2 habits that show you are trustworthy and mature

I know a developer who lusts after all the sexy projects. He asks for them and he wants to talk about them. You might think this kind of enthusiasm makes you a star in your boss’s eyes. And it can, up to a point. But what if my developer wants to talk about the sexy projects with a handful of unfinished ones still on his plate?

That’s a dangerous habit for your career because it can give your boss the impression that you’re a lightweight – someone who will try to take on everything that comes your way leaving unfinished and half-ass work in your wake.

Those who really succeed, do so by handling a few important projects really well. Below are two critical ingredients to making that happen.

the importance of knowing your bosses priorities1. Know your boss’s priorities and live by them. He’s the one who decides what’s important and what’s not. If you are not getting clear guidance, you’ll need to ask questions until you really know how to rank what you’re working on. Help your boss understand the trade-offs.

If you want to talk about something that’s not  currently near the top of your list of important projects, make sure you first give an update on the top projects presently underway before bringing up a new subject.

2. Say ‘no’ when low priority items will degrade your performance on important projects. Just as it’s tempting for you to take on every project your boss mentions, it’s also tempting for your boss to give you too many projects. We all have eyes that are too big for our stomachs. When you say ‘no,’ you are simply introducing some reality into the discussion and that’s a mark of maturity.

You’d be wise to say ‘no’ gently, however. You might say something like “Eric, can you help me prioritize that in relation to my other projects?” and follow up with “Based on those priorities, I’ll probably be hitting that project next quarter, does that work for you?”

When you focus religiously on your boss’s priorities, you’ll earn a reputation for strong execution, for accepting guidance well and good teamwork. Your boss will know that you understand the meaning of ‘less is more’.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to remove.”

–Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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  • Kelly C.

    I learned this over the last ten months, working at a really tough middle school in the South Bronx. Most people think the students are the hard part, but the real difficulties came with communicating with administrators. At first, I didn’t want to overstep my boundaries. I was new on the team and less experienced and didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot.

    Staying quiet forced me into high stress and high volumes of work. Because I wasn’t involving myself at all in curriculum building and leaving it to others, I spent hours translating worksheets, summarizing long texts and creating 3x as many materials per lesson as a general education teacher (I teach Bilingual Eng/Span). I was meeting deadlines for team leaders and administrators but was never recognized for anything beyond. I didn’t want to volunteer for everything but I wanted to be noticed. My administrators and I had no relationship and I felt there was no way I’d be regarded as a leader.

    A few months in I decided being forward and honest are what have gotten me a voice in other spaces and I began injecting that into my persona during team meetings. Soon, I began to balance when I spoke. I chose the battles I knew I’d win. I also proved that I was reliable and mature by making sure when I brought something to the table it had great value. I volunteered for extra hours, I made suggestions that were feasible with clear steps for execution during meetings and I suddenly found my administrators asking ME for advice. I was able to say no when I was overwhelmed and would outline my schedule for the week in an email to put the list of tasks in perspective for them. They knew I was doing just enough and didn’t want to jeopardize quality for quantity. My workload also lessened because I was being proactive by developing curriculum that accounted for my students; by showing them I could produce the things they needed done, they allowed me to prioritize my own needs whenever I could squeeze those in too.

    While not along the exact same lines as the account above, I was trying to find a way to reconcile being regarded as a trustworthy worker AND making sure my students were advocated for, Overall, I learned that the key is balance. You have to be willing to work hard but you also have to know when you’re overreaching. No one likes a suck up but no one ever notices the shadows. We have to maintain consistency in our work and its quality, in our voice, and it will translate into strong character to those who we want to impress.

  • Madinah Ba’th

    The first thing I love about this article is that it promotes pushing yourself above and beyond the normal standards. It really helps you to understand the best way to succeed in your workplace is by connecting your own style and personality to the best way of getting the job done.

    I looked farther into one of the sub articles titled, “2 habits That Show You Are Trustworthy and Mature,” and found that I relate to the type of worker the article says not to be. Last year, I took a job at Burlington. My boss was very impressed by the way I put together and presented my resume. So, I wanted to keep impressing her. I started to never tell her no. Every task she gave me I jumped for it and ended up running back and forth between unfinished projects. She made me a runner that worked in any department where staff was lacking, and I always had to ask questions because I was always doing something new.

    After reading this article, I realized that this was not the best approach to showing my skills. I was very depressed and felt like I did not accomplish anything really. That was truly a learning experience and I am proud to say I now know how to avoid this situation again.

  • Tracy Egbas

    I can’t overemphasize how important the principle of priority-setting has been in my life. I grew up in an environment where the concept of ‘working hard’ was given more of an emphasis than ‘working smart’. I have realized however, an especially in the work environment, there is so much to do and so little time that, no matter how hard I worked, if i didn’t effectively meet the most pressing needs, I often seemed inefficient.
    Now, I ask a lot more questions, and never assume. I have realized that communication is key in setting priorities, and I have noticed the world of difference between how I work now, and how I used to.

  • Marisa Corral

    Being able to prioritize is the key to success! However, it’s important to regularly communicate with the boss to ensure that my list aligns with his!

  • Elayna Gonzales

    By placing the priorities of the boss first I can see why as an employee you would become all that more valuable. It does show a higher sense of understanding and perception into what your boss need and therefore how you can rise up to meet those said needs. Then it would seem vital that you should take action and carefully study your boss in order to adequately come to understand what he/she defines as a priority.

    Yet I would have never fathomed that saying “no” to your boss is something that would be encouraged so this point definitely piqued my interest. However given the explanation I can fully comprehend why this is so imperative to do, it shows that your not always capable of doing everything,but that you are an actual person.

    Even though we may want to try and do the very best we can and give everything our one hundred percent, the limitations we have within ourselves prevent us from doing so, but that is alright because we would not be human if we did not have some point where it all became too much.Therefore by disagreeing and showing opposition it makes everything more practical as well as realistic, as you are being responsible not only for yourself but for the good of the company too.

    I can relate to a time where I was fortunate enough to have chance to help people by going on a mission trip, where we had to prioritize the tasks that we had to accomplish that day. It was in the unforgiving bolstering month of June the sun beaming down on us (my fellow missionaries and I) Costa Rica is not all to far from the equator and the heat had us all sweating and melting as the time inched by.

    There was work to be done an as the passion within me grew to aid and help others, the project was to build an old deteriorating church in a unkempt impoverished neighborhood. The boys were to carry the massive concrete wall slabs seven feet tall and twelve feet in length, but even when the head coordinator asked if I could help the thought of refusing did not come to mind even though I knew that it was a bigger task than I could handle. Sure enough my lanky arms buckled and that massive slab came blundering down on my toe with tingles of pain shooting throughout my body. I had the misconception that saying no would seem irresponsible of me and would demonstrate a lack of resolve, but I was clearly mistaken and sustained a painful price.

  • Arturo Lopez

    Prioritizing is not just important in the job, but in life as well. You cannot be successful at anything by simply not prioritizing. I also feel that it is very important to reject on doing certain things, as if in this case projects. You would wish to go back and saying “no” to a certain project you were assigned when you realize just how overloaded with work you are. This can not only make you look bad, but it can also make the company that you are working for look bad as well. The boss would not like that. It is just best to play it safe and make sure to look into the future and see if you are going to be able to achieve that certain project without stressing too much. This can save both you, and the boss. It’s also important to know what to prioritize. Always do the things that you feel is most important first.

    I have seen many people trying to take on too many challenges and overload themselves with work. And what I see from them most of the time is half done work or them being too stressed. I have learned from experience and from others that you should prioritize the most important stuff first, and also to not overload yourself with too much work. Our minds want to tackle goals, but we have to take into realization that these goals cannot become a reality because it is simply too much stuff to do. I’m not saying to not strive to be the best, but what I am saying is to take a look at yourself and see if what you are setting yourself out to do is realistic or not.

  • Abi Wall

    These two lessons are very similar to what I have experienced at school. Especially regarding assignments that teachers grade by preference, such as writing or art, it’s incredibly important to pay attention to what they want to see. They’re the teacher, and they are trying to pass something specific onto you. If you think you know better or try to go your own way, you may end up missing a valid point and hurt your chances of success.

    Additionally, I’m currently juggling many different project right now between school work, my job, and my extra curricular activities. In each of these categories, I’ve had to take on responsibilities and also let some of them go. It’s difficult to excel in everything that you have available to you, so sometimes it’s better to do 80% of your potential work load at 100% quality instead of 100% of your work load at 80% quality.

  • Kristen Berezniak

    This article showcases integral aspects of how to be a star employee. During my one internship, I did see the people immediately assume leadership roles in everything that the article would qualify as a “sexy project,” but the people referred to as star interns were the ones who finished every task that was correctly done to their boss’ liking. It is also important to add that bosses prefer to get questions and communicate in different ways. In my past internships and jobs, I make sure to ask how they prefer to get updates or questions. I’ve had some bosses who like constant communication, while others would prefer to discuss and get updates in weekly meetings. Whether a boss prefers a hands-on or laissez-faire approach, I completely agree that having a clear relationship and knowing a boss’ objective is an important key to career success.

  • Brett Steinberg

    This article is really spot on when it comes to working in a realistic way so as not to disappoint or mislead your boss and/or coworkers. Within the work I’ve done at internships, university and in the arts, I tend to try to go 100% in all of those fields. The problem is, there is only so much time in a day. To try to run at full capacity in all of these fields will potentially lead to letting down one’s colleagues, teachers and supervisors. The big lesson to come out of these circumstances for me is the idea of quality over quantity. Most people that I have collaborated with and worked for would rather me take care of the assignment ranked number one on their priority list rather than try to get five assignments done within a short window of time.

    The best example of this lesson that comes to mind is during my junior year of undergrad at the University of Connecticut. During that year I wrote for the college newspaper (The Daily Campus), pursued music and worked diligently in all of my classes. As I was nearing a breaking point of exhaustion trying to balance these tasks, I was able to ultimately reach an equilibrium once I set priorities within each of my pursuits. In other words, I made a plan to follow once obligations and expectations started to stack up. At the newspaper I took less stories and talked to my bosses about which ones they needed covered the most. I was not willing to let my work suffer, especially when my supervisors relied on top writing from a Staff Reporter in a paper that gets published to over 20,000 students and faculty. In school, I made sure to keep on track and prioritize time for the bigger exams/assignments and in music I learned to be upfront with my bandmates about what they could expect from me and followed through with every promise. Many times we forget that most bosses/supervisors, colleagues and collaborators want the best work from you and want to know you can follow through on your promises. The second trust goes out the window, your reputation and camaraderie with the people you work with deteriorates and takes a lot to repair. I learned to be proactive about avoiding a breaking point and to instead plan out what tasks take priority based on importance and due-date proximity.

  • Rebecca Lynn Deckman

    Saying “no” has been a struggle for me in the past, but that is something I have been really working on over this last year. I used to be the kind of person who would say yes to every single thing I was asked because I want to help others. Now I realize that sometimes, it is the best thing to say no. Now I focus more on my reasons for the answer I give. If I want to say no to a project simply because I am tired, I say yes. If I realize I want to say no because I need to focus my energy on something more important, I say no.

  • Emily Plocinski

    I believe that this article can apply to life as well as work. A person must know when to put themselves, their family, religion, and even a job ahead of something. Often times a person gets so caught up in what they are doing right at this moment in life, that they let important things slide by. Often times when a person gets into a new relationship and they become consumed. The person is only focused on their significant other and often let family and friends become their second priority. Family and religion should always be first on the list of priorities. They are the things that will always be there when things do not work out in life. Friendships and religion are two solid rocks that will not falter in life. Once a person has set priorities I believe that it is then they are a mature adult.

  • Jasmin Menjivar

    It is quite understandable to live up to the boss’s expectations, but at times one must do things that are best for themselves. The boss may want you to work multiple shifts and tasks that are hard on your health and social being. Like the article says, “less is more”.

    When I was in an internship at a university, the principle investigator was tough and had a powerful presence over the interns. She was a powerful being in the laboratory and everyone had/has respect for her. I was barely starting as an intern in the lab and she had me do a research project. It was difficult, I had to do a presentation on things that I did not know about very well. I had to do my own research and look at other articles. In order to present the presentation, I had to get it approved by the principal investigator. At first, she seemed displeased and changed a few of my points on the presentation. I did not comment on the changes and let her do what she wanted to do. This occurred about three more times until I finally stood my ground and said, “Please. I understand that it may lack what you like, but I have worked hard to get to the level of expectations that you have set upon me.” I expected her to lash out and be upset with my comment, but instead, she smiled and congratulated me for speaking up.

    What I learned from this is that sometimes it is necessary to say what you want to say. It does no one harm or good to keep your thoughts muddled up in your mind. Through standing up for yourself, yet following the boss’s priorities and trying to keep up with their expectations, you will gain more respect and shine as a strong independent person who can handle a good job!

  • Colleen Olstrom

    Prioritizing is a skill that is essential to advance your career. I had to learn this the hard way. Before I leave the office every day, I make a list of all pending items. When I come in the next day, I go through the list and mark the items to be completed first. I set regular meetings with my boss, at my request, to go over my list. I do this because I want my boss to know what I am working on, and to help me put the important tasks at the top of the list.

    A few weeks ago I asked my boss for a job description. I felt that it was important for me to know what my routine tasks were. When I know this, it will help me to say no when I am overloaded with my day-to-day stuff. I want to make certain that everything in my job description is complete. Also, this will allow me to have leverage when it comes time for my annual review. I will make a note of the items I do beyond my job description, which will show I am capable of moving up within the company.

    Completing tasks in a prompt manner is one of the hardest elements in a working environment. Once you have mastered that skill, it becomes easier to learn to delegate tasks to others. I feel it is at this time you are ready to start considering a higher position.

  • Khalilah Denson

    It is so easy to say “I’ve got that” or “no problem, I’ll get it done” because it sounds good however, I’ve recently discovered that it can be much more difficult to actually put your money where your mouth is when you commit yourself to so many things. Like most, I have always aimed to please and prove my worth in any situation by trying to do it all and fix any problem that came along with it. So, instead of prioritizing, I would agree to anything and everything, and for a while I was able to follow through on all of my promises. Nevertheless, as the tasks began to pile up, my completed assignments where few and far in between until I was totally overwhelmed with responsibility. I thought that if I did everything that was asked of me I would be able to prove that I deserved to be apart of the team but as you can see, my good intentions only led me to failure and the disappointment of others. But that lesson was invaluable because like the article points out, you are more efficient and beneficial when you can actually deliver on your obligations and this was a lesson I had to learn the hard way. Now, however, I understand the value of precedence and saying no when needed, which has allowed me to not only mature but flourish in any work environment.

  • Alexis De La Rosa

    When I was a little girl, my grandmother would pick me up from school on Fridays and treat me to a delicious, endless pizza buffet. I would grab a plate and pile it high with cheesy slices, warm bread, and scoops of spaghetti. My grandmother would look at my plate, which weighed more than me, and warn me to never eat with your eyes.

    My grandmother’s lesson is exactly what Shannon’s article is trying to get across. No matter how delicious everything looked or how great every project seems, you can only do so much. Taking on more than you can handle, will make you seem more unreliable than impressive because there is just no way you can do it all.

    Completing less projects correctly is far more satisfactory than completing more projects carelessly, and will make you a dependable source in your boss’s eyes. Just like giving up the spaghetti and the extra pieces of bread would have made the pizza more satisfying, giving up the smaller, less important projects to focus on the big ones will make you and your work more appealing.

  • BEO

    When I was about to graduate with my undergrad degree, I asked my professors for their career advice. The piece of advice that stuck with me was this: be the first one to arrive in the morning, and the last to leave, and always be the first to volunteer for the projects your boss proposes.
    I got a job after graduation, and this advice worked for a couple years – I was promoted quickly to management and my boss kept giving me program after program to oversee. For a recent grad with little work experience this was a dream…until I realized my boss wouldn’t stop giving me projects and programs and staff to manage, and I worried my quality of work could start to suffer.
    I think most bosses that have their bottom-line in mind will try to add to the workload of the people they have until that person can’t take any more – and I agree with this article that it has to be the employee to throw up that white flag and say ENOUGH (not so bluntly of course).
    When my boss recently assigned me to chair the committee of a big company-wide event, we had a very similar priorities conversation to the one in this article. I made it clear that I didn’t want my existing work to fall by the wayside, and he respected that. When he could see that me saying “no” was a way of caring for the company, I demonstrated responsibility and kept his respect. Saying no to your boss is tough, but when done well it can actually improve the rapport between you.

  • Molly Loveless

    As a new employee or intern, many times you can be left with free time or not enough responsibility as your boss learns what responsibilities to give you. While the priority projects of your boss should be top of your list, use every bit of extra work time to help the business run smoothly instead of checking the latest facebook updates. Make the priorities of your boss become a reality by putting in the extra time to make the “behind-the-scenes” work more efficiently.

    Add value to your company and save your boss some headache by taking care of small problems/ organizing loose ends that may be at the lower ends of his/her priorities. Once your commitments of the day are taken care of, take notice of things that aren’t getting done or could be done better and make it your personal objective to fix small problems.

    Not every little fix you make will be immediately praised but over time your job and the job of your piers will be made easier. As organization improves, everyone can work with more focus.

    Keep a positive attitude even when you don’t like the job you are doing or feel it may be beneath your level. You are contributing more than you think. Your piers will most likely notice your work ethic before your boss. Seeing one person work hard with consistency can positively influence the whole office to work harder or more efficiently.

  • Maria Sarrazin

    I believe that when your boss seeks your assistance for projects in the workplace it is a reflection of your trusted capabilities, reliability, credibility, and obvious leadership attributes. I strongly believe that an engaged employee will always go above and beyond their job descriptions. It is statistically proven that companies who have employees that are happy in their workplace have a significantly lower turnover rates. As trusted individuals, we often are the ones to take on these extra curricular projects for our company. Often times, it gives us a great feeling of accomplishment by being an influential team member. Never the less, we may also feel a great deal of stress by taking on too much simply because it is part of our nature. We have all been there! Being a leader, often takes the ability and the knowledge on how to balance these responsibilities and duties. It is for the greater good of the company and employees to maintain this productive balance. It is important to learn to delegate to our coworkers and encourage their participation. Most often then not they just need someone to guide them to become engaged employees themselves. This will eventually increase productivity and employee satisfaction.

  • Jordyn Blonder

    In my first job as a sales associate in retail, I was quick to learn what was most important to my bosses. When it comes to retail, it’s all about time management. Stocking and restocking, working at the register, and assisting customers are only a few of the many things we’re expected to take care of. That means prioritizing, both to my superiors and to my customers. Knowing their needs and wants before they do, and managing to keep up with the ones they come up with out of the blue. By being able to distinguish what is more important in the moment, I know my bosses won’t have to question my dependability. They know I’m mature enough to know when and where I’m needed at all times, making me a trustworthy employee.

  • jose

    the word “No” can be a powerful word

  • Shawn Frank

    I have found throuh working that it is important to finish one task before moving onto the next project, no matter how small the project. This eventually sees, that everything that is required of you gets done in an orderly fashion. Accomplishing all of the projects that you are tasked with completing no matter how big or small can show your boss that you are compitent, reliable, and trustworthy. Another point that is made is the point of prioritizing tasks. Prioritizing can mean setting aside your own free time outside of work in order to accomplish a task to the best of your ability.

  • Greta S

    I can very easily relate to this just based on my college courses. Having to juggle work and school is difficult. I prefer to focus on the projects that will improve me and really make my talents shine before I move on to another task. Although it might be easy to knock out the small projects first, I like to put my best work into something that is meaningful.

  • Carlos Arias

    In today’s day and age, multi-tasking is erroneously put up on a pedestal. To be good at multi-tasking is to be good at being mediocre. It is much better to place ALL your focus on one task at a a time. By doing so, you’ll have the confidence to ignore the distractions and your judgment will be keen.

    In my younger years, I prided myself on being a multi-tasking machine. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned the more commitments I made, the less effective my results. Since then, I’ve learned to prioritize based on chronological importance. “Just in time” is much more important that “just in case”. Today, in my thirties, I am a husband, father of two, full-time business owner and taking 18 credit hours at the University of Miami. Needless to say, I have had no choice but to trim the fat off my daily schedule.

    One of my favorite techniques is to take a “Brain Dump” once a week, where I jot down everything I have on my mind and want to accomplish. Once I have listed all my items, I prioritize them from 1 through 3. The 1’s will get all my attention, while 2’s will be maintained. 3’s are either erased from my list or delegated to a capable teammate.

    When it comes to working for a team (or supervisor) it is imperative you learn your leader’s priorities so that you can be measured by his/her standard. Nothing is worse than working your butt off only to find your Priority-1 item is really Priority-3 on your bosses list. By knowing your target you can take better aim. When you know what you need to accomplish it helps to know what to ignore, and therefore, it will improve your performance along with your team’s.

    Of course, all these decisions are made based on where you fit into your organization. At the end of the day all that matters is team results. Much better to say “no” and let someone else handle it gracefully then for you to say “yes” and lower the team’s performance. Saying “no” tactfully followed by strong reasoning will be appreciated by every good boss in the world. Not to mention, you’ll be perceived as someone that can be trusted and relied upon.

  • Trisha Uy

    My preceptor once told me to “work smarter, not harder.” As a new nurse, I’ve always found myself focusing on the little things that leads me to forget to look at the bigger picture. I am always finding myself needing more time of the day to finish my work load. I have been a perfectionist that it was hard for me to let go of the small details. This advice from my preceptor has resonated with me since then and I found myself finishing my task earlier, being more comfortable delegating tasks to my nursing aids, and managing my day better. I found the sense of accomplishment knowing that working harder does not always mean better.

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About the author


In 1997, Eric Shannon launched the first job board for bilinguals who speak English/Spanish at LatPro.com. Eric still serves as CEO of LatPro Inc., developer of JustJobs.com. He lives in Boulder, CO with his wife and two girls.