We’ve all heard the advice: If you want to get ahead at work, come in early and stay late. But throwing time at a problem isn’t the only way to solve it, and indeed, plenty of people get promoted by doing a great job during regular business hours. If you want to move up and still have a life, try these strategies for maximizing the time you’ve got.
At some organizations, the process is formalized, and at others it’s not, but in any case you can figure out the rules. "Ask your boss up front, or you can ask people who’ve recently been promoted, or ask people in HR what are the factors," says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, a career coach with Six Figure Start.
If promotions are decided in March, for instance, making a big push in June may not help your cause. If most people who’ve been promoted have published something externally that positions them as thought leaders, you’ll want to get going on that too. You should also make it clear that you want to be considered: "Don’t assume that people know that you want to be promoted," says Ceniza-Levine. Talk to your boss about what you need to do to be in the running.
If you want to be seen as a go-getter while working 9 to 5, then "totally focus during those 40 hours," says Karen Elizaga, an executive coach and author of Find Your Sweet Spot. "It may seem obvious, but ditch the social media, ditch your phone."
You also want to spend most of your time on projects that decision-makers deem important. "It’s making their life easier for them," says Ceniza-Levine. "That way, you’re being perceived as someone who’s capable of doing more. Doing more doesn’t mean working later or literally doing more. It means doing higher value work instead of some of the other stuff that you do now."
Another reason to rethink some of your current workload? If you do get promoted, someone else will be taking this on, so "You need to solve that problem too," says Ceniza-Levine, and coach someone to step into your role. As a bonus, mentoring and coaching other people to take on new tasks demonstrates that you have leadership skills.
"You can work 60 hours a week and keep your head down, but people aren’t really going to notice the highlights unless they’re highlighted," says Elizaga. Let your boss know what you’ve done and how you solved any problems in interesting ways. But it’s not just about your own accomplishments.
Sharing the accomplishments of groups of people working with you shows how you manage the process and bring great performances out of other people—precisely what bigger leadership positions will require. Seize the opportunity to praise other people frequently.
Even more so than staying late, acting on feedback shows you’re a team player who’s committed to improving the organization. If a decision-maker gives you a specific suggestion for improving your performance, thank that person and do it.
"It shows your determination, shows your commitment, and it shows your ability to be nimble—like any good manager needs to be," Elizaga says.
Being promoted is partly about being known, but you don’t have to go out for beers nightly to get on people’s radar screens. Say hello in the cafeteria, and ask about people’s weekends. Ask for advice, too—in smart ways.
Come in with a solution, Elizaga suggests, and then say, "But I would love to hear from you and love to get your advice since you’ve done this before." That’s as good for bonding as happy hours can be.