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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  • 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.