We all want to do well at our jobs. Whether it’s to get a promotion, a pay rise, or a sense of satisfaction, there are many reasons to improve work performance. Learn many different ways to improve work performance in this guide.
Table of Contents
Because this post is so large, I’ve included a Table of Contents, which is a list of all the tips in this article:
- Focus And Concentration
- Set Goals For Yourself And Your Career
- Improve Your Organisation Skills
- Improve Your Time Management
- Prioritise Tasks
- Keep A Healthy Work and Life Balance
- Get A Full Sleep And Keep A Healthy Diet
- Communication Is Essential
- Be Aware Of Your Manager’s Goals
- Have a Positive Attitude
- Get Additional Training and Education
- Dress Professionally
- Be On Time to Meetings
- Arrive Before Nine, Leave After Five
- Professional Attitude and Conversation
- Split Personal and Work Time
- Use Your Lunch Break for Personal Work and Errands
- Keep a Professional Hair Style
- Small Details Matter
- Don’t Swear
- Don’t Check Your Phone All the Time
- If You Listen to Music, Use Headphones
- Avoid Loud Phone Calls
- Learn About Your Employer
- Communicate Effectively with Senior Managers
- Give And You Shall Receive
- Be Considerate Of Other People’s Time
- Explain The Reason or Big Picture When Asking Others to Help You
- Use Positive Body Language
- Have Breakfast
- Ask Your Boss Is There Anything I Can Improve On?
- Is There Anything That The Team Needs Help With?
- What Would Be Helpful For The Team Or For Me To Learn?
- What Is The Most Painful Thing That The Team Has To Do?
- Is There Anything You Need Help With Or Are Struggling With?
- Ask Yourself If Any Areas Can Be Improved
- Don’t Take A Long Lunch
- Don’t Drink Alcohol During Lunch
- Use Keyboard Shortcuts
- Take Notes When You Go To Meetings
- Use A Signature On All Emails
- Give Appropriate Names To Your Files
- Don’t Write Long Emails
- Think Of Different Ways To Solve Problems
- Think Of Improvements To Current Processes And Systems
- Put Your Phone On Silent
- Keep The Big Picture In Mind
- Make Yourself Known To Other Teams
- Sign Up For LinkedIn
- Take Initiative To Get Things Done
- Know How To Use Your Computer Very Well
- Leave Personal Problems At Home
- Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Stupid Questions
- Work Out How You Spend Your Time
- Share Good Resources And Websites With Team
- Follow Up With Others
- Be Friendly To Others, Even If You Don’t Work With Them
- Don’t Gossip Around The Office
- Let People Know When You Will Have Things Done By – Under Promise, Over Deliver
- Help Out Your Team Members
- Don’t Whine About Other Team Members
- Bring Solutions Along With Problems When Reporting Them
- Ask Other Team Members For Help
- Reduce Interruptions To Co-workers
- Think Twice About Who You CC On Emails
- Work Overtime Occasionally (Without Being Taken Advantage Of)
- Tell Your Manager Early If You’re Going to Miss a Deadline
- If You’re Going to Miss a Deadline, Think of Ways to Get Back on Track
- Determine How You Can Be More Efficient
- Improve Your Motivation for Software Development
- Less Complaining, More Ideas
- Ask Yourself How You Can Add Value At Work
Let’s get into the tips!
Focus And Concentration
To be a great developer, to be great at your job, you need to be focused during your work day.
You need to be able to concentrate on the task at hand to be able to get it done effectively and efficiently.
It’s all well and good to say you need to focus, but how can this be done? A few ways to increase your focus and concentration are:
- Eliminate distractions from your work. Don’t be tempted to check your Facebook or Twitter accounts when you should be doing work. Put your phone on silent or vibrate if you can.
- Get enough rest each night. I’ll go into more detail on this further in the post.
- Take small, regular breaks from your work. Rather than getting up once a day to have your lunch, take breaks regularly to stretch your legs and give your mind a rest. You’ll find that you return to work a little more focused and relaxed.
Set Goals For Yourself And Your Career
If you’re not sure where you’re going, how will you know when you get there? Creating some goals for yourself and your career is a great way to improve work performance. Have a think about what you want to achieve for your career, both in the short and long term. I’ve written a post on this topic which you can read for more information.
You can also set goals for the immediate short-term, such as each day or each week. If there’s a certain task that you’d like to get done by the end of the day, or the end of the week, make it a goal and work out how you can achieve that goal and what you need to do. This could involve getting a decision made by someone else, completing a document, finalising some code, or anything else you need to get done.
Improve Your Organisation Skills
Arguably the best thing I’ve done to improve work performance since starting my career in IT is improving the way I’ve organised my work and my life. It’s given me a clearer focus on my job and provides fewer distractions to my work. Organisation of my work can be broken down further into a few different areas:
- Organising your tasks and commitments at work
- Organising your desk and physical work area
- Organising your computer – folder structures, desktop icons, documentation, etc
- Organising your life outside of work
I’ll go into more detail on these in a further post, as there’s a lot to say on this topic. A great idea is to do something to become a little more organised in each of these areas above, which will hopefully make you perform your role better and improve your work performance:
- Write everything down that you need to do. This will make sure that you don’t forget it and have it all in the one location
- Clean your desk. Only store what you need on your desk and put everything else away.
- Come up with a folder structure that works for you and stick to it. Clean up your desktop icons and any other areas of your computer that you use frequently.
- Try to stay organised with your life outside of work by getting things done.
Personally, I use the Getting Things Done system which was developed by David Allen. His book is available on Amazon here (Disclaimer – this is an affiliate link so I do make a commission on it). Check it out – I recommend it.
Improve Your Time Management
You may not realise it, but a lot of time at work is usually wasted on doing things that don’t help you get your work done. Time management is the ability to manage your time and to improve how you spend it.
The first step of this is to identify how you spend your time.
Have a look at your calendar – this is a good place to start. Have a look for any meetings you go to, and if you really need to go to them.
Perhaps start logging how you spend your day – what tasks you perform, and how long they take. Once you can identify where your time is going, you can manage it easier and make cuts or time savings where appropriate, which is a great way to improve your work performance.
Most of us, at one time or another, have felt this feeling. It’s the feeling of having more to do that time to do it in. This is a common expectation that work will still get done, and you are expected to handle it.
But, how do you solve it? If, for example, you have 10 hours of work to do today and only 8 hours to do it in, how do you get it done? Excluding overtime for this simple example, the way to overcome this problem is to prioritise your work.
For each task you need to do, work out its priority. This could be self-determined (as in, you have the ability to give it a priority), or it could be determined by your team leader or another team. At the end of the process, you should have an indication of the importance of each task.
Now, focus on the high priority tasks first. By definition, these are the ones that need to get completed first and are the most important.
Once you complete these or get them sufficiently progressed, you can move on to the next one. Depending on your role and the particular tasks, it’s more likely that the low priority tasks are OK not to be done than a random selection of tasks that were not prioritised.
Keep A Healthy Work and Life Balance
While it may initially make sense to spend more time at work to get more done, this can have long-term effects on your ability to do your job. You might be tempted to always work 10 hours a day or more or to take your work home with you so you can work on the weekends.
Personally, this isn’t something I do very often at all. I believe that you should put in a highly productive day at work, and once you leave, your work stays there. Sure, this day may be longer than normal – you may start at 8 or 8:30 and finish at 6 – but once you finish, you have finished. Work stays at work, and once you get home at night you don’t do any more work. Your weekends are free to do non-work related activities – seeing friends and family, housework, shopping, anything you like.
This is called a work/life balance – you should be balancing your work activities and your other life activities. If you let your work overtake your life, you’ll end up feeling tired, stressed, and possibly burnt out – which in the long term is more of a disadvantage than something to improve to your work performance!
Of course, exceptions always apply, if there’s a deadline to meet for a project or if overtime is required. However, most companies appreciate the value of work/life balance and may be open to time off as compensation.
Get A Full Sleep And Keep A Healthy Diet
I’ve been told by many people for many years that a good sleep and a healthy diet is very important to work and life in general. Personally, I don’t have the best diet going around, but I don’t have the worst either. I try to get a normal amount of sleep each night.
However, I certainly notice the improvement in my mental and physical state when I eat healthily and get a good night’s sleep. I feel a lot better the next day, I have more energy and I’m less tired.
I’m no health expert, so I don’t know a lot of the details on healthy eating, but a well-balanced diet is a good way of improving your mental and physical state, which will improve your focus at work and improve your work performance. Also, most people recommend about 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night – so if you regularly have that amount of sleep you should feel the benefits. If you get less sleep or eat a lot of unhealthy takeaway food, you’re not performing at your best!
Communication Is Essential
In each job that I’ve worked – both IT and non-IT – I’ve realised that communication is one of the most important aspects of the job. Sure, you can go to work, do your job and try to do it with as little communication as possible – but I don’t think you’ll get very far. Improving communication in the workplace involves:
- Socialising and networking where appropriate. Being polite, asking how people are and getting to know them both personally and professionally can be advantageous for your career and your job. They say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, which I believe to be true.
- Keeping people informed – make sure you keep relevant people up to date on what you’re doing and when you’re doing it. This includes team members, managers, and anyone else who is involved in your work. Be proactive about this – try to anticipate them asking a question and give them the answer before this. This may mean a daily status update to your manager or keeping people informed at each major milestone of a critical task.
- Asking questions – I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a stupid question. I would rather ask a hundred questions than make a fatal mistake because I didn’t ask a question – this will make you look a lot worse! Ask questions of people if you’re not sure, or if there’s anything that you need to know. This may lead to more information or more realisations on how you can improve your work performance.
Be Aware Of Your Manager’s Goals
Having your own goals is a great idea. Your manager will also have their own goals for their team. It’s a good idea to be aware of these as if they’re goals for the team they have usually been created based on strategies from their managers.
Being aware of these goals will help you to improve your work performance, as you will know the reason why something needs to be done. It will also help you in deciding on priorities for your work and coming up with ideas and suggestions for the team.
Let’s say that one of your manager’s goals is to improve the time taken to get documentation reviewed by users. It may currently take them two weeks between releasing a document and getting the signoff. If you’re aware of this goal, you can come up with ideas on ways to improve it and even work on tasks which will help your manager achieve this goal – which is a great way to improve your performance at work!
It’s also a great way to improve your salary.
Have a Positive Attitude
Your attitude goes a long way to your performance at work. If you’re in a bad mood (which, sometimes just can’t be helped), this can be perceived as being difficult to deal with and may have a negative impact on your job. However, if you’re in a cheerful and positive mood, this will give people the impression that you’re in control of your work and that you’re good at doing your job. Other ways to improve your attitude at work are:
- Think of the bigger picture or overall reason that things need to get done. If you feel you have a negative attitude about a certain task, project or decision, try to understand it from other people’s point of view. It may be a good fit for the overall strategy of the company, even though it is an inconvenience to your team.
- Focus on the positives in each person. If you notice that some people you work with are annoying, incompetent, lazy or anything else, don’t start getting angry or negative towards them. Instead, try to focus on the positive in that person. This will not only help improve your opinion of that person, but it will also make you look like someone who is good at dealing with people that others can’t – which I’m sure we’ve all come across in our jobs!
- Smile – Smiling is a great way to show people you’re in a good mood, calm, happy and confident. Practice smiling at work and you’ll notice the effect it has, both on yourself and others!
Get Additional Training and Education
A great way to improve work performance is to obtain additional training or qualifications. The IT industry is constantly changing, and education you may have gotten from university or college may be out of date years later. A great way of keeping up to date, or to add more skills to your job, is to get more qualifications or education.
I’m currently studying to obtain a database certification, which will not only improve my knowledge of the specific technology, it will allow my employer to sell me to clients by saying, “He also is officially certified in Oracle database technologies”. It also has an influence on your salary – both at your current employer and any future jobs you may go for.
It’s also helpful if you wish to change career path. If you want to move into Java programming, you may wish to take a part-time course in Java to give you enough knowledge for a beginner Java role.
Also, you can take more advanced or expert qualifications to help you stand out from the crowd in your own specialised area. Most technologies that have qualifications have different levels for beginners and experts.
Wherever you work, your employer or client will most likely have specified a dress code or a standard of clothing that should be worn by all employees while at work.
This could be something less formal such as nice jeans and a polo shirt, or even a suit, shirt and tie, or anywhere in between. To be viewed and treated professionally, it is important that you stick to this dress code.
That means if you’ve been asked to wear a polo shirt and jeans for work, wear a polo shirt and jeans. Don’t wear thongs and a t-shirt with worn-out jeans. Don’t wear long shorts with shoes. If you are however asked to wear a shirt and trousers, don’t come to work wearing a polo shirt and jeans.
If you adhere to the standard of dress that your employer or client expects, you’ll not only be treated more professionally, your co-workers and managers will notice that you’re taking your job seriously.
An exception to this tip is if your workplace has casual Fridays! It took me a while to get used to the idea of casual Fridays because I wanted to always look professional. However, over time I realised that blending in with the client is more important so I made the exception.
Be On Time to Meetings
Meetings are set up so a group of people can gather and discuss a topic or issue and come to a resolution or plan. They have a set start and end time – which is usually determined by the availability of the attendees, the availability of the room the meeting is being held in, and the estimated time to discuss the issue.
For these reasons, it is expected that the attendees will arrive at the meeting on time.
Arriving on time means, funnily enough, “on time”. It doesn’t mean five minutes after the meeting has started. It surely doesn’t mean fifteen minutes into the meeting. It means at the scheduled time. If it’s a 10:00 meeting, arrive at 10:00, or even a couple of minutes earlier if able.
If you arrive late to meetings, it gives the impression you don’t care much for the topic that’s being discussed.
It shows a lack of respect and the other attendees may be irritated by this. If it happens on a regular basis, the meeting holders may even start the meetings without you, meaning you miss out on the discussion on the topic or issue, which could have an impact on your work!
Alternatively, if you always arrive a few minutes early, or on time to meetings, other people will see this as being professional, and shown to treat the other meeting attendees with respect.
Arrive Before Nine, Leave After Five
The workday day begins at 9 AM and finishes at 5 PM.
Your employer or client is likely to expect you to work within these hours, or hours similar to this. This is so you can perform the required work for the day around your co-workers, which may be affected by the work you do, and be involved in discussions about your work.
For this reason, it’s important to work within these hours. If your boss expects you to be at work at 9:00 AM, then be at work by (you guessed it) 9:00 AM at the latest.
Don’t stroll into the office at 9:15 or 9:30 after you grab your morning coffee.
Every now and then may be OK if your boss is aware of it and if there are unusual circumstances that cause you to be late. If it’s done consistently, though, it will get noticed very quickly by both your boss and your co-workers. They may be waiting for you to get something done or for information from you before they can work on something.
I’ve seen people arrive anywhere between 9 and 10, and I think this is a bad idea. It makes them seem lazy, as though they couldn’t get out of bed to get to the office by 9. It disrespects the other team members who get there before 9. And, their boss will notice this, whether they seem like it or not.
Similarly, your employer or client may expect you to work until 5 PM, so don’t pack up and leave at 4:50, or 4:30.
This will also get noticed very quickly if it happens consistently. It may not seem like much to you – a few minutes here and there – but it’s a reflection of the attitude you have towards your work and is not very professional.
Also, leaving at 5 PM exactly will give the impression that you have been “counting down” towards 5 PM, not actually doing any productive work up until then and just want to get out of the office – which is not a good signal to give. It’s also good for getting a pay rise or a promotion.
Ideally, the best thing you can do is arrive BEFORE your designated start time, and leave AFTER your start time. Fifteen minutes would be ideal – arriving at 8:45 and leaving at 5:15.
Even five minutes is OK – arriving at 8:55 and leaving at 5:05. Of course, this means you spend a bit longer at work, but it goes a long way to show your co-workers and your boss that you’re professional in what you do.
The exception to this is if you have kids to take care of. As I’ve gotten more experience in the industry, I’ve noticed that many employers allow employees to arrive later as they have to drop their kids off at school. So, this is a valid reason but it should be arranged with the employer and team first.
Professional Attitude and Conversation
Your attitude at work goes a long way to show how professional you are. This involves both the conversations you have with your co-workers and the way you go about your job.
The conversations you have
with your co-workers, and the conversations you have with everyone else in your life are likely to be very different. The details of a big night out that you discuss with your mates are generally not appropriate to discuss with co-workers on a Monday morning. The discussions with your partner about your personal life are also generally not appropriate to bring up at work.
I use the term “generally” because it depends on the relationship you have with your co-workers.
In some cases, you may have a close personal relationship with your co-workers and it may extend beyond the office – you may get together at family events, or go out for drinks with friends after work.
However, in most cases, it’s a professional environment where the discussion topics should be considered first. The story about how drunk you got on a Saturday night and where you ended up on Sunday morning may be a great one to tell your friends, but it’s something that should be kept untold when around your boss or co-workers. They will think it’s unprofessional to discuss these things.
Split Personal and Work Time
Everyone has a life outside of work. You may have other interests, such as sport or entertainment. You may have a partner or family to go home to. You will probably have friends you’d like to meet up with or talk to. You may even have other things to organise, like a holiday or financial arrangements or a birthday party.
It’s certainly not unacceptable to have these commitments outside of work. How you deal with them, though, is a reflection on your work attitude. If you need to make personal calls (calls not related to your job), a few points should be followed:
- Keep them to a minimum during work hours. Making calls on your lunch break is preferred.
- Don’t use the company’s phone on your desk – use your mobile if you can.
- Step away from your desk to receive or make these calls, if you can. Sometimes this can’t be done, such as calls that need you to be at a desk or at a computer for them.
- If you need to make calls at your desk, be considerate of other people around you, and keep your voice at an appropriate level. Also, don’t use the speakerphone from your desk. This will quickly irritate your co-workers.
Separating the calls or tasks you need to do for personal reasons and for work reasons while at work will show your boss and co-workers that you are respectful of others and will see you as being professional.
Use Your Lunch Break for Personal Work and Errands
Another suggestion I have for how to be more professional is to leave your personal work for your lunch break.
Most companies give you 30-60 minutes for a lunch break in the middle of the day. Sure, you should eat your lunch then. I also think you should do any of your personal things during this time. This includes any Internet browsing you need to do outside of work, as well as any errands you need to run.
I often need to do errands at work, such as going to the bank, post office, dry cleaner, newsagent, and other stores. I try to get this done during my lunch break. Sure, other people might have the same idea and it might get busy, but at least you’re not wasting company time by getting your own things done.
Also, your manager will be less worried about you being away from your desk if it’s in your lunch break. If you’re doing errands on company time, it doesn’t look professional and might annoy other co-workers.
Keep a Professional Hair Style
When you get ready for work in the morning, whether you’re a man or a woman, you might need to get your hair ready for the day.
Depending on your age, and how much hair you have, this can take some time. I’m no hair expert (if I was, I wouldn’t be running this site!), but I think there are some hairstyles that are suitable for work, and some that are suitable for other events such as going out with your friends to a bar on a Saturday night.
It’s important to prepare your hair for the workplace and not for a social event. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to look professional – so put some thought into your hair when you prepare it in the morning, and think, “What impression am I trying to achieve here?”
Small Details Matter
Many times I’ve worked with and seen people at work that think they’re dressing professionally and trying to look professional at work but haven’t quite pulled it off. They get almost there.
The reason it’s not quite professional is in the small details – things that are not that obvious but are still noticeable.
If you want to complete the look of being professional at work, everything needs to be up to a high level of professionalism. Some things to watch out for are:
- Make sure your shoes are clean and polished, with no dirt or scuff marks
- Make sure your clothes are ironed! I can’t stress how important it is to have a crease-free shirt!
- Don’t wear bright shirts or ties (unless your workplace suits it)
- Make sure your tie is fully tied up, not loose or with a button undone
- Keep your clothes clean – no stains or spills
- Wear perfume or cologne, especially if you exercise before or during work.
- Consider having a clean-shaven face, if you’re a man. It’s considered more professional (but this is optional).
Dressing the part of a professional is a great way to improve and learn how to look professional at work. It will get you noticed by your co-workers and managers and will ideally help you towards a promotion.
Swearing is something that should be kept away from the office. As a software developer, there can be times where things aren’t working the way they are supposed to.
You might have trouble figuring out how some code works, it might be throwing an error for an unexplained reason, or you might be running behind on a project.
In any case, there is no need to use swear words. This just makes the team around you feel uncomfortable and makes you seem too casual.
If you’re frustrated about something, say something else, or don’t say anything at all. Get up, walk around, go somewhere and think for a few minutes. There are much better ways to deal with frustration than to swear.
Don’t Check Your Phone All the Time
This is one that I’m guilty of sometimes, but I’m trying to work on.
Try not to check your phone all the time at work. These days, with the increase in smartphone use, our phones have become an extension of us. Messages, emails, Facebook notifications can all serve to distract us from our work.
If you’re on your mobile at work, it looks like you’re not doing anything work-related. It doesn’t look good to the rest of the team.
Avoid checking your phone is a good tip for how to be more professional.
Sure, you might need to check it occasionally for whatever reason. But checking it every 15 minutes during the day is probably too much. It looks like you’re not focusing on work.
Put your phone on vibrate mode and leave it on your desk. Don’t check it unless someone calls you, or during your lunch break. You shouldn’t need to browse Facebook or send messages throughout the day.
If You Listen to Music, Use Headphones
You might like to listen to music at your desk, whether it’s on your iPod or through your computer. It might help you relax, concentrate, or help you work better in some way.
If you do listen to music, use headphones. It can make you seem unapproachable, but if it helps you concentrate at work then it’s a good idea. It’s better than playing music out of your computer speakers.
I’ve done this at work before and have seen many other developers do it. It’s hard to get time to focus on your work sometimes as a developer, so having headphones in can make it easier.
Avoid Loud Phone Calls
Making phone calls is part of the job. You will often need to place and receive calls during your working day. When you’re on the phone, though, talking in a voice so loud that people on the other end of the office can hear you is not very professional. Well, that may be an exaggeration, but there is a difference between an appropriate level to talk on the phone and talking too loud. Not everyone needs to hear the conversation you’re having.
If it’s an argument or a heated discussion, this may be an exception as they (hopefully) won’t happen very often.
Keeping your voice to an appropriate level is something that will be appreciated by the rest of the office.
Learn About Your Employer
If you’re working for an employer in the IT industry, whether you’re a direct employer or a consultant to a client, there are a few things you should know about them. I’m not saying “dirty little secrets” about them – just a few things to enhance your knowledge about the company, which can help you do your job even better.
What Is Their Business Model?
It might seem like a pretty basic one, but you should know what your employer’s business model is. How do they make their money? Who are their competitors? What kind of services or products do they provide? Knowing this will help you with your job and won’t make you look like a fool when asked what your company does!
Short and Long-Term Plans for IT
Being aware of your employer’s plans for their IT department, and how it affects the company is a good thing to know. It’s useful for planning purposes, and as an IT professional, it can help you do your job better by knowing what the company wants on a more general level. It can also help you get more work, by making suggestions that match their long-term plans.
Legal and Compliance Requirements
It’s pretty safe to assume that all companies request that you don’t break the law when you’re working for them. However, some areas of companies have tighter legal and compliance requirements for whatever reason. You’ll need to be aware of these so you can do your job correctly and don’t end up doing something that breaks these rules – whether you know about them or not.
This mostly applies to the people that you work with rather than the whole company. How technical are the people that you work with? Do they know the details of what you’re doing, or do they just know it’s something with computers? Or somewhere in between? This helps you work out how to best communicate with them and find out what they need.
When and How To Reach Them
These days, there are many ways to communicate with people in the office – email, desk phone calls, mobile phone calls, office messaging systems, in person. Different people in the organisation have different preferences for communication. Getting to know these will benefit you as you’ll get a more positive response from the people you work with.
Additionally, knowing when they prefer to be contacted is a good thing to know as well. Do they prefer calls in the morning instead of the afternoon? Do they not like receiving email after hours? This can be the case if they have a smartphone that is linked to their work email account – meaning they will get work emails at home. It’s up to you to find out these things – by either asking them directly or asking a colleague who knows.
It’s good to know at least a brief history of the company you work for. It’s not just used for job interviews to know who you’re going for a job with. It can be helpful when talking to co-workers and keeping up with the news inside the company. Knowing when your company was founded, who the current CEO is, when and if your company is trading publicly (and the current share price), any recent mergers or acquisitions, are all good things to at least know about.
Your Area’s Organisation Structure
Sure, you know who your boss is and what their title is (well, I sure hope you do!). But do you know who their boss is? And theirs? And who else reports to them? What your department is called? These are the things you should know. All the way from the CEO down to your level – whether that’s one level or ten, it’s good to know where it is in the organisation. This is so you know who is who when people are being talked about, or you see their name in an email, for example.
General Organisation Structure
This is related to the above point, but it’s also good to know what the organisation structure is for your company. This doesn’t mean known everyone and their role in the organisation – just an overview of what the departments are and who they’re run by. Does your employer have a marketing, sales, finance, or legal department? Who do they report to? What are the other major areas of the company? If you’re not sure about this, try networking with coworkers and other people in the office – it has great benefits too!
Communicate Effectively with Senior Managers
You’ll sometimes need to communicate with senior managers in your company. This could happen if they stop by your desk, or you go to a meeting, or just see them around the office. Here are some tips for doing that.
Senior managers are senior because they have the experience doing roles at more junior levels or other areas of a business.
They have been in your situation before.
They have given presentations and provided information to other executives before they got to their position.
So, they know what it’s like to be where you are. For this reason, you shouldn’t panic. Don’t think too much about what could go wrong when you speak to others. Try to relax. Focus on what you’re trying to say or communicate to senior managers, and just say it.
Don’t Go Into Too Much Detail
It’s very tempting for us IT professionals to explain the details of what is asked of us to senior managers. We think it’s relevant, it’s important, and it matters to what’s being discussed. Leaving it out would be crazy!
Before we go into too much detail, we should try to look at it from their side. They most likely don’t want the details.
Their time is precious and they don’t need to know the details. They have an interest in different areas of the business and are not usually concerned with technical areas.
If you need to give an update to a senior manager on a critical system outage, they would likely be interested in things such as the expected resolution time, who is looking at the issue at the moment, and who to contact for more information.
They probably don’t need to know about server logs and possible causes. At a later date, they might, if some kind of review is done. But this is just one example. The point here is that we need to realise which information is important and which isn’t.
Know What You’re Talking About
Depending on the manager you’re talking to, they can be pretty picky.
Actually, senior managers often have other managers that they report to and are accountable to. This means that anything you tell them is likely to be passed on to their manager.
This is important to know because if the wrong information is communicated or if it’s uncertain, it can cause problems.
Make sure you know what you’re talking about when you need to communicate with senior managers.
If you’re not sure, don’t be afraid to say so. It’s better to be unsure about something and say so than to pick a response or a solution which may be incorrect.
They will make decisions or take actions based on what you tell them, so as long as it’s accurate, it will be OK. Be sure to tell them your concerns if it isn’t accurate.
For example, if we use the same scenario as above where there is an outage – an external team tells you the hardware will arrive and be installed in four hours, but you’re not sure it can be done that quickly. Management then asks you for an update. It’s a good idea to mention the four-hour resolution, but also mention your concerns that it may not be accurate, and why. This will allow the managers to take necessary action.
Give And You Shall Receive
The best method for how to get others to do your work is to do something for them in return.
What I mean by this, is to be responsive when they ask you to do work for them. If you’re doing work for them, when they ask you for it, and it is of a high quality, then they will remember this when you ask them if they can do something for you.
Giving something to them before asking for something from them is a good way to improve teamwork.
However, don’t mention the fact that you just did something for them. Don’t say that “I just did that thing for you, could you do this for me?”
It makes it seem like you only did their work to get something in return, which seems insincere, and may annoy the other person.
Keep the two tasks separate – they will make the link in their mind if needed. They would realize you did something for them recently, without you bringing it up.
Be Considerate Of Other People’s Time
Whenever you ask someone to do some work for you, whether it is to help you with a task, set up some access for you, review some code or anything else, make sure you’re considerate of their time.
As you may realize, a lot of us IT professionals keep busy with our work. We normally don’t like to have extra work given to us, when it doesn’t help us directly.
A good way to help get a “yes” from a team member is to be considerate of their time. Opening with something like “I know you’re very busy” or “I realize you have a lot of work to do” shows that you are considerate of their time and that you don’t think of yourself as the top priority. It will help your chances of getting them to say yes, and they would be in a better mood for it, as people appreciate the consideration.
Explain The Reason or Big Picture When Asking Others to Help You
Many IT professionals are interested in the reason why they do their work.
They are interested in the bigger picture – why the system is being built, why a new server is being commissioned, why a company is updating to VoIP services. If you ask them to do a task for you, it helps to tell them why you’re asking them. Not just because they are the person to do it, but why it’s even being done in the first place.
A task like, “Could you give me a list of everyone who has access to this server?” might seem like enough, but consider adding a reason – “John has been asked to review the list to remove expired users and decrease the security risk to the server”.
This helps the other person why it’s actually being done – it communicates the benefit of the task to them, which will help them agree to it, and is an effective tip on how to get others to do your work.
Use Positive Body Language
Body language is the hints or clues that you make with your body, whether you realise it or not, that indicate how you’re feeling and how you want to be portrayed. Body language can reflect many feelings – fear, anger, excitement, happiness, boredom, and many other emotions.
Approachable body language is these kinds of clues that make us look more approachable, that we are open to people approaching us and talking to us.
Sometimes we know that we are making these signals, and sometimes we don’t. It’s a kind of non-verbal communication.
A lot of the time it will be people in your own team that come up to you and want to talk to you. They could be asking for work to do, asking you for lunch, or any number of things. If you are approachable, it makes them happier and more comfortable about speaking to you and demonstrates that you’re part of the team.
If it’s someone that isn’t in your team, it’s especially important, as they may not know you very well and might not be able to tell if you’re in an approachable mood. The best way to show them that you are is by demonstrating this kind of body language.
Showing that you’re approachable at work, for whatever reason, will demonstrate that you’re more willing to work with others, and this is a great skill that can help improve your career.
Let’s have a look at some examples of good and bad body language that you could try to use when you’re at work.
- Uncross arms – crossed arms is usually related to thinking defensively and is something that should be avoided. Try not to cross your arms too much, if you can help it.
- Take your hands out of your pockets – putting your hands in your pockets is thought to be a nervous habit or showing that you’re uncomfortable. Also try to avoid this one, especially if you’re standing up.
- Look ahead and around, not down – looking around your area and surroundings can show that you’re open, rather than looking down. This works better when you’re standing, not so much when you’re at the computer.
- Smile – smiling is a great way to show you are positive and approachable. Obviously, you can’t smile all day, but the occasional smile helps!
- Avoid nervous habits – habits such as biting nails and fidgeting, demonstrate that you are nervous and may be distant or not concentrating.
- Sit up straight – sitting up straight at your desk, rather than leaning back or forward, is a good way to demonstrate that you are approachable.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It gives you the energy you need to last through the morning and lets you focus better at work and therefore improve your efficiency.
I recommend eating a good breakfast before starting work for the day. You can actually do this at home or on your way to work, depending on your preferences. I usually eat breakfast at home. A bowl of cereal, some toast, or anything else you can prepare in the morning can be eaten for breakfast and will give you the energy and focus you need to do your job well.
Ask Your Boss Is There Anything I Can Improve On?
This is quite a direct question but it’s a good one to ask.
Asking your boss if there’s anything you can improve on will hopefully give you a pretty good idea of what can be done. The aim is to get a response from your boss that highlights some areas that you might need to improve.
The best part about this approach is that they will often suggest areas that you may have never noticed. This is because they see things from a different perspective. They are a step back from the work that you do, and can actually observe you doing it.
Is There Anything That The Team Needs Help With?
This question aims to address some of the problems that the team is having. A big part of a team leader’s role is work allocation – ensuring that each of their team members has enough work and is also not over-allocated.
Sometimes, though, it turns out that you might have the time to do more work, and other people might be pretty busy. In this case, ask your manager if there’s anything that the team needs help with.
They might know right away what you can do. This could be testing someone else’s code, performing a code review, writing or reviewing some documentation, organising something for the team, or any number of tasks that need to be done.
If they don’t know, they might ask the team to suggest a few things. This way, you can get ideas directly from the people in your team.
Anything you can do to help the team is a good thing, and it can also improve the way you work.
What Would Be Helpful For The Team Or For Me To Learn?
This is a great question for your team leader, as it helps to look to the future. Learning new skills or technologies is a good way to improve your career, and the abilities of your team.
Ask your boss this question and see what they say. Perhaps there is a skill that needs to be learned by someone to help with certain tasks, such as writing the occasional Unix script. If someone knows this it can help when the team needs this task done.
Or maybe it would be helpful to learn the latest version of a piece of software or how to use a specific tool that helps the team. If you’re able to learn this, you can be the go-to person for your team for this.
It can also benefit as you can teach the rest of the team how to use it.
Another benefit of learning a new skill or technology is that it can go on your resume as something else you’ve learned. It can help you with pay rises in the future and keeps you up to date in the industry, which are all good things!
What Is The Most Painful Thing That The Team Has To Do?
A great way to improve your work, and the team, is to ask your boss this question.
They might not be able to answer right away, but they probably have a few ideas of things that are painful or a big hassle for them to do.
This could be things like:
- Weekly reporting
- Tracking team members’ time
- Clearing their inbox
- Keeping track of what they need to do
- Using a particular program like Excel or PowerPoint
Ask them what they or the team struggles with, and then see if you can solve that problem.
Maybe you can create an Excel template or write some code to help solve this problem or make it less painful. The effort and time it could save will be a big benefit to your team.
Is There Anything You Need Help With Or Are Struggling With?
This is similar to an earlier question and may get a similar result, but this is more directed at your manager themselves.
Ask them if there is anything they are struggling with. This may get responses specific to their work. If you can find out a way to help them with it, it can benefit their work, and in turn, it will help the team.
Depending on how technical your manager is, it could be a range of things. It could be helping with some software, setting up an environment or hardware, or just other things that they haven’t gotten around to yet. See if you can help them with what they suggest.
Ask Yourself If Any Areas Can Be Improved
Sometimes a bit of self-analysis can be useful to work out how to improve at work. Take some time to think about each of these questions to see if anything comes to mind.
- Could you improve your speaking skills?
- Do your written skills need improving?
- Do you think you need to listen to others more?
- Do you have trouble explaining things to people?
- Do you have a To Do list or a list of tasks that need to be done?
- Is your email inbox sorted, with folders for various topics or projects?
- Is your desk clear of non-essential items?
- Is your development environment or application setup the best it could be to save you time?
- What are the IT systems that your area focuses on, and what systems do they interface with?
- When were they built and what language are they built in?
- What functions are you unaware of or have little knowledge about?
- Are there any libraries or extensions that you could learn to make your job easier?
- Do you know how to make your code run faster and more efficient?
- What other applications exist that can help you with your work?
- Is there anything in Microsoft Office that I’m having trouble doing, or any repetitive tasks that I could improve on?
- Do I know how to use all of the features in the team’s bug tracking tool, and other development tools?
- Are there any certifications I can take to improve my knowledge and performance at work?
- Can I improve the way I run tests on my code or other people’s code?
Don’t Take A Long Lunch
Most of us working in the IT industry get an allocated lunch break. This could be half an hour, a full hour, or anywhere in between. It’s expected you take a certain amount of time for a lunch break – to eat lunch, run some errands, and other things.
This could be within a certain window of the day (e.g. half an hour between 12 and 2) or a set time (lunch between 1 and 2).
In either case, try to keep your lunch breaks within the set times and don’t make them too long. A long lunch break every now and then would be OK, if you have an appointment or need to run a few errands (just tell your manager about it). However, doing this every day may be a concern – it sends a bad impression to your team and your manager.
Don’t Drink Alcohol During Lunch
Sometimes when you go out for lunch, with friends or coworkers, it can be tempting to have a drink with your lunch, such as a beer or a glass of wine. This is especially true at special lunches like project completions or staff farewells.
This is more of a personal decision, depending on the situation and your approach to alcohol, but I would suggest not drinking alcohol during your lunch break. It can put you off for the rest of the day, making you less effective at work.
Use Keyboard Shortcuts
Most of us IT workers spend a lot of time on the computer. As a result, we’ve come to learn a few ways of making our jobs easier.
One of these is keyboard shortcuts. Most applications have keyboard shortcuts, that let us perform tasks quicker than using the mouse
It’s a good idea to learn and start using keyboard shortcuts. It makes it look like you’re capable at doing your job, and makes you look more efficient. It can also save you time once you learn them and incorporate them into your daily work.
Take Notes When You Go To Meetings
When you go to meetings, it’s helpful to take notes on the topics that are being discussed.
It’s usually up to the person who called the meeting to send out the discussion points and actions after the meeting, but if you’re there as well, taking your own notes can be helpful to remember what was discussed and any other key points.
I use Evernote to take notes for my meetings and it’s changed my life!
Use A Signature On All Emails
The signature feature of an email is a helpful but often misused area of communication. It should be used to communicate your personal details – name, position, and contact information.
Make sure you have one set up in your email provider, and that it is attached to all emails you send. This not only saves you time with ending your emails, it makes it easier for others to contact you.
Ensure your signature is appropriate as well – don’t put large images or funny quotes in there, they don’t achieve anything.
Give Appropriate Names To Your Files
You will probably work with a lot of files in your role. Many of them will be stored on your hard drive or in another document storage area.
This might seem self-explanatory, but it’s a good idea to give names to your files that make them easy to find and identify. This will help you in the future when looking for a certain file, and also makes them easily identifiable to others when sharing them around.
Don’t Write Long Emails
An email is a common form of communication, but it’s also commonly abused.
A lot of the time, emails are written to others that are quite lengthy. It might seem like a good idea to explain everything or put a lot of information in an email, but a lot of the time it is better suited to another form of communication.
Try to keep emails shorter and to the point – nobody likes to read a long email. If information needs to be communicated, it might be easier to mention it in person or discuss over the phone.
Think Of Different Ways To Solve Problems
A lot of the work we do in IT is about problem-solving. A problem exists with a system, a hardware setup, a business process or a configuration, and it’s up to us to solve it. At first, it might seem easier to go with the first solution that you think of.
Try to take some time to come up with alternative solutions, different ways to solve the problem.
Discuss them with other people in your team. The best solution may not be the most obvious one, and others can give you ideas on how to solve the problem in a better way. I even applied some problem-solving when I had an issue with my visa on a trip to China.
Think Of Improvements To Current Processes And Systems
One of the main roles of a software developer is to make improvements to current processes and systems.
These improvements are usually devised by the business or by the client, and the developers are the ones that carry out the work. In many cases, due to our technical knowledge and experience, we may be able to come up with other ways to improve processes that others haven’t thought of.
This can be due to a fresh look at a current system, or the fact that they may not know that certain things are possible. Coming up with new ways to improve things is a great benefit to a company.
Put Your Phone On Silent
Mobile phones are important to us in this day and age. They form a big part of our lives and our communication with others. They can also be quite a distraction to others, especially when your phone rings and your ringtone is heard around the office.
In an effort to reduce the distraction to others, it’s a good idea to put your phone onto silent or vibrate mode during work hours. If it’s near you, you’ll be able to see it when it rings. It won’t distract others nearly as much if they can’t hear the ringtone – and it will be appreciated.
Keep The Big Picture In Mind
When at work and doing your day-to-day activities, it can be easy to get caught up in the details. Sometimes it can help to step back and think of the bigger picture.
This can help you realise why you’re doing what you’re doing, can help you focus and get motivated, and help you make decisions on what to do and how to do things.
IT is supposed to support the business to let them do what they do, so we should be keeping that in mind when we do our work.
Make Yourself Known To Other Teams
Your boss will probably know how you work and how good you are at your job. They should – as they’re the one you’re doing the work for. However, a great way to improve your IT career is to get yourself known to other people in the company:
- Your boss’s boss – Make sure they know who you are, what work you’re doing and how well you’re doing it. This will help with recognition and any future promotions.
- People in HR – it can be hard for human resources to know each and every person in the company, especially if it’s so big. Make yourself known to them, so when they’re discussing your file or your progress among themselves, they know more about you.
- Other managers – get yourself and your work known among other teams and other managers. This can be done if you’re also doing work for other teams, but if you’re only working on the one project, it can be a little harder. Try talking to them and getting them to know you if you see them around the office.
Sign Up For LinkedIn
I’ve mentioned this a few times in older posts, but signing up for the professional networking site LinkedIn is a great way to improve your career. It lets you connect with other professionals, such as current and past co-workers, which is good for finding new roles and helping the role you have at the moment.
Social networking is a big thing these days. You may be on Facebook or Twitter. Another great social networking site for professionals is LinkedIn. Essentially, it’s like Facebook but for professionals. You set up your profile, add your education and work experience, and connect with people. Reasons to do this include:
- You can keep up to date with your current and former co-workers
- It’s like an online resume – potential employers can find you based on your experience
- You can find jobs via LinkedIn as well
- Other people can offer you recommendations – publicly writing how good you are at your job. Which you are! Or, you will hopefully be if you’ve been reading the articles on my site.
Take Initiative To Get Things Done
A lot of the work that we have is given to us by other people, and a lot of the time it isn’t clear what we need to do to get it done. It’s a good idea to take some initiative and find out more information or make some progress in the work you need to do, without having to ask for the next step from your manager.
Your manager shouldn’t need to step you through what needs to be done each time – take some of the load off them and try to get it done yourself. Your manager will appreciate it.
Know How To Use Your Computer Very Well
As we work in IT, we should know how to use a computer better than others. Keyboard shortcuts, common tools, different functions inside common applications and how to do certain tasks should be some of the things that we know.
Not only does it send a good impression to others, it means we’re able to help out other people who may not know how to do certain things. Knowing how to do certain tasks in Microsoft Word or how to set up your desktop wallpaper settings are just some of the things you can do to help others who don’t know how to do it.
Leave Personal Problems At Home
All of us have things going on outside of our work life. Some of these things may not be going as well as we like, eventuating in personal problems for us. As hard as it can be, try to keep your focus on work while at work and keep the personal problems outside of the office.
It sends a better impression to your manager and co-workers if you’re able to handle them. If it’s something more serious, have a quiet word to your manager and mention you’re trying not to let it impact your work.
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Stupid Questions
Gathering information and working out how to do certain tasks is a big part of our roles in the IT industry. A lot of the time, we need to be able to ask questions to other people. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a “stupid” question.
If asking a question helps you avoid a mistake or helps you get something done, it’s a good question. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that you may have asked before, or that may seem stupid if you’re not sure. It’s better to be sure of the answer than to take a guess and make a mistake.
Work Out How You Spend Your Time
Sometimes the work day can just drag on, and sometimes it can go quickly without you realising it, and you feel like you haven’t got any work done. In cases like this, it can be helpful to look back and work out how your day was spent.
Did you have a lot of meetings to go to? Did you have some long phone calls? Did you need to drive to other sites? All of these activities can subtract from the time you have to do your actual work.
Share Good Resources And Websites With Team
While we’re doing our jobs and getting things done, we can sometimes come across helpful resources than make our jobs easier. These could be articles on certain topics, web-based tools or applications to download, any of which can be useful.
If you’ve gotten some benefit from them, there’s a good chance others will as well. Share these resources with other team members – whether they use them or not, it’s a good gesture and shows you’re making attempts to improve the way your team works.
PS – You can share this article with your team if you find it helpful!
Follow Up With Others
Some of the work that you do requires input or decisions from others. The first step you take might be to ask them for some input or to send something to them. A lot of the time, they forget about it or don’t get a chance to do it.
Just because you’ve sent it to them, it doesn’t mean they will always get back to you. Follow up with the other person – call them, speak to them, or email them, to find out what the status is with what you asked them about. This can help get things done faster and removes any confusion about who needs to do the work.
Be Friendly To Others, Even If You Don’t Work With Them
A part of being professional in the office is being friendly with other people. This applies to all people, even the ones you don’t work directly with.
This could be people in other teams, other departments, or even service staff like receptionists, delivery people or cleaners. Showing respect and friendliness to others will send a good impression and make you seem like someone who is good to work with.
Don’t Gossip Around The Office
It can be tempting in some situations to gossip about other people – speak about people when they are not there, whether it is about work related issues or not. Try not to get involved in this if other people are doing it – it isn’t very productive.
Also, try not to instigate any gossip discussions either. Speaking about others when they are not there is fine, but if there are any issues with other people or team members, it’s better to handle them rather than speak negatively about them to others.
Let People Know When You Will Have Things Done By – Under Promise, Over Deliver
One of the best tips I’ve heard is the concept of “under promise, over deliver”. This involves letting people know when you will have something done by, often in a longer time that it will take. This means when you do get it done, it’s sooner than when they were expecting it, which makes you look good.
It is also important that the work is of good quality. Doing more work, by going above and beyond what they have asked for, is also a good way to improve this and send a good impression to the person who you’re helping.
Help Out Your Team Members
Being able to work in a team is an important part of being a developer.
Sometimes your team members will need help with the work they are doing. It’s a good idea to help them out if they ask for it.
You can also offer to help them out if they seem like they are under pressure and could use an extra hand. They will be grateful for this and your manager will appreciate it as well.
Don’t Whine About Other Team Members
This point is similar to gossiping about others but is more focused on your direct team and the work that they do.
If you have issues with what other people in your team are doing (or what they aren’t doing), try not to complain about them to other team members.
This can cause other problems and can divide the team. If you have an issue with another team member, mention it to your manager in a private conversation and they can take the appropriate action.
Bring Solutions Along With Problems When Reporting Them
When you have a problem with something you’re working on or something that has happened, it’s a good idea to report it to your manager. Something that can help this process is to try to bring along a solution with the problem. Mentioning the problem, along with a possible solution, can be easier to discuss with your manager.
If you don’t have a solution, mention some options for things that can be done, or at least give an update on what is happening. Any of these will be appreciated by your manager, and are more helpful than just mentioning the problem.
Ask Other Team Members For Help
One of the advantages of working in a team is the ability to utilise other team members’ skills and experiences
If you run into a problem or have difficulty with something that you’re doing, don’t be afraid to ask others for help.
You can speak to other team members, or to your manager if you’re stuck on something and are unable to proceed. They will hopefully be happy to help and will make the team perform better if you’re not stuck.
Reduce Interruptions To Co-workers
A good way of making sure your team works as efficiently as possible is to reduce the distractions that they are affected by.
You can do this by not playing music at your computer, putting your phone on silent, not speaking loudly on the phone, and just being considerate overall when working near other people. If other people are distracted by some of the things that you do, it doesn’t give a good impression of you and doesn’t make the team work as well as it could.
Think Twice About Who You CC On Emails
Emails are easy ways to send information to others but can be misused.
The use of the To and CC fields is often done inappropriately, meaning emails are sent to people who don’t need to see them. A lot of the time, people fill up the CC field with anyone who they know that may be involved in the subject.
There is almost always more people involved in an email that needs to be. The only people that should be in the To field are the people that the email is addressed to, and the CC field should only contain people who are directly involved or impacted by an email. Keeping the list small helps to reduce inbox clutter.
Work Overtime Occasionally (Without Being Taken Advantage Of)
When I’m talking about working overtime, I’m not talking about the little bit of extra work that you put in outside of the 9 AM to 5 PM timeslot. I’m not talking about getting to the office at 8:30 and leaving at 5:30 every day, before most people get there and after many people leave. That isn’t what I’d consider overtime. That’s what I would consider putting in the effort and making a good appearance.
A little bit of overtime is OK. It shows you are willing to work harder and shows dedication to the project.
However, it should only be done when it’s needed. It shouldn’t be normal practice – which I’ll explain in the next section.
Before I started working in IT, I worked in a restaurant as a waiter. It was a casual job where we were paid by the hour. We had certain shifts – where we would come in at a certain time, leave when the shift ended, and log our start and end times for the day on a piece of paper. The point of this was so that the boss knew how many hours we had worked and how much to pay us.
In that job, and in many other casual jobs, overtime is often compensated. You usually get paid extra for the hours you put in, so the overtime is treated differently. If you work an extra hour, you get paid an extra hour. This may be because it’s an hourly paid job, or because of the irregular hours, but the point is that you get paid for overtime.
In the IT world, though, it’s not usually the case. Unless you get special approval to get paid more, it’s often just part of the role.
it should only be done when it’s needed, and should not be the normal mode of operation or the normal way of doing things.
This is for a few reasons:
- It’s not healthy. You could get burnt out if you’re working 10-12 hour days constantly.
- It shows a lack of planning in the team. One of your manager’s roles is workload management. If you need to work crazy hours constantly just to get the work done, it shows that there is more work that needs to be done than there are people available to do it.
- Your time is valuable. Doing it constantly isn’t good for your work life balance and can cause you to neglect other areas of your life.
- It may also show a lack of personal time management. Sure, it can be a workload issue, but there are often ways you can improve the way you work to cut down on the time you spend doing things.
To work overtime without being taken advantage of:
- Ask for something in return, such as time in lieu (an alternative day off)
- Don’t suggest overtime in your estimates of work
Tell Your Manager Early If You’re Going to Miss a Deadline
If you’re working on a project and you think you’re going to miss the deadline that has been set for you, you should tell someone. That someone should be the project manager.
The PM is responsible for making sure that the people working on the project get things done by the specified date, and doing what they can to help them, or to work on alternatives if they can’t make it happen.
So, as a programmer, you should tell the project manager as soon as you can. When I say “as soon as you can”, I don’t mean as soon as the deadline is over. Ideally, you should be telling them at the first signs of the task going over. It could be a few days before, or a few weeks, depending on the timeline of the task.
If you have even the slightest feeling that the deadline for your task might go over and miss a project deadline, say something. Mention it to the project manager, just to let them know. Even if it’s a small risk, it’s better that they know early than late. They can then do something about it, such as assigning more resources, extending the deadline, speaking to other people, and trying to fix problems. The earlier that they know about it, the better.
If You’re Going to Miss a Deadline, Think of Ways to Get Back on Track
Other than working overtime, there might be some other ways that you can bring the task back to the original schedule.
Depending on the task, there may be some things you can do:
- Reduce the scope of the work required. Depending on the work, you might be able to do less of it and still have it completed.
- Work through your lunch break to catch up, if this is possible.
- Ask the project manager if other tasks can be re-organised so that you don’t hold up the project.
- Think of some ways that parts of your task can be automated, with some kind of script or an Excel formula
- Ask other team members for help, if they are free and capable of doing the work.
You don’t have to come up with all of the ideas yourself. However, I think it’s a good place to start. Also, I believe coming up with a solution when you present a problem to someone is a good idea. So, if you’re able to have a couple of solutions in mind when you mention the delay to the project manager, it can go down better. Saying something like “The work on module 6 may not get completed by the end of the week because one part took longer than normal. I’ll ask Steve for help and also work back a bit tonight to see if I can make up for lost time, and let you know tomorrow” can be a good way to approach it.
Determine How You Can Be More Efficient
There are ways to improve our work with most of the things we do by being more efficient. This can be done in a number of ways, but it comes down to looking at what you’re doing now and finding ways for it to take less of your time.
A good way of doing this is to eliminate tasks altogether. If you’re doing something that doesn’t need to be done, then you may be able to stop doing it. This will save a lot of time and could have a minimal impact on your actual project.
Another way of improving efficiency is to automate what is currently being done manually. Even if it takes only a few seconds or a few minutes to do, if it can be automated, it’s often worth doing.
I get several emails each day in my inbox – company newsletters, system notifications, things like that. I used to manually mark them as read and move them to a folder. Now, I’ve set up rules that do this automatically. This not only saves me time (a few minutes per day), but it also stops distracting me – which is sometimes the bigger benefit. I don’t need to stop what I’m doing to go and move the emails. It’s especially noticeable with software development deadlines, where you need to save as much time as you can.
Improve Your Motivation for Software Development
Sometimes it can be hard to get motivated to program. Going to a job and doing the same thing over and over again, while feeling the pressure from your boss and others in the company, being told to do things that don’t make sense.
If you’re motivated to do something you’ll likely do better at it. Here are a few ways you can do that.
Remember You Are Creating Something From Nothing
An important point to remember is that when you write code, you are creating something from nothing. You’re typing instructions into a computer, which then causes the computer to do something. This could be any number of things, depending on what you’re writing code for:
- Displaying a web page
- Reading or writing some data to a database
- Communicating with other systems
These actions, and many others are a result of the work that you do, and it comes from nowhere.
My first exposure to programming was back in high school.
My friend had discovered how to write programs in Visual Basic, and he had written a program that displays biographies of TV characters, and pictures, on the program, depending on what button you pressed.
Sure, it was a simple program (and was actually pretty badly written when I look back on it), but it actually blew my mind. The fact that we could write some code, to make a program, to do whatever we wanted, was incredible to me.
I learnt the basics (no pun intended) of this language from him and then looked up how to learn it myself (this was in the late 90s so there were limited web-based tutorials, and it was even before Google became mainstream). Ever since then, I was writing code for all kinds of things.
The point of this story is to realise that what you’re writing is created from nothing, and the result is actually something that works and does a task. This, I found, was quite incredible.
Think About What It’s Going To Do To Help
Applications and web sites that companies build are all about helping people to do one task or another. A web page may be built to help sales, educate customers, provide information, or capture input. Applications for companies may be built to process transactions, help with data entry, or direct traffic from other systems.
When I get low on motivation, I take a moment and think about what I’m doing and how it’s going to help people. This can help me get motivated to continue developing the code. Some ways that programming helps people are:
- Websites that educate customers about products, services, or advice in general
- Web pages that capture data and update it in the back-end system, which saves time for the user and reduces the need for manual work by a company
- Applications that process transactions faster or more efficiently, ensuring customers get feedback quicker
- Applications that improve the interfaces between systems, to ensure that data integrity is improved and the process is faster
I can’t actually think of any projects that I’ve done that don’t help people in one way or another. Even if you’re doing maintenance and bug fixing on a middleware system, there is a way that it helps users, even if it is indirectly.
Remember Why You Started Programming In The First Place
Sometimes it can help to cast your mind back and remember why you started programming in the first place.
Was it a hobby you enjoyed in school or college? Did you have fun writing programs when you were younger? Did you find that you spent a lot of time learning and writing code?
For me, it was the ability to help users get things done more effectively. I didn’t like doing manual data entry and thought that software was a way to get around that. Writing software to help other people from doing less manual work was the main reason I got into programming. We get to improve the way people interact with computers, and their lives, by writing software. This gives me the motivation to continue to code. I actually wanted to be a lawyer up until the time I discovered programming and looking back, I’m glad I found programming and that I’m not a lawyer!
Why did you get started in programming? What was the reason you started it?
Think Of How Good A Well Designed Program Is
Surely, working in the IT industry as a programmer has meant you’ve seen some poorly-designed programs. Programs where the code is a mess, it’s not commented, variables are confusing, the logic is all over the place, and it’s just inefficient.
I’ve seen plenty of these. My first role in IT was doing application support on a database, and as my major in university was Oracle SQL, I was doing development in that. I could not understand why the code was so inefficient and why the database was not normalised. I could not get my head around how bad some parts of it were.
But this just gave me the motivation to improve it. Every time I was tasked with fixing a bug or making an improvement, I would investigate the code and make that small part the best it could be.
The thought of a well-designed program (as mentioned in the book Clean Code) gave me the motivation to get it done.
How about you? Surely you have seen or written some code that was so well-designed and well-written that it just amazed you. It got the job done in a spectacular way, it was scalable, easy to read, and efficient. I’m sure these kinds of programs are a dream to work with!
Less Complaining, More Ideas
This is related to the point above about watching what you say, but it’s more specific.
Over time, you’ll find there are a lot of people who like to complain at work. This is especially true as a software developer, as we all know the kinds of challenges faced by developers. Some common complaints I hear are:
- Badly designed programs
- Unrealistic short deadlines
- Moving business requirements
- Hard to deal with coworkers or boss
One way to improve how you are seen at work is to complain less. Complaints are focused on what is wrong with the world and what is wrong with a situation. They highlight problems – but without any solutions.
A better way to discuss these is to have ideas. Solutions. Ways of fixing these problems.
If you notice something that is not ideal, think of a way that it could be done better. Think of an idea that might improve it. Ask yourself, “what if?”
Coming up with solutions or ideas, instead of problems and complaints, is a big way to be taken more seriously as a developer.
You can discuss these with your coworkers, and even better, take them to your manager. If you have a problem, as well as a way to improve it or reduce the problem, your manager would be glad to hear it.
It shows you’re taking your job seriously and have thought of ways to improve it.
Ask Yourself How You Can Add Value At Work
There’s one thing that’s really working well for me right now:
I constantly ask myself how to add value at work to the team I’m working with, and just get that thing done.
Sometimes this is outside of my job role, and not really in the list of things I need to get done that way.
But, I’ve found if I can just get an idea of what can really help the team, and then just go and do the work to make it happen, everything moves much quicker.
People notice that what I’ve done is helping.
The team doesn’t get stuck as they would have without the information I’ve helped them with.
And less time is wasted.
I’ve mentioned it before on the site here, but I love finding ways to save time and hate wasting time on things that don’t deserve it.
You could say I have a minor obsession with efficiency.
So I like to make sure things are running as best as they can.
In my current role, I’m a business analyst. I gather requirements and communicate them to the developers.
As a developer myself, it helps to understand the technical side so I know what to talk about and what the issues might be.
One of the main issues on my project at the moment is it’s hard for the business analysis team to clearly explain the requirements to the developers.
Some of the business analysts think what they have documented is OK, but the development team need more information.
Sometimes, words are not enough.
So, when I took a look at the documents and went to some of the meetings, I kept trying to think of what do we really need here.
And I thought of an idea.
Simple visual representations of what we want the screen to look like.
Sure, we had words and descriptions of what was to be displayed and what was editable and all that.
But it was hard to explain and hard to understand.
So I said, how about I create a wireframe to show this. And some people said, sure.
I went away and before the next meeting, I created a few mockups. They were just simple – I used Visio to draw boxes and lines and words, but it could have easily been done in Excel or PowerPoint.
It was just so we had something to look at and make sure we all understand what we want to do.
I brought them to the next meeting and they were a huge success. People really understood what was supposed to happen. We were able to discuss any issues that might come up, how things would work, and have something to point to on the screen.
Since that point, I’ve been creating wireframes for every feature. And they have been very helpful in getting everyone to understand.
This has worked because I did two things:
- Asked myself, what do we need to help the team?
- Once I worked that out, I went and did it.
In this instance, it was to create wireframes.
So, that’s an example of how to add value at work.
Whenever you go to a meeting or notice a series of emails talking about a topic, and it’s not really going anywhere, try this:
- Ask yourself how to add value at work. Is there anything I can do that will make this easier or make the problem go away?
- Suggest doing the idea.
- Go and do the idea.
Bring it back to the group. Hopefully what you’ve done is helpful and gets the team moving again.
It’s really helped me in the last few weeks. I hope it can help you too.
I hope this massive list of ways to improve work performance has helped you. What other suggestions do you have? Share them in the comments below.