How to be successful at work

How To Be Successful at Work: What It Means & How To Do It

Posted by Dalia Goldberg
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Whether it’s a new promotion or an “Employee of the Month” award, succeeding at work feels great. However, understanding exactly how to be successful can be daunting, especially when starting out at a new job or in a new profession. Eventually, most people learn the ins and outs of their workplace, and begin sharpening their skills and pursuing career goals.

The question is—are there any “hacks” to being successful at work? How can you get to where you want to be faster and more easily?

What Does It Mean to Be Successful at Work?

The first step when trying to be successful is to define what success personally means to you. Promotions and higher earnings are what most people think of as workplace success, but these aren’t necessarily the be-all and end-all goals for everyone. 

Psychologists, psychiatrists, and other wellness professionals recommend using this technique as a way of defining who you are and what is most important to you. 

How Can You Improve Your Performance at Work?

If you’re aiming for a promotion, you’ll want to start by improving your performance at work. Here’s what you can do to be successful:

1. Set ambitious goals and stick to them

Ever heard the phrase “shoot for the moon?” That’s exactly what Google’s engineers are encouraged to do. The company is famous for asking employees to set “stretch goals”, which ideally lead to ambitious achievements known as “moonshots”.

Google uses the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) framework to set goals. This framework originated at Intel in the 1970s, and is now used by many large and successful companies to improve performance. Regardless of if you choose to use OKRs or another framework like SMART goals, make sure you have clear goals for yourself and the right tools to support them. 

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Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve perfection each quarter. Even at Google, success is considered reaching 70% or more of your objective, with 100% being extraordinary performance. Try to set goals that are ambitious enough to be a challenge, but not so ambitious so that you’ll get discouraged.

2. Improve your time management skills

Time management is one of the major secrets to success at work. If you haven’t already, consider investing in time management and planning software, or suggesting it to your team. You might be genuinely surprised to see where your time is going!

One important point about time management is that you should set aside time each day for focused work. In today’s digital environment of constant emails, messages, and meetings, it can often seem like you’re constantly switching between tasks. This switching can make you significantly less efficient, with some research showing it can cut productivity by up to 40%

Roadmap your day with the Planner in Friday. Connect your calendars, manage task lists, and integrate with the productivity tools you use most.

Try to limit email checking to only a few times per day, and avoid unnecessary interruptions (like midday meetings) when possible. If you feel like your current meeting schedule is lowering your productivity, consider bringing this up with your manager and proposing an alternative solution if you can.

Workplace distractions are another time management challenge. These can be especially problematic in a remote environment, where you may be working alongside spouses, children, or pets. Even in an office, the internet and social media can still be distracting. Consider using a social media blocker during certain hours of the day. 

3. Pay attention to work-life balance

Work-life balance may not be the first thought that comes to mind when you’re trying to get promoted, but it’s actually key to long-term, sustained success. The last thing you’d want would be to increase your performance in the short term, and then find yourself quitting because of burnout. Burnout and “Zoom fatigue” can be a particular risk in remote environments. Gallup found that over a quarter of office workers and nearly a third of in-home workers “always” or “very often” felt burnt out during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To fend off burnout, don’t forget to take care of the basics: eat well, get enough exercise, and get some sleep. You’ll also want to leave some time for activities you enjoy outside of work. While there is no “ideal schedule”, and specifics may vary for each individual person, the important thing is to know your own boundaries. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos tries to get eight hours of sleep each night, and saves the most demanding decisions for when he feels the most productive (the morning). 

4. Don’t make it “all about you”

Your manager’s goal is to ensure the whole team’s success, not just your success, so being a “team player” can make you stand out for promotion. Wondering how you can be more of a team player at work? Try offering help to coworkers when they need it, or training them in new skills. If you have new ideas for how the business can advance, share those with your manager or colleagues. And if you need help yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for it. 

What Habits and Qualities Can Make You Successful at Work?

Besides controlling your time better and improving your performance, you can also cultivate habits that make you a more appealing person to work with. These habits will lead to your long-term workplace success. 

Improve your communication skills

One way to become more successful at work is to work on honing your communication skills. Roseann Galvan, host of the Communications Czar podcast, recommends paying close attention to the way you communicate with co-workers. “Successful people recognize that they have to use different communication channels for different types of messages, and they can quickly and easily discern the best channel to send a message. A procedural question can be answered on Slack, but feedback should be given privately and personally—either face-to-face or via videoconference, for example.”


Focus on honesty and accountability


Darrell Rosenstein, founder of tech recruitment firm The Rosenstein Group, also suggests that employees focus on honesty, punctuality, and accountability. “You can’t be successful at work if you’re not there when you’re supposed to be, or if your coworkers and managers can’t trust you to do what you say you will… It also helps to have a growth mindset, one that allows you to be adaptable to change and open to constructive criticism.”

How Can You “Prove Yourself” to Your Manager?

One of the easiest ways to prove yourself to your manager is by succeeding in your performance review. Many large and mid-sized organizations conduct annual or quarterly reviews, and regularly make decisions based on the data they gather. If you consistently earn high scores, management or HR may flag you for promotion.

If you work in a smaller company, your managers might not yet have an official performance review process in place. In that case, it’s up to you to make sure they know you have goals for yourself, and are meeting them. 

According to Ineke McMahon, career strategist and Director of Path to Promotion, “top employees must drive the process of ensuring that their role's success is clearly mapped. This involves meeting with your manager and documenting what success looks like in the next three, six, and 12 month periods.”

It’s also important to remember that managers are human. Besides just hitting performance targets, you can also show your commitment to your manager by empathizing with them and their challenges. McMahon adds that “most managers are looking for the same thing—people who make their jobs easier. The best way to build a stronger relationship with your [manager or] hiring manager is to understand what their key drivers are… having these conversations with your manager will see your career accelerate.”

Conclusion: How Can You Be Indispensable to Your Team? 

There’s a lot to think about when trying to advance your career, from building your own skills and competencies to proving yourself to your manager. Becoming an indispensable part of a team isn’t as simple as working harder, better, and faster. It’s also about knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, and working as part of a team. 

However, being successful at work doesn’t have to be intimidating. If you set ambitious yet reasonable goals and follow through with them, you may find that over time your performance steadily improves, putting you on track for your long-term career objectives. 

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