4 Ways to Impress Your Boss (and Elevate Your Career) in 2016

Mature business woman mentoring younger employee.

By Ben Peterson

Every boss has favorites. And usually with good reason. Exceptional employees make life much easier, and I've found those type of employees have a few things in common you can emulate to impress your boss and improve your career in 2016. Bosses love employees who deliberately plan and execute, automate the things they're too smart to do, strategically think through their activities, and make sure every minute they're at work is primed for productivity.

Create a master plan and execute.

The truism really rings true: if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. Here are the important elements of any plan:

  • Record it: Make your plan and record it somewhere. It doesn't need to include bullet points and flow charts. Just decide what you want to accomplish, give yourself a time frame, and write the plan down. Review the plan to make sure it aligns with company goals and strategy (this will ensure you get the support you need), and revisit what you've recorded frequently to make sure you're staying the course.

  • Execution: Deliberately move your task forward until it's complete and completed well. For bigger projects, bring your best coworkers together to brainstorm and give feedback. Their experience will help you execute more effectively. Shut yourself in a room so you can think through and break down every small detail in a way that gives you foresight into exactly what needs to be done. And for projects big and small, complete each detail with dedication--even if all you're doing is cleaning out your email, sorting it correctly ensures you're able to find everything. Execute your plan with exact precision, and you'll be proud of the finished product.

  • Accountability: Accountability is a blessing, not a curse! It gives focus and direction. High functioning, exceptional people seek accountability and own it. Accountability means taking responsibility, doing things for the right reasons, and doing it the right way in order to get the right results. It also means going above and beyond to make it all happen (even if you don't feel like doing what you committed to or sticking to tough deadlines). Your plan may involve others, and being accountable means holding them to their commitments, too. Remember: the plan relies on you, so whatever the end result is depends on what you put in.

Planning and executing plans allows you to accomplish more. And your boss will take note of that. Few things are more impressive than self-motivated employees who can create and stick to plans. And one plan you might want to consider is automating some of your responsibilities.

Automate something.

Great employees are hired because they're smart and have unique abilities--not so they can waste time doing stuff a computer can do. Your time is too valuable to spend chasing down signatures, coordinating and organizing projects in email, or manually scanning and submitting receipts. Here are some easy ways to automate:

  • Esignatures: You might not think collecting those signatures is siphoning much time or money, but esignatures result in 80 percent faster turnaround time and save your company $20 per document. Instead of chasing down new employees or executives for signatures, automate your workflow and spend the time (and money) saved doing more important stuff.

  • Project Management: Managing projects in email gets messy. It's difficult to remember who is responsible for what, share documents, and collaborate. Instead of creating a mass of project confusion, automate with project management software--you'll be in good company considering 87 percent of high-performing companies use project management software.

  • Expense Reporting: Receipts shouldn't be exploding out of employee wallets or littered across the finance department's desks. It's not efficient and it's certainly not organized. Employees will appreciate the ease of mobile receipt captures, and your entire workflow--clear down to report creation--will improve.

Automating pieces of your job shows the boss you thoughtfully consider which projects deserve your attention. And saving the company time and money is a great way to provide more value, not to mention the strategic projects you'll be able to take on with your newly cleared time.

Be more strategic.

Don't think of your role as a job; instead, think of it as a business with customers. If you're a developer, your customer might be the product team who expects your code to do what they asked for. Every role has a customer who expects a certain value. And the more value you provide to your customer, the more your role is valued. This is where strategic thinking starts, and here are a few ways to harness it:

  • Figure out who your customer is: Consider which people or departments are directly impacted by the work you do. If your job is to bring new talent into the company, then your customers are hiring managers. Once you've identified who you're serving, you need to think about (or ask) what your customers' expectations and unmet needs are.

  • Figure out what your value is and how to deliver it: Your role might be stocking Kleenex boxes, ordering lunch, and setting up computers for new employees. But there's a higher value to what you do: employee satisfaction and engagement. There's a reason your company keeps Kleenex on hand: because employees are happier and have better focus when they are provided with what they need throughout the day. Figure out what the real value of your role is and how you can deliver more of it.

  • Evaluate whether your activities map to the value you provide: Now's the time to do an audit of what you do. If the activities taking up most of your time don't point to the value your customer requires, what you're doing isn't strategic. You need to find a way to cut out those non-strategic activities (maybe through automation--see above) and replace them with activities that do contribute to the value you provide. That's strategic.

When you treat your role like a business, you'll find ways to provide strategic value to the customers who you are employed to serve. Your customers will be happier, and your boss will too because you'll be providing more of what they need. But in order to take on those strategic initiatives to add more value, you'll need to make them a priority and block out time for them.

Manage your time.

How often do you get tangled up in a mess of emails? Or get lost down a social media rabbit hole for half an hour without realizing how long you've been gone? Even if you're only derailed a few times a day, distractions are costly. One study found that on average it takes almost 25 minutes to get back on-task after a distraction. Instead of giving any request or task your concentration, manage your time for increased focus. Here are some ideas for doing that:

  • Pomodoro technique: You might avoid distractions, but you shouldn't avoid breaks. In fact, 86 percent of employees agree that taking breaks makes them more productive. But you must make your breaks deliberate. Pomodoro technique suggests you set a timer for 25 minutes of intense, focused work with a few minutes for a break in between.

  • Time blocking: Dedicate each hour of your day to a task--even down to scheduling when you'll check your email (that way you can just check it for 15 minutes a few times a day and it won't be a constant distraction). Block out the dedicated times and stick to them. Apps like Google calendars can be useful for this; they also make it easy to share calendars with others (i.e. your boss) so they know what you're working on.

  • Kanban: This method can help you prioritize the tasks at hand. Select the six most important tasks, and don't start other projects until you complete one of the others (that's the basic idea, but there are more details). Kanban is also a great way to communicate your priorities to others, and it works even better when your entire team uses the method.

It's better to move a couple projects forward a foot than to move ten projects forward an inch. By focusing and prioritizing your time, you'll avoid distractions and find intense focus so you can advance the projects that really matter. And your boss will notice that you're in control of how you spend your time.

So, what can you do to impress your boss in 2016? Work deliberately and better than you ever have before. Plan and execute, automate tedious tasks, be strategic, and manage your time.

And one final tip: If you really want to impress your boss, stop spending your energy worrying about being his or her favorite. It impresses your boss when employees do excellent work, so spend your energy on that. Your boss will notice, and he or she will be thrilled.