Plenty of things impact your work performance that you can't control: You might have an unreasonably high workload and not enough time to spend on some items, or a boss who gives you unclear or conflicting instructions or co-workers whose work you can't depend on. But lots of things impact your work performance that you can control, as well – and too often, people struggling at work neglect to consider these.
Here are six of the most common ways you might be holding yourself back at work without realizing it.
1. Distractions – electronic and otherwise. If you leave Facebook open throughout the day, instant message with friends or co-workers while you work and/or make time to chat with anyone you spot walking by your desk, you're almost certainly impacting your productivity. While multitasking has become fashionable in recent years, the reality is that some types of work require deeper focus than these kinds of distractions allow, and even if your work doesn't require much focus, constantly stopping to type another IM to your friend or check out a YouTube video someone just emailed you is going to impact how much you get done in any give day.
2. Sleep. If you're up past midnight and need to be at work at 8 a.m., chances are good that you're not getting enough sleep. Coffee might mask the immediate symptoms, but fatigue can impact how well you perform on the job, as well as how you deal with a workplace's stresses. If your energy is lagging or you feel like your "immunity" to workplace frustrations is low, take a look at whether you're showing up for work well-rested most days.
3. Complaining. It can be tempting to vent about everything that frustrates you about your boss, your company and your co-workers, but complaining has a way of making unhappiness worse. Frequently venting can actually give you a more negative outlook on your office and your job (and can have the same impact on those around you, too). If you're guilty of regular complaining, try instituting a no-complaints rule for yourself for two weeks and see if you feel any different at the end of it.
4. Who you associate yourself with at work. You're likely to pick up the viewpoints and work habits of the people whom you're closest to at work. If you align yourself with people who do the bare minimum (or less), resent your managers or have a complaint about everything (see No. 3 above), you're likely to pick up those habits yourself. On the other hand, if you build relationships with people whose work you respect and whose contributions you admire, you might find yourself picking up the habits that have helped them be successful.
5. Your approach to your work. Are you just trying to get your work completed or are you truly taking ownership of your realm and thinking about better ways to get results? If you see your job as simply executing a list of tasks that someone else assigns, you might never be given opportunities to grow beyond that. But if you feel true ownership for your piece of the company – no matter how small it might be relative to others' – and you care about finding ways to do your job better, it will usually show in your performance. Even if your current employer isn't smart enough to reward you for it, this is how you build a reputation that will eventually help you land better opportunities.
6. Your ability to recognize what you do and don't control. Most people have some frustrations with their boss, even if that boss is a good manager. But a key to staying happy (and sane) in that relationship is to get clear in your own mind about what you can and can't control, and to focus on making the pieces you can control go as smoothly as possible. Rather than stewing over an aspect of your boss that you can't change (like the fact that she's always late for meetings or she isn't responsive to email), it's far more productive to understand that her working style may not change and to find ways to work effectively within that reality.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager'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.