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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

4 Work Mistakes You Don't Realize You're Making

When you’re the new girl at work, you do everything in your power to stay on your best behavior. You show up to the office early, leave late, dress conservatively, and absolutely never, ever check your Facebook page from your work computer.

But, as the weeks go by, it’s easy to slide into a sense of comfort and let your guard down, following in the footsteps of your co-workers (who know just how far they can bend the rules). And soon, you’re missing deadlines, tweeting covertly, making excuses as to why you’re not as productive as before, and in general, setting yourself up for a not-so-great performance review.

So what happened? Well, it’s simple—you forgot the basics. If you’re looking for a way to get back into gear, revisit the advice you got when you were first starting out in the professional world, and follow these easy (but often ignored) bits of advice.

1. Stop Using Excuses

Just like your puppy dog eyes didn’t work to convince your 8th grade teacher that your little sister threw away your math homework, excuses don’t go very far with your boss. And no matter how genuine your intentions are (“but I had so much on my plate—and then I came down with the flu!”), all your manager will hear is that you don’t use your time effectively.

So here’s a no-fail way to impress your boss: Do what she says. When you have an assignment, don’t make her remind you about it, and don’t ask for an extension. If you have questions, ask them well before the deadline, and if you need help from teams in other departments, engage them with time to spare. Do quality work and turn it in on time.

By completing your work without excuses or constant reminders, you’ll gain your boss’ immediate trust and respect, and you’ll be well on your way to gaining more responsibility—or even a promotion.

2. Show up on Time

You may think it’s endearing to be labeled the “late one,” who never seems to make it to a meeting before the fifth PowerPoint slide. So you laugh and give a little shoulder shrug as you noisily bustle into the conference room, assuming that everyone just writes it off as, “Oh, that Suzie."

Well, it’s not cute. And no matter how much you feel it’s a part of who you are, lateness is not an inherent trait—so excuses along the line of, “I can’t help it!” won’t work. If you’re serious about your job and impressing your team and boss, make it a point to show up on time—or better yet, early. Whatever it takes (e.g., an extra alarm, a working coffee pot, a puppy who needs attention at 5 AM), make it happen. It’s worth it.

3. Return Emails

When our communication is so readily at our fingertips, there’s no excuse for leaving your email unanswered for more than a day or two. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve written an inter-department email to get no response. Not in one week, not in two—never.

So, it’s no surprise that you’ll earn instant respect from your entire team (and anyone else who contacts you) if you answer emails in a timely manner. Don’t know the answer? That’s no excuse to leave the email sitting in your inbox. Write a quick response anyway: “Hi Jan, I’m not 100% sure about this, so let me look into it, and I will get back to you by the end of the week.” Then, get back to her before the end of the week.

I know—we’re all busy. And I’m not saying you need to answer every email the moment it arrives in your inbox (that’s certainly not an efficient way to work). But when you ignore an email, what you’re conveying to the sender is: “You’re not important enough to warrant a response.”

4. Follow Through

As a new manager in an unfamiliar industry, I don’t always know the answers to my employees’ questions. But instead of just having them ask someone else, I let them know that I’ll find out and get back to them. And then, I follow through. Each time I’m able to deliver an answer, I’m conveying that I do what I say I’m going to do—and my employees grow to trust me more and more.

Of course, this doesn’t just apply to answering questions. If you tell a co-worker you’ll proofread her report, don’t push it off until she reminds you about it two weeks later. If you assure your team that you’ll take care of an important client’s account, don’t let it sit on the bottom of your to-do list until one of your co-workers has the customer on the phone, screaming because she hasn’t heard from anyone in over a week. If you make a commitment, follow through—you’ll convey that you can be trusted with anything.

Easy tips, right? Well, tell yourself that a few months into your new job, when you realize your boss usually forgets about the deadlines he gives you, and nothing bad ever happens when you forget to answer an email or two. But don’t fall into that trap! Go back to this basic advice and you’ll never fail to impress your team, clients, and boss.

Photo of woman working courtesy of Shutterstock.