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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  • Rajashree B

    I’ve been working as a science summer camp counselor for two years now, teaching students aged 6-9 about robotics, video-game design, and electricity. As a current high school student, sometimes it has been difficult to understand what exactly my boss is looking for because of my age and lack of experience in working. I have also never had experience with the second topic, since my work is taking care of kids and teaching them the camp curriculum rather than project based. I have, however, learned over time what it takes to do my job well and understand what my boss wants.

    What she wants is to uphold company standards and what we promise our campers and their parents: a fun time over the summer where hopefully our students can learn something interesting. Sometimes, it may be a trade-off; do we focus on letting the kids have fun and be happy, or do we emphasize getting through the course materials so that they can have as intellectually stimulating an environment as possible? At first, I thought it was the latter. Then, I realized that the campers, who are after all only young children on summer break, are not looking for a classroom environment. They want to have fun, and if they can learn while doing that, all the best for them. Kids who have fun also tend to return for more camp sessions, which is good for the company. Therefore, I’ve learned to lay off on the children and focus on their happiness and safety. Which isn’t hard, because the camp curriculum is pretty fun and easy to begin with.

    In the future, I’m probably going to need to learn to understand more importantly what my boss is looking for. Thanks JustJobs for these articles. They’re pretty useful and interesting!

  • Jay

    This is an especially helpful article for those in a similar situation as my own. I work in a “floater” type position in a restaurant. While my primary duties include cleaning and restocking, I am often called upon to do many other things. This often leads to an overabundance of tasks that I must complete.

    I’ve used point number one in this article extensively. For example, I’ve noticed that one of my managers wants our chef’s tables to be clean and ready for customers the moment he walks into the restaurant. When I notice that I am scheduled to work with him, I make cleaning and setting the chef’s table my first priority at the start of my shift. This makes him so happy that he does not assign as many tasks for me to do as usual.

    Point number two helps me not overload on tasks. When I find myself unable to complete a requested task in a timely fashion, I make sure to politely inform the manager who assigned it. Politeness, or “gentleness” as the article states, is important to make it clear that I am not trying to be lazy or disrespectful.

  • Kelly Cuoco

    Communication is key. The most successful place I have ever worked was filled with people who could communicate well with each other. Together we were able to discuss new ideas and prioritize projects.

    I am also a big fan of lists. Having everything laid out in order can make the day flow smoothly and facilitate successful completion of important items first.

    I need change and love to get new projects. I remember a time when I was offered an interesting new task but simply did not have the time to complete it while also working on higher priority assignments, so I brought in a few other people from the group to help me with the new ‘sexy’ project. There is always a way to get what you want and complete what you have to do. Checklists help.

  • Keva

    I believe that these to habits are not only an asset in the work place, but in any situation in which you are working under someone. I have seen this even in my college studies. All professors believe that their work is the most important; however, to get everything done, and done well some assignments must take priority. This is also true with extracurricular activities. Not only must course work be a priority over clubs and organizations that you may be part of, but sometimes you have to refuse to take on another project or assignment in one of your clubs so that the quality of your work doesn’t suffer. I have also found that professors much prefer quality over quantity. If a good balance is maintained of doing course work and not letting down the other members of the organizations you are involved in, the quality of your work can become something that you are known and admired for.

  • Emily Blomberg

    This article made me laugh, specifically number 2. I work at a chain pizza place as a delivery driver, and for a while I would dread working with one particular manager. My manager, really likes to have a clean store, which is totally understandable and I agree that the store needs to be spotless, it’s a restaurant after all. But he would ask me to do random cleaning jobs, like scrubbing the back of the fryer or the bottom of the dishwasher. I’d do the cleaning jobs, but these jobs were time consuming. By the end of my shift if I completed the extra task my manager asked, but didn’t complete my daily work, he’d be mad. It baffled me.

    I eventually learned to say “Of course I can clean ______, but first I need to do _____.” Turns out, he’s okay with that approach. The tasks that need to be prioritized get done, and the extra job at least gets started and can be finished next shift. Instead of purely saying “no”, and saying “Let me finish ___ first and I’ll get right on it”, my manager sees that I’m not only willing to work, but that I share the same values.

    • Kelly Cuoco

      Communication is key. The most successful place I have ever worked was filled with people who could communicate well with each other. Together we were able to discuss new ideas and prioritize projects.

      I am also a big fan of lists. Having everything laid out in order can make the day flow smoothly and facilitate successful completion of important items first.

      I need change and love to get new projects. I remember a time when I was offered an interesting new task but simply did not have the time to complete it while also working on higher priority assignments, so I brought in a few other people from the group to help me with the new ‘sexy’ project. There is always a way to get what you want and complete what you have to do. Checklists help.

  • Alesa Whitehead

    This lesson applies to so much more than just an occupation. I know that in my everyday college life, I am always getting pulled in different directions by opportunities that arise. Coming out of high school with many halfhearted extracurriculars on my resume, I thought it would be best during the first week of school to find the top five clubs that interested me and join them. As time passed, I came to the realization that I was doing no good to the clubs or myself by spreading myself too thinly across all of them to make any difference.

    While some argue that being well-rounded and having many passions to pursue is best, taking that idea to its extremes results in unfinished projects and passionless pursuits.

    I can also sympathize with this lesson from my experience in the work force. During my first summer in college, I had the opportunity to work as a data entry clerk. Every time my supervisor checked in on my progress, she was pleased with my eagerness to take on another stack of pertinent documents to enter. I often even agreed to make coffee runs, collect packages, and make copies for the department to show that I was a good sport. That ultimately only made my supervisor happy in the short-run, because by the end of the week I would still have a stack of unentered papers on my desk. They were set aside due to my “yes-man” syndrome, which set back my promotion in the long run.

    Moving forward in all areas of my life, I decided to create a mantra: Do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to be doing it. If I want to take on a new endeavor, I need to finish what I’ve started, or in other words… if I want dessert, I should focus on eating the veggies first.

  • Matt Assel

    The first company for which I worked was a small, liberal arts university; this meant that everyone in every position wore a number of different hats. My main role upon entering the organization was to take three pre-existing musical ensembles to higher levels of quality in the areas of performance and professionalism. Along with this task I was also assigned the responsibility of administrating sound engineering at all campus events and activities.

    As a recent college graduate I naively believed that all tasks associated with both of these responsibilities required the same amount of attention and creativity. I worked tirelessly to raise not only the quality of the ensembles but also the quality of sound reinforcement. It didn’t take me long to discover that “when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.” A few years later I ran across Habit #3 “Put First Things First” in Stephen Covey’s ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’—it completely changed the way I worked.

    Fortunately, I had a great boss; and after a meeting or two to discuss my priorities I discovered that the university had no intentions of raising the level of quality of sound reinforcement at their events—they simply wanted the job done. No longer did I have to waste creative energy on brainstorming equipment upgrades and improved training programs for student sound technicians, I simply had to follow the procedures already in place.

    And, eventually, my main priorities began to flourish.

  • Chris Martinez

    I once had a similar experience when I worked in a law firm as an intern. My boss wanted to give me a lot of projects because I was great at doing the work assigned to me in a timely and efficient manner. However, one time they tried to give me work than I could handle. For example, one time I had to do a research project for marketing that took me hours to do but then I was assigned another task where I had to organize a lot of files in our Records Department. In addition to that, I had to do some research for an attorney on a case that she was currently working on. I asked how important it was and she said kind of important and I asked if I could do it the next day and she was fine it. Luckily, I had experience in the Records Department and since I knew if I didn’t do it that day then the work would just build up and I would have to do it the next day but that would annoy all the other people in the office. So I set aside a bit of time to do the filing and then I went back to my research project for marketing. Then the next day I helped the attorney with her case the next day after I had done a good amount of my other work. So this follows how I can prioritize the work assigned to me and complete the work as needed by others.

  • KennyPerez

    It was a very important step for me when I realized that it
    was possible for me to overload myself by taking of too much at one time. I
    have found that it is much better to do one thing whole heartedly than two
    things half cocked. As an old manager of mine used to say, “If you can’t do it right,
    don’t do it at all,” and these are words that I have really internalized. I
    have found that it is often the case that those that don’t complete a responsibility
    correctly are often found out, when someone is forced to clean up after them.
    Being a Yes-man can seem like a quick way to praise and promotion, but your
    quality of work will not reflect the dedication and integrity that result in
    stable success. Sometimes we have no choice but to extend ourselves beyond our
    comfort zone. At this time it is communication with your boss that is key, so
    that you have a full understanding of where each of your tasks fits into the
    master plan.

  • Very insightful article, definitely
    a lesson that resonates with me. I know from personal experience that the more
    I tried to tackle a variety of problems for a project, all at the same time,
    the more burned out I would get with the
    amount of workload that needed to accomplished. I learned that by just
    prioritizing the most fundamental tasks first, like what needs to be organized
    or what financial investments are needed;
    and working down from there, immensely helps out my workflow in whatever
    responsibly I may be tasked with.

    Thinking you can do multiple tasks at once is
    a good mindset to have for a job and something I might admire if I were a boss
    or manager, but it is always good to keep a level head and not overburden yourself
    with more than you can handle. Starting out with manageable, high priority
    tasks that can be completed, and doing a proper job is more beneficial in the
    long term.

  • StevenMiguel

    Learning to say “no” can be difficult at first. I too had to learn this lesson. When you’re trying to “prioritize”, you can justify many reasons as to why something is priority. I have been taught to work hard and always put forth my best effort, and it can sometimes feel like your not doing your best if you turn down tasks.

    You eventually realize you’re really not providing the highest quality of work if you spread yourself too thin. It is better in the long run to learn your limits and what you can and can not handle in a certain time frame. Then you can begin to prioritize your work with less tasks but higher quality.

  • On my list of of things to do, “set priorities” is my top priority. Being raised by my grandmother, myself and the house was always ran under control with rules and tiers of things to do. You can’t move on from one project until you complete the first. As a child, I hated this, though looking back, I can’t say I didn’t end up enjoying the lesson. She would always look at me and say, “I’m not going to force you, because if you don’t put your heart into the work your doing, then you won’t do the job completely.” When I was younger I would think her comment was just a way to guilt me into doing a better job, but now I understand what she was saying. Its important to set your priorities, and when you do, you need to not only complete them, but conduct the work with your full attention and your 150%. Like my grandma taught me, I put my heart into my work, and when I complete it and move onto the next task, I’ll have proudly turned in my best work.

  • I feel as though this was a life lesson they really applied to me. This is because it takes wisdom and maturity to know and understand your strengths and weaknesses.
    With this sort of knowledge on hand you know which areas to apply yourself to in order to be as successful as you can possibly be.
    One of the worst things a person can do is misrepresent themselves by making questionable judgments, this means from then on even your solid judgments will be questioned, and that will damage your integrity.

  • lmadrian

    In my current job, I have learned a few things about earning my boss’s respect. In order for my boss to think I was mature and trustworthy, I had to be comfortable asking questions about tasks I did not understand and I had to be able to solve a problem the best I could on my own.

    By asking question about tasks I was unsure of, I showed my boss that I wanted to get a job done correctly. Even if I had to take a little more time to figure how to the task, the task was done correctly the first time. More time would have been spent doing the task again. The more tasks that I completed correctly, the more my boss trusted me. I was able to take on bigger and more complex tasks. They were ensured that I would do a sufficient job.

    Being a good problem solver is an excellent skill to have. Some people are born with it and others take some time to learn it. In my job, I was able to learn it by watching other people. When I experienced a problem, I applied what I had learned from training as well as what I had observed from my coworkers. If I am able to solve a problem without having to get my boss involved it saves them time. It also shows them that I am mature enough to handle myself. Being a good problem solver also means that you are flexible, quick on your feet, and always listening and learning. A boss admires these qualities in a worker.

  • Lori Sheppard

    I agree with many of the comments that have been previously stated. It is very important to be proficient, knowledgeable, and punctual. If you are not sure how to do something do all you can to learn how to do it and well.

  • Tatiana Rivera

    There are two main ways to show that you are trustworthy and mature; honesty and respect.

    As a young child my parents instilled the cliche value of “honesty is the best policy”. Although at the time of learning it I did not fully comprehend the impact it would have on my life. Now everyone knows that an honest person is a trustworthy person, but honest builds integrity. Through integrity you are able to show people who you truly are as a person without having to actually be in front of them. My mom always said “It’s who you are behind closed doors with the spot light off that really shows who you are”. I took that to heart.

    Now with honesty, comes integrity, and with integrity comes the highly coveted respect. Respect is so coveted and so highly sought after that songs have even been made about it. Being able to show respect for someone shows maturity. In every job there is a “pecking order” if you will. Showing respect at the bottom will earn you respect at the top. Being able to show respect for your coworkers or peers is a sign of maturity. Showing and receiving respect graciously will in turn show people that you are a trustworthy and mature person.

  • ashley_c28

    this is extremely true. If you underestimate yourself your boss probably will too. if you know that what your boss has assigned you shows your strengths then do it happily and show your boss that you have what it takes.

  • T Rae

    This is a great post. I particularly liked the part regarding taking on to many projects or being given to many projects. Not without some trials and tribulations, I recently realized the significance of making each second count. I started a new job just over three years ago. I work in a small law office. I previously worked in banking, in large banks, where our expectations were pretty much written in stone.

    My new position had an interesting twist,my employer is blind. She is also an attorney. Her memory is along the lines of what I consider absolutely astonishing. She can remember everything. However, after working with her for a while I started to realize, that she cannot grasp time during the empty silent spaces that most of us fill up with body language. As a matter of fact for some reason all of her abilities are strong but unknowingly to her and to me for quite some time her sight disability causes her to not be able to relate time with work.

    In addition to the time issue, my new employer does not like to be upfront about her disability and will
    not say when there is something she cannot do. This created a very interesting work environment. At first, I would receive projects and thesewould be major projects. Shortly after assigning the project (about 5 minutes later) she would say did you finish thatfile. I was a little beside myself in the beginning but then I learned to narrate my actions. I would first, repeat to her what she asked me to do, to confirm my understanding.
    Second, I would just sort of talk as I worked such as, “I am getting the file, I am finding the petition so that I can use it to draft the answer, I am proofing the document, I need to retype a paragraph.”

    I know this may sound insane but it became what our relationship was built on. I eventually was able to tell her that I feel she may be misinterpreting time in some situations. The same thing would happen during Court hearings and with clients so it was not just me. As time went on my willingness to communicate with her in a way most adults most likely would not communicate (i.e.disclosing every single move they are making) created a trusting relationship that has benefited our small firm.

    The silence in the court room would throw her off and she would speak out of turn or repeat herself several times causing the Judge to be frustrated. The silence with the clients would cause many uncomfortable situations where everybody was left staring at each other or similar to my situation, while they filled out
    paperwork she would ask them over and over again if they were done while they were concentrating on trying to fill out paperwork or read a document.

    She worked eight years prior to my being hired. My being overloaded and learning to say, “No,” in a polite fashion worked wonders in our situation, and helped develop a better practice. We have now created ways to address the Court silence and handle the client’s. The best part of it all is that now I will ask her, “is she done yet?” It was a difficult situation, I did not want to dis credit her ability; however, I knew she was at times asking for the impossible. I agree that maturity goes a long way. If I was not level and mature and trustworthy this situation could have gone in a whole other direction.

  • Shante White

    Just recently i have decided to get a job while in school because it is expensive. I have not wanted to work while in school because I have always liked to focus on just academics but right now it is tough to get the things that I need without a job and being from a single parent family my Mom does what she can. So now i realize that I have to do what I have to do in order to make it while I am on this educational journey in finding a great career, even if it means venturing out into the world of school and work.

  • Work, hard and get it done right. At my job I am not the top of the food
    chain or the main strand of rope but no matter how much impact one has
    at their job their effort, helps reduce strain on others. This leads to a
    cohesive effective unit. This doesn’t main you need to get along with
    every person who comes running in the door, but it doesn’t mean you
    cannot work together. When, it comes to a boss realize they are
    in-charge in and only as far as your job, you have full control over
    your life, and if you feel like the workload is to much you have every
    right to tell them, but don’t try and impress the boss by rushing
    through his projects or your setting the hurdle to high and setting
    yourself up for a very very hard landing. A job is a job it for me
    provides the core of my ability to pay for utilize, educational bills
    and personal enjoyments. It is how I can balance being a full time
    student and full time employee. I love what I do because I am through
    and appreciated by a reasonable amount of those in my public life.

    Get the job done right and get on to the next one, don’t view life like a race
    track but like a paint brush, taking your time focusing on whats
    in-front of you and periodically assessing whats ahead but crafting the
    best you can out of the present!

  • JDandron

    Failing to balance multiple projects is definitely something with which I’ve struggled! I thought it looked more impressive to have all those projects. I was actually afraid to say no when offered projects. I thought that it made me look weak.

    After having a nervous break down, I realized that it’s not how many projects I am balancing but rather my performance on each specific project. I realized that never saying no reflected my lack of confidence more than anything.

    My work is better after adapting the ‘less is more’ mentality like this article talks about. It mirrors my hard work.The work shows that, while completed in a timely fashion, it was not rushed. Knowing how to prioritize well is a valuable skill that I am glad to be honing!

  • Danny Chang

    Being able to say no not only shows maturity but also shows a backbone. Being a YES-MAN/WOMAN will leave you overwhelmed with things and will hinder your performance. As I posted on the other page, relationships are key in the workforce and they will get you extremely far in life if you use healthy techniques and habits.

  • Khadijah Thomas

    It’s very true to learn when to say no to your boss if it’s for good reason

  • alfredajharris

    I think these lessons can prove very helpful. I must admit I have not had a great deal of success with my jobs in the past. I always started out ‘gung-ho’ but by the end of the job I would feel hatred for the job, my bosses, my coworkers, and the customers! Now, form reading several of these articcles I can see where I went wrong. I never thought about what my bosses prioroties were or that I needed to consider them. I figured he or she was the boss, so that was their problem. Now, I recognize that if my boss does not do well then neither do I and vice versa. I also, have a hard time saying no at first, but then I later regret it because I have bitten off more than I can chew. By then it is too late to say no without seeming flaky or unreliable, so I end up stressing myself out trying to finish more than I can handle. I wish I had this site when I was in the workforce in the past but I am glad it exists now.

  • nothippo234

    I experienced this situation when I received a promotion at work which required me to undergo a fourteen week intensive training out of town. I knew that attending school full time while participating in the training would be an information overload for me and I subsequently took a leave of absence from school until after I finished my training and got situated back in my home office. I felt that there was a strong possibility that doing both would cause me to not be able to put forth my best effort at either and I would rather do one thing and do it well than do several things and not perform either one of them to the best of my ability.

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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.