10 Great Things You Can Do Right Now to Improve Your Job

No nonsense, no research, no money required. These are the basics for hard times.

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These are hard times, but here are 10 basic steps you can take today, tomorrow, or this week to juice up your job (culled from many experts I've interviewed for various stories).

1. Make some friends. "Life is hard and then you die." My mother has been saying this to me since I can remember (she pulls no punches). Well, work is also hard. But you have to do it if you want to pay your mortgage and your cable bill and avoid scavenging for Christmas presents. That being the case, why not just make some friends where you do it? Try making a joke. Ask someone about their weekend. If you say something stupid, at least you'll get some notice, which is better than being "the guy who works down the hall beside the copier."

2. Talk to your boss. You can talk about the Bears game or you can talk about a client, but just start a conversation. It's easy to retreat from your boss when times are tough and he or she looks harried, or you're convinced that if you're in their line of their sight they might suddenly think they should add you to the list of budget-related layoffs. It's always better to have a bit of a (nonromantic) relationship with your boss. It's good for your job security, and they might perk up from the conversation.

3. Stop dressing like a sorority sister or a fraternity brother. It's been said a thousand times but I'm saying it again: If it makes thwacking sounds when you walk on it, it's meant for the beach. If it creates or exposes cleavage, it's best saved for Saturday nights. If it rides way up or rides way down, it probably belongs at Goodwill. Do not subject your colleagues to your poor taste. This economy is confusing and trying enough for them.

4. Keep your expenses clean. Now is not the time to fudge anything. In fact, it's probably the time to double-check your arrangements and make sure you're trying to save the company some cash. Then you should double-check your receipts to make sure all the numbers are correct. You may be tight financially, but this is a stupid reason to get in trouble at work.

5. Pack your lunch. You've read this a million times, I know. It's good for your health and good for your pocketbook. So why are there still so many people standing in line for deli sandwiches and french fries every afternoon? Aren't these the same people who needed a stimulus package to afford a new dishwasher?

6. Stop eating at your desk. It makes you look like a slave. It makes you look like you have no boundaries. I do it all the time, but I don't agree with it. If I were wiser, I would take my packed lunch to the lovely courtyard across the street, or to the indoor tables in a neighboring building. I would get a break, and then I'd come back with a clearer mind. I'll do it tomorrow.

7. Enjoy your commute. Read the news if you like. Bring a book if that's what you'd prefer. Listen to a George Winston album. Find a little pleasure on your way to work every morning.

8. Speak up. If you have a good idea, say something. If you see a colleague in distress, lend your hand (or ear). If you're unhappy with your work and you've got a great idea for how to improve the situation, offer up your solution. This is not the time to suck it up, stay quiet, and accept the routine. Companies want happy, driven, visionary employees, not pencil-pushing sycophants.

9. Be nice to others. Now is an especially dumb time to be rude to the intern or the front-desk receptionist. It's always a bad idea—but if your company is looking for people to cut, and someone catches you being a jerk, you're just making it easy for them. On the other hand, if you're really gracious to the intern and you're friendly with the receptionist, it may not escape the notice of a higher-up. You can count on the fact that it won't escape the intern/receptionist's notice either, which is a nice thing.

10. Treasure something. That's an old-fashioned word, "treasure." It's sort of a shame. You should be finding something at work to treasure, whether it's a boss's praise, a colleague's jokes, Friday group lunches, an ongoing assignment, or a new self-directed project. The American Heritage Dictionary says "treasure" means: "To keep or regard as precious; value highly." Figure out how to get something like that into your 9-to-5.


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