What You Wish You Knew When You Graduated

Tips from veteran desk jockeys for new grads.

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Robin Madell
Robin Madell
No one teaches you how to be a good employee or manager. So what do you do once you graduate with plenty of knowledge about your degree field, but a blank slate about how to push the needle in the office?

In these days of endless distractions from technology and too much to do, the workplace winners are often those who can get the most done in the least time – in other words, the most productive.

Consider these timeless tips from business thought leaders on how new grads and veteran desk jockeys alike can give better on-the-job performance:

Manage Interruptions

To have time for what matters, you must learn to manage minutiae. "Many people think it is optimal to juggle multiple tasks at once, but the truth is you aren't iron man," says Nihar Suthar, founder of Hype Up Your Day, Inc. "The brain has to switch gears between tasks, and this lowers your efficiency and performance." One of the biggest interrupters is technology. Although tech-toys can sometimes help you do your job better, at other times they take you off-point and off-task. "Email isn't work," says Rivka Caroline, author of "From Frazzled to Focused." "Stop checking your iPhone, Twitter, text and inbox all the time, and you will automatically double your productivity."

Another tactic is to force yourself to eliminate all distractions during set periods during the work day. This means choosing some time blocks to silence email and cell phones, disable "push" notifications and turn off instant messaging. "We mistakenly think that the most productive way to work is to be in constant communication with others," says Cheryl Hunter, a high performance coach. "But it is only through disconnecting and focusing that we can truly be our most productive."

Don't Major in the Minors

No matter what your job is, chances are you have too much to do in too little time. Without an efficient system for prioritizing your projects, you may quickly find yourself buried and behind.

Roy Cohen, career coach and author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide," advises making sure you don't neglect projects that you would prefer not to do. "It is easy to back burner the undesirable tasks and those are the ones – always unfinished or rushed – that get us into trouble," Cohen says. Jason Womack, author of "Your Best Just Got Better," calls this "majoring in the minors," and recommends the following strategy to combat it:

"Before you start your work day, think about what your high-leverage and low-leverage activities are," Womack says. "For the low-leverage activities, such as sending an email, perfection isn't necessary. When you can accomplish these minor tasks more efficiently, you'll have the time you need to do those major tasks justice."

Use Reverse Technology

New grads were practically born emailing, and have no trouble with Facebook and texting. But these forms of communication are much more impersonal than what you can achieve by actually meeting with people.

Aaron McDaniel, author of "The Young Professional's Guide to the Working World," explains that he would often get frustrated after not receiving a response to an email for several days, forgetting that sometimes all it takes is a simple phone call or walking to someone else's desk to get answers.

"Take the time to do things the old school way," McDaniel recommends. "Meeting with someone face-to-face does wonders for working relationships."

Utilize "Mini-Mentors"

When you're just starting your career, it's unlikely you'll have a mentor, because it takes experience in the workplace to develop true mentoring relationships. However, that doesn't mean you can't find people to help you navigate your new job. McDaniel suggests finding "mini-mentors" in your office – people who can help you with a small part of your job.

"A mentor is not just that one experienced executive who has reached great career successes," McDaniel says. "From a mini-mentor to help you with that one system you need to input data into, to the one person who has a certain process down like the back of her hand, they come in many shapes and forms."

Try calling on specific mini-mentors for discreet projects, like interviewing or salary negotiations. "Having an expert to call on for these simple things can help you accomplish more without always having to rely on help from your boss or one single mentor," McDaniel says.

Unplug as Needed

You shouldn't underestimate the importance of hitting the reset button to help boost your future work performance. One of the simplest and most effective ways to work smarter is by getting enough rest, according to Lennay Chapman, author of "Secrets to a Rockin Life: How to Find Passion, Direction & Fulfillment After College." "While coffee and sugar give employees a temporary energy boost, an adequate night's rest drives efficient, high-quality performance throughout the day," she says.

Steve Siebold, author of the international bestseller "177 Mental Toughness Secrets of The World Class," emphasizes the importance of seeking solitude whenever it's needed, not just at night. This can be as simple as taking 20 minutes each day to recharge, refresh and get back in the game reinvigorated.

"World class performers are aware that human beings need recovery strategies if they are going to be at their best day in and day out," Siebold says. "When it comes to getting big results, the best employees cut back on traditional work time to allow their creative minds to operate at greater capacity."

Robin Madell has spent two decades as a writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, and diversity issues. She has interviewed over 200 thought leaders around the globe, and has won 20 awards for editorial excellence. Robin serves as a speechwriter and ghostwriter for CEOs and top executives, with a specialized focus on women in business. She is author of Surviving Your 30s: Americans Talk About Life After 30, which is scheduled for publication in June 2013.