10 Simple Tips to Go From Average to Exceptional Performance

How to go from average to exceptional performance at work

You’re not doing “bad,” exactly. You’re hitting every performance metric, and so far you haven’t done anything to deserve getting reamed by your boss. Still, it’s not enough.

You could be so much more. You’re not a mindless drone, a cog in the machine or an expendable asset. You’re a professional, a woman, an amazing person with the potential to change things up (for the better) no matter where you work. So why aren’t you tapping into that potential?

Maybe these 10 simple tweaks to your work habits can help:

1. Upgrade Your Morning Routine:

No matter how you start your day, it’s going to trickle into the next 24 hours. So eat a hearty breakfast. Create your To-Do list for the day (if you haven’t done it the night before). Exercise to improve your mood and productivity. Give yourself a pep talk like “Hey there, Girl in the Mirror. You are freakin’ awesome!”

2. Clock in Earlier Than Usual:

When you arrive 15 minutes before “show time,” you have enough leeway to prepare for the job ahead. Also, it scores you brownie points with your boss: Studies suggest that early birds are perceived as more conscientious and are therefore given higher performance ratings (most of the time). How’s that for a reason to never be late?

3. Get Your “Frog” out of the Way First:

No, this isn’t about princes who turn out to be frogs (though that could apply in a different context). This is about maximizing your reserves of willpower, which usually peak in the morning. Find out which of your tasks require the most effort and energy and get that out of the way as efficiently and effectively as you can.

4. Work for 52 Minutes, Take a Break for 17:

This is the optimum work-break ratio, according to a 2014 study. But even if you can’t follow that exact time, it’s okay. The point is to take a break every chance you get. That way, your brain can re-energize, work its magic and make you a more effective worker once you get back to your desk.

5. Cut the “Fat” From Your Workflow:

What aspects of your workflow are making you inefficient? Maybe it’s checking e-mail first thing in the morning. Maybe it’s using Excel to perform tasks that a more powerful piece of software can do within minutes. Or maybe it’s that passive-aggressive co-worker who seems bent on not helping you for whatever reason. In any case, get to the bottom of what’s holding you back and do something about it.

6. Get Technology on Your Side:

One way to be more efficient is to use productivity apps. For example, if you need to keep track of the passwords to a hundred accounts, 1Password can help you with that. Same goes for Wunderlist and Trello, which help keep tabs of every project, task and idea you’re handling. The best part? Most of them require very low upfront payments to use or are free.

7. Be More Assertive:

It’s tempting to take the easy way out (read: not do anything at all) when confronting difficult co-workers. However, acting like that for a long time can do a number on your self-respect. Reclaim your dignity by making your beliefs and desires known (politely but firmly), not taking it personally when you don’t get your way and taking consideration of the other parties’ needs as well.

8. Stay in Your Colleagues’ Good Books:

You don’t have to be BFFs with everyone, but you do need to have the kind of relationship with them where no one is holding anyone back from what they’re supposed to do. For people who aren’t naturally personable, that can be a problem.

If that sounds like you, there are simple ways to get around it. Greet your co-workers with a “Good morning!” and a smile (even if you don’t feel like it). Help anyone who looks like they need it. Treat your co-workers as kindly — or, at least, as diplomatically — as you can. You never know when you might need their help in the future.

9. Play Hard, Work Harder:

If you’re one of the 42 percent of Americans who don’t take vacations at all, better start taking them now. Not only will you take a break from all the stress, but it’ll also be good for your health and relationships. Also, remember to compartmentalise — that is, don’t answer calls and e-mails while you’re chilling in Puerto Rico and don’t book flights while you’re at your desk!

10. Have a “Growth Mindset”:

According to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, people can either have a fixed or growth mindset. Having a fixed mindset means you accept things as they are, so you don’t work to change them anymore. Having a growth mindset, on the other hand, means you see things as they can be, so you constantly seek ways to improve.

To quote the late Steve Jobs in his 2005 commencement address for Stanford graduates: “Every morning, (I looked in the mirror) and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” If Apple’s track record is anything to go by, that mantra worked pretty well for him.

Your Call

Right now, you have two choices. You can either nod at everything you’ve read so far, and go back to work doing exactly what you’ve been doing before. Or you can bookmark this list, refer to it when you’re feeling less-than-awesome and use it as a springboard to get back on the road to greatness. Which will you pick?

Sarah Landrum

Sarah Landrum recently graduated from Penn State with degrees in Marketing and PR. Now, she's a freelance writer and career blogger sharing advice on navigating the work world and achieving happiness and success in your career. You can find her tweeting on her coffee breaks @SarahLandrum