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Careers

6 Ways to Get Ahead This Year

When making your New Year's resolutions, consider these to help your career.

I know, I know. You don't even bother making New Year's resolutions anymore because you always break them. But let me tempt you by offering what I consider to be the six most potent career resolutions.

Keep even one without backsliding and your work life will likely be much better in 2007.

Embrace work. It's easy to procrastinate until the last nanosecond, take sick days when you're not sick, navigate the Net when you're supposed to be creating a spreadsheet. Shirking may feel good in the short run. But at the risk of sounding like your parents, the more productive you are, the better you'll ultimately feel about yourself and your career. Not to mention that you're more likely to get a raise and less likely to be downsized.

Think like a CEO. Worker-bee jobs are ever more likely to be outsourced or automated. Jobs that have staying power -- and pay well, to boot -- require that vision thing. Always keep your eyes peeled for a better way to do your job: Streamline a procedure, shave costs, create a new profit center. Before sharing an idea with your boss, vet it with a trusted colleague. If it passes muster, bring it up at a meeting or e-mail it to stakeholders to get input (and to make sure you get the credit you deserve).

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Use time effectively. Time is your most valuable commodity. Keep an imaginary efficiency expert on your shoulder who whispers questions in your ear: Is it time-effective to take on this task? Should I delegate it? Should I aim for perfection, or is good-enough good enough?

Rethink meetings. Meetings may be the workplace's biggest time-wasters. Before calling one, ask yourself if it's really necessary, or would a group e-mail do? Instead of forcing people to travel, how about setting up a teleconference or a Web conference through a site such as WebEx? Could that half-day conference be shrunk to one hour? Send a tightly scheduled agenda to all attendees in advance, plus any homework you'd like them to prepare ahead of time.

Invite only those co-workers who really need to be there; inclusion is not always a virtue. Often the benefits of being included are outweighed by the price you pay for attending. If you're invited to a meeting and think it isn't the best use of your time, explain that to your boss and see if you can be excused.

Listen up. We all think we're good listeners. But of all the people you know, what percentage would you say actually pay close attention? Others probably don't think very highly of your listening skills, either. Listening is much more difficult than it sounds. It requires you to focus 100% of your attention on what the other person is saying, how his or her body language is changing, and what he or she isn't saying. That means you can't just sit there and rehearse what you're going to say next. As author Fran Lebowitz has observed, the opposite of talking isn't listening; the opposite of talking is waiting for the other person to stop talking.

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Be nice. In the end, being nice is not only critical for getting ahead on the job but also ensures that you'll make a real difference. Thousands of scientists spend their entire lives in search of a cure for cancer to no avail. Thousands of social and government agencies try to make a dent in society's ills with little to show for their efforts. But simply being kind to as many people as possible guarantees that you will at least slightly improve the lives of everyone you meet. Plus, it increases your chances of getting ahead at work and even beacoming a beloved boss.

Columnist Marty Nemko, PhD, is a career coach and author of Cool Careers for Dummies. Visit his Web site at www.martynemko.com.