The path to professional success is long, and often winding. It’s a combination of working hard, pursuing your passions, and meeting the right people.
But there are steps you can take immediately to get closer to your goals. Below, Business Insider has collected a bunch of quick and dirty strategies — supported by research and expert opinion — to be more successful at work. You’ll learn how to impress your boss (and make your coworkers jealous) and stay productive even when you’re feeling uninspired.
Read on for our top tips.
Show up on time — or early
Simply put, your boss will like you more.
Research from the Michael G. Foster School of Business at the University of Washington suggests that employees who get into the office early are generally perceived by their managers as more conscientious and receive higher performance ratings than employees who arrive later.
And it doesn’t matter if those who get in later stay later, too.
In the Harvard Business Review, the paper authors write:
“[I]n three separate studies, we found evidence of a natural stereotype at work: Compared to people who choose to work earlier in the day, people who choose to work later in the day are implicitly assumed to be less conscientious and less effective in their jobs.”
The one caveat? If your boss is a night owl, they probably won’t judge you as harshly for showing up on the later side.
Research suggests that dressing more formally can make you both feel and appear more powerful.
In one 2014 study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, men dressed in either a suit or sweats engaged in mock negotiations with a partner. Results showed that the men were more successful in the negotiations when they were wearing a suit.
Make small talk with your CEO at the coffee maker
Bumping into your CEO unexpectedly might sound like the beginning of a nightmare. It doesn’t have to be.
According to etiquette and civility expert Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, “it’s an opportunity to show yourself off.” If you don’t know the person very well, introduce yourself and tell them which department you work in. Then read their body language to see whether they’re interested in chatting further.
If you’re already pretty chummy with your CEO, you can simply say something like, “Do you have plans for the holidays?”
Schedule a power hour
Time-management expert and author Laura Vanderkam recommends dedicating the first hour of your workday to an important project. Ideally, you’ll be uninterrupted by emails, phone calls, or knocks on your door.
She calls it a “power hour.”
As Vanderkam previously told Business Insider, “We have to consciously choose to spend less time on email and carve out time for the important work that matters to us.”
Listen to music right before you start an assignment
You might think listening to music helps you get stuff done faster, but in fact research suggests that it makes you less productive on most tasks. For example, a 2010 study found that people performed worse on a memory task when they listened to music in the background, compared to when they worked in quiet.
According to Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist and musician, a better bet is to listen to music for 10 to 15 minutes before you get down to work, so you’re relaxed and in a good mood.
Take a lunch break with coworkers
One survey found that 80% of workers eat lunch at their desks.
And yet stepping outside, even for 15 to 30 minutes, during your lunch break can be beneficial. As a professor at University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management told NPR: “We know that creativity and innovation happen when people change their environment, and especially when they expose themselves to a nature-like environment, to a natural environment.”
Meanwhile, a 2015 study found that eating lunch with coworkers can boost team performance. Specifically, firefighters who prepared and ate meals together displayed more cooperative behavior.
Find a peer mentor
Your manager shouldn’t be the only person at work to give you feedback.
According to Suzanne Bates, CEO of Bates Communications and author of the new book All the Leader You Can Be, successful leaders often have peer mentors, or coworkers who they regularly exchange feedback with. Bates says having a peer mentor can help you rise faster in your organization.
She recommends choosing someone who works in a different business or department at your organization. It’s even better if you’ve worked with that person on a cross-business or inter-department project.
Meanwhile, bestselling author Simon Sinek says the most successful leaders have a “buddy,” or someone who also aspires to leadership. Buddies regularly exchange knowledge and advice in order to keep each other from getting too caught up in the trappings of wealth and fame.
Ask your team for feedback
Don’t forget to solicit feedback from people who are junior to you as well.
Kim Scott, a former Google and Apple exec, and the author of Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity, recommends asking your reports, “Is there anything I could do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?”
Then — and this is the hard part — wait silently for six seconds. Your employees will have to come up with some piece of constructive criticism just to make things less awkward.
Speak up in a meeting
Yes, it can be scary — but it pays off.
Jenna Lyons, former president and executive creative director of J. Crew Group Inc., told Motto she’s impressed by employees who speak up and share ideas.
“I find it impossible to understand where a person stands if they don’t join the conversation,” she said.
“Opinions aren’t reserved for those in the corner office. Find your voice, and make sure to balance your input; you should be contributing roughly equal parts complimentary support of others with thoughtful, constructive criticism. And never be afraid to pitch an idea; we all have good ones, and we all have bad ones,” Lyons said.
Towards the end of the day, reflect on what you accomplished
It’s simpler than you think.
A 2014 working paper from researchers at Harvard Business School and elsewhere found that 15 minutes of reflective writing is enough to make you more successful at work.
In one study, employees at an Indian outsourcing company spent the last 15 minutes of the workday either going through further training or writing and reflecting on what they’d learned that day. Results showed that the second group performed about 23% better on a final assessment.
“In the field study, we were asking people to work less,” one of the study authors previously told Business Insider. “It’s counterintuitive, because you think you want to use those 15 minutes to keep working, but it actually leads to performance.”
Plan the following workday
Don’t wait until tomorrow morning to figure out what you need to be working on. Workplace experts have told Business Insider that it’s important to get your most important objectives for the next day down on paper.
“You may have two or three of them that are top of mind, but commit them to writing so you have a core foundation to work from the next morning,” said national workplace expert Lynn Taylor.
This practice also helps you stop fixating on work obligations — and actually relax a little. A 2015 study, published in the “Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology,” found that writing down how you plan to complete any unfinished tasks the following day allowed many people to stop thinking about those tasks.
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