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Getting the Basics Right

Welcome to the world of the cubicle. You’ve landed your new corporate job and you’re ready to conquer the world, but now you’ve got to prove yourself. Earning your coworkers’ trust means the difference between working on interesting projects or becoming a spreadsheet zombie. Here’s ten things you can do to show them you’re there to make a difference.

Number 10: Show up early

Never show up late. Ever. It’s the simplest thing you can do to build your coworkers’ trust. Get it wrong and you demonstrate that you don’t respect their time and you’re not able to keep even the smallest of commitments. Don’t do it.

Need to be at your desk at 9:00 AM? Come in at 8:45. Got a 2 o’clock meeting? Show up at five ‘til. You get the idea. Showing up early helps ensure you’re on time, but improves your work in other ways, too, giving you a chance to plan your day over a coffee or some personal time with your coworkers before getting to business.

And if you really, really can’t make a time you’ve committed to, call ahead. A 30-second phone call can do wonders to save a reputation.

Number 9: Dress to impress

That t-shirt-and-jeans look was hip while you were stocking shelves for $7.50/hr, but cubicle world is all about business casual, baby. You could skate by with an untucked polo shirt and your favorite cargo pants, but you won’t win any points for style. Learn to express yourself through that corporate dress policy—the possibilities are endless.

Not unrelated: When you’re at the office, look like you know where you’re going. Meandering through life may have cemented your slacker status on campus, but in the office, you’ve got places to be.

Number 8: Keep a clean desk

You’d be surprised how much a desk says about a person: papers strewn about amid the coffee stains and action figures?—total basket-case. Let your workspace tell a story about your organizational integrity, not your emotional instability.

Get an inbox to store that incoming paperwork, and make a filing system that works for you. Keep some paper towels around in the event of an overturned bagel or beverage mishap. Action figures are optional, but discouraged.

Number 7: Think before you send

At work, email is forever. Everything you send is stored for instant retrieval by people who hold powerful sway over your employment status—think HR, auditors, federal investigators and, sometimes, your boss.

Use equal parts common sense and spell check. Reserve dishy material for private, in-person conversations. And, for the love of all things good and beautiful, be careful with that Reply All button.

Number 6: Keep to-do lists

A sure-fire way to build trust is not to screw up your work. To-do lists will help. Carry a notepad to jot down new tasks. Funnel your tasks into a managable system, such as a handheld computer, paper planner or Microsoft Outlook. Any system will do, provided it’s simple and you use it on a daily basis.

Oh, and file your completed lists once you’ve checked off all the items. These come in handy during review time.

Number 5: Set expectations

Office work is all about networks of commitments: every task on your plate rolls up into someone else’s project. Others are relying on you to deliver, so stay on top of your due dates.

When you find a conflict in your priorities, talk to your boss. She or he sets your priorities, so it’s his/her job to renegotiate your workload. If something comes up that keeps you from meeting a commitment, escalate early so others can plan for contingencies.

Number 4: Review your work

Review your task lists and clean out your inbox (both email and paper) on a weekly basis. What time you choose for this activity will make or break your success. Crazy during the day? Come in a little earlier or stay later. Boss constantly hovering? Figure out when he’s in a weekly meeting, and do it then.

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Consolidate all the notes, emails, voicemails and phone calls you fielded during the week into your task system. The more regularly you do this, the easier it will be to stay on top of your commitments.

Number 3: Build relationships

This isn’t so much about “building your network,” as it is about respecting your coworkers as people. Make a point to learn the names of others both in and outside your team. Invite conversation and, with it, the opportunity to build lasting friendships.

Besides, you’ll probably be working with these people for a while.

Number 2: Do what makes you happy

… For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning 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. —Steve Jobs

Regularly ask yourself whether your work is keeping you happy. Take yourself out for a long lunch twice a year to a coffee shop, park or anywhere else you like to think, and ask yourself whether you enjoy your work. If not, maybe it’s time for a change.

Number 1: Don’t take it all too seriously

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end —Ecclesiastes 3:9-13 (TNIV).

At the end of the day, work is about bringing home a paycheck and making the most of the journey. It’s often easy to get wrapped up in the little things, lose focus and think it’s all about you. When you’re tempted to carry the burden of your own reputation, ask God to bring back the joy of the good work He has set out before you. After all, you’re not your stinkin’ khakis.

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