in body language), and noticing what’s not being said. That means you can’t just be rehearsing what you’re going to say next. As Fran Leibowitz says, only half joking, "There is no listening. There's just waiting for the other person to stop talking."

5. Be nice. In the end, that’s critical not only for getting ahead, but as a way to ensure you make a difference. Thousands of scientists spend their entire lives in search of a cure for cancer to no avail. Thousands of non-profit and government managers try to make a dent in societal ills, too, with little result. Yet, simply being nice to as many people as possible ensures that you at least slightly improve the lives of everyone you touch. Of course, it’s challenging to be nice to people you find inferior to you, but that’s another column.

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