1. Set clear goals. Instead of pulling yourself in multiple directions, pick one or two big things to focus on this year. Maybe you want a promotion, or to get a raise in your current position, or to change jobs altogether. Whatever it is, get very clear on what a successful 2012 would be for you. If you’re unsure, try this exercise: Pretend it’s December 2012. Look back on the previous 11 months, and ask yourself what you would have needed to have accomplish for it to have been a successful year? Make those things your concrete goals. Write them out, form plans to achieve them, and then have the discipline to stick to them.
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2. Stick to your word. Do what you say you’re going to do, by when you say you’re going to do it, or update people accordingly. Why? Because your word should mean something. And because your credibility is at stake. Those things matter. And if you develop a reputation for being reliable, no matter how tiny the issue at hand, then people will notice.
3 Stop playing online. If you’re using social networking sites or instant-messaging with friends throughout the workday, it’s impacting your work. Sure, maybe you’re still getting the basics done, but you don’t want to just do the basics—you want to build a stellar reputation as someone who routinely exceeds expectations, because that’s what will give you job security and open up future opportunities.
4. Rewrite your resume. If you’re like most people, your resume details your job description but doesn’t focus much on what you achieved in that job. But the resumes that truly stand out are ones that answer this question: What did you accomplish in this job that someone else might not have? Do a few revisions to focus on what you’ve achieved. And even if you don’t plan to change jobs anytime soon, chances are good that you won’t remember details of your accomplishments down the road if you don’t write them down now.
5. Make a career plan. Decide what job you want next, and start figuring out what the path there will look like. By working backward from your goal, you can figure out what you need to do now to be well positioned in a year—or two years, or five years—and to get the job you’ll want then.
6. Stop complaining about your boss or coworkers. Instead, talk with people directly when you have a beef. When you talk to someone directly, not only do you act more fairly by giving them the chance to know your complaint and to respond, but you may also learn new information that makes you see things in a different light. Plus you won’t get a reputation as someone who talks behind others’ backs.
7. Stay positive. If you’re miserable at work, stop complaining and start finding an exit path. Or find a way to live reasonably happily with your current job. Sometimes simply knowing what will and won’t change makes things easier to deal with, and you can surprise yourself by ending up pretty content with things that drove you crazy when you were focused on battling them. Whatever you choose, the key is to survey the situation calmly and rationally and make decisions based on how things truly are rather than how you wish they were. That’s a lot more satisfying than a constant struggle.
8. Help someone else in their career. If you work with someone promising but less experienced than you, consider taking them under your wing and helping them attain professional greatness. Look for ways you can help them get more experience, help them recognize when they’re capable of more, and talk with them regularly about the challenges you’re both facing.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.