When you’re just starting out at a job, you’re at the bottom of a steep learning curve. No, I’m not talking about the role-specific skills or perplexing office political landscape you have to navigate (though these, too, are important).
I’m talking about the massive, often unfathomable learning curve that is your boss. That person one who wants one thing one moment, another the next, and is always hovering over your desk with tired, worried eyes and saying things like, “Just checkin’ in…”
Here’s a little hint to unlocking the mysteries of the Great One: efficiency. Whether you’ve got yourself a control freak or a laid back surfer dude, managers love efficient workers because they take a huge load off of their backs, make them look good and save the company money in significant and cascading ways.
Here are a few ways to turn yourself into your team’s most efficient member and become your boss’s favorite:
Make sure everyone is on the same page
At the end of a planning or brainstorming meeting, it may seem like everyone has received the same message. After all, everyone nodded and added their own ideas. If you work in a super-enthusiastic or nerdy office, they may have even clapped their hands.
But here’s the thing with communication: you don’t know whether or not everyone is clear on what’s been decided unless you make a concerted effort to find out. After all, sometimes managers will interpret your mere enthusiasm about the idea for a project as actually taking responsibility for it, causing much confusion down the line when you don’t get it done.
Near the end of one-on-one meetings with your boss, take time to summarize what you’ve discussed via a follow-up email to demonstrate your deep understanding for the project (and give the boss a chance to offer some corrections if you’re not on the same page). Then list out all the tasks that need to get done and set goals and due dates, letting your boss help you prioritize. You can apply this mentality to bigger meetings as well if there isn’t a project manager or meeting leader to do this for you.
Learn to say no when you need to
One of the quickest ways to rise in the office is by saying yes. Yes, I’ll take on this new project. Yes, I’ll work through the weekend so I can get this to you for that big presentation. Yes, I’ll try this task that’s outside of my comfort zone.
But if you truly say yes to everything, you’ll quickly burn yourself out, and then you won’t be producing your most creative or innovative work. What’s more, you’ll overcommit yourself, disappointing your boss or team members when you can’t meet deadlines and slowing down the greater machinery that’s waiting for you to complete all that you’ve said you’d do.
Instead of saying yes all the time, learn how to make accurate estimations about how long a task will take and to balance that estimation against the other tasks currently on your plate. Then, learn how to nicely but firmly say no when necessary and offer a compromise.
For example, if your boss asks for a time-consuming project to be done on an impossibly short deadline, you might say, “Getting the presentation in by Monday isn’t doable given the other tasks on my plate, but I can get it to you by Wednesday at noon, or by Tuesday morning if I can borrow a teammate to help me out.”
Bosses prefer honesty over a nasty surprise, and you’ll look like you’re more on the ball and adept at managing your time when you think this out upfront. You’ll also increase efficiency by allowing the people around you to plan accurately, rather than leaving them scrambling when you turn something in a week late. And if you can regularly set and meet impressive but realistic goals with your boss, you’ll find yourself moving up to bigger roles.
Take responsibility for screw-ups
Nothing throws office productivity off track quite like that person who’s made a major mistake and won’t ‘fess up. Maybe it’s staying quiet about a system bug and letting the testers find it on their own months down the line. Or maybe it’s avoiding your boss in the hopes she won’t find out that your stray comment in a sales call lost your company a customer.
Whatever it may be, it’s important to admit your mistake to your boss as soon as possible, while also reflecting on what you could do better next time and proposing a solution for making things right. This will not only show your boss that you’re willing to grow and that you believe in the success of your team, but it will also allow your boss to put a new plan into action that will mitigate the damage, rather than wasting time trying to fix a mistake as it grows bigger down the line.
In meetings, put a sock in it
Just because your boss calls a lot of meetings, that doesn’t mean she enjoys being in them any more than you do. You can make those meetings more efficient and productive by not distracting everyone with asides and by keeping what you have to say short and to the point. If you have something to gripe about, save it for a one-on-one meeting. Take a good look at the agenda ahead of time and come prepared with questions or contributions so you’re ready to go when your moment in the spotlight arrives.
If you find meetings are consistently getting off track, don’t be afraid to make a few suggestions to your boss, like having timed “burst” meetings that run only 10 or 15 minutes long or assigning a clear leader. This meeting productivity guide from Simply Business has many more useful tips you can suggest. Just make sure to ask your colleagues for their meeting gripes before you start making recommendations so it doesn’t seem like you’re going behind their backs.
Communicate the way your boss does
Are you an email person while your boss prefers face-to-face talks? Well, sorry to break it to you, but the only way you’re going to get things done is if you adopt your boss’s communication style. You’ll know this if you’ve ever written a long but well-structured, bulleted and bolded email, only to have your boss respond in a single line, leaving you with less clarity than you had in the first place.
Of course, you can use your own communication style to brainstorm, but after that you’ll have to compromise. And, whether in person or online, make sure you use the TL;DR mentality. In email, summarize your main points up front before going into greater depth. In person, list the topics you’d like to discuss, and then ask your boss where she’d like to start. The better you communicate up front, the greater grasp you’ll have of the task at hand, and the sooner you’ll get it done the right way.
There’s no getting around it: improving efficiency is the best way to make your boss love you. Think of all of the many ways you can take the burden off of your boss’s back and be a clear force for productivity around the office, and you’ll become a favorite in no time.
Adria Saracino is the head of outreach at Distilled, a digital marketing agency. When not consulting on outreach and content strategies, you can find her writing about style on her personal fashion blog, The Emerald Closet.