Practice Anticipating Workplace Needs

Learning how to anticipate the needs of your workplace can be a great productivity strategy that will carry on to any future career.  At work everyone has a handful of tasks that must be accomplished each day, some tasks that reoccur every few days or weeks, and random things that come up unexpectedly but must be taken care of.  Entry level positions provide us with an opportunity to practice anticipating what will need to get done and when things will need to get done.  When we are aware of what needs to get done we can develop timelines for accomplishing tasks, and begin to see the importance of doing certain tasks in a certain order to be highly productive.

Anticipating the needs of your workplace is the same as planning ahead.  Every manager, business owner, and entrepreneur has to plan ahead to make sure that the business runs smoothly and is competitive, but many entry level employees do not make an effort to learn these skills.  Planning ahead is not easy.  It requires greater focus and application at work, and if one is not aware of future plans or needs for the business they can not plan ahead.  Entry level employees can help their managers, supervisors, and bosses by letting them know what is needed, and helping them plan ahead.  Developing skills for planning ahead in an entry level position helps to prepare you for a time when you may be a manager or business owner.  Learning how to be more conscious of the business, and becoming more comfortable with making predictions makes you a more valuable employee.

When you do become more aware of the business, and can develop timelines for when things need to be completed the next step is learning how to address the important things first.  In entry level positions the important things are often the more difficult and time consuming tasks or activities, while the less important tasks are easy, short, and only appear to be productive.  Business owners and managers can fall into the same trap.  It may feel productive for owners and supervisors to work through their email inbox, but it may not be the most productive activity, and can be quite distracting, especially if they get pulled in by those Amazon suggestion emails.  As an entry level employee learning how to attack the important task rather than procrastinating with semi-meaningless tasks will translate forwards to more important positions.  Pushing back the important tasks will leave you and your business, regardless if you are the owner, manager, or just another employee, in a bind and a time crunch when the important stuff must be done.

As an entry level employee a great way to begin anticipating the company needs is to think like an owner.  Look at what needs to be done, and begin to prioritize by considering how long everything will take, and when things will be needed by.  Find the big hitter items rather than the simple tasks, and work on those when you can be the most productive.  Direct your best energy towards those first, to ensure that they are done to the best of your ability.  Thinking of what the manager or owner will need first, and doing them with great quality will make you more valuable, and help you stand out.

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Practice Using Language Effectively in Meetings

Communication at meetings is important for any group of people.  Using communication effectively is important whether you are talking with college graduates, high school students, or PhD's.  Trying to talk in a way that will bring everyone together is key, where using fancy  words to impress others can ruin the entire meeting.

Communication at meetings is important for any group of people. Using communication effectively is important whether you are talking with college graduates, high school students, or PhD’s. Trying to talk in a way that will bring everyone together is key, where using fancy words to impress others can ruin the entire meeting.

Entry level jobs give us the chance to practice good communication in team meetings, and to observe what we do and do not like in the way that we or others speak or listen.  We will all have many meetings throughout our lives, and if we are unable to communicate well in meetings, they will not be usefully, and people will become disengaged.  Learning to be involved in meetings in your first few jobs and practicing effective communication can help you be prepared for more important meetings in future careers.

When going to school and working at an entry level job, it is tempting to use fancy words that you learn during your studies at work.  Throwing in jargon at meetings to fluff up ones speech, using technical words rather than colloquial words, or using shortened blended words, an example would be “synbio” short for synthetic biology, is tempting during meetings, but it is not helpful for the overall purpose of a meeting.  At a meeting it is important that everyone is on the same page.  Likely a meeting was called so that the owner or manager could have a chance to sit down with everyone to discuss how things are operating and make sure that everyone is working in harmony.  There are reasonable words that go along with any job or industry and may sound like jargon or be on the technical side, but those words are used because they are more specific for the situation, and make things clearer for those involved.  Using that type of jargon or tech talk is different than using complicated words that many of your co-workers will not recognize.

People may use big words in meetings because they want to gain more power and importance at the workplace.  Using large words and knowingly confusing others may provide a chance to further explain yourself, allowing you to hold your co-workers attention as you explain your big complicated words in common terms.  Unfortunately this attempt to gain control and influence over your co-workers runs against the overall purpose of any meeting.  When everyone is together you have a real chance to connect with others, and everyone should have the chance to provide creative input.  One person using the meeting to promote their intelligence in order to gain status among co-workers causes a rift among all employees.  Others may lose respect for that individual, and they may not be able to connect in a meaningful way to build relationships with anyone at work.

Making a considerable effort to sound smart at work can do more harm than losing the respect of others at work.  From the daily interactions with the people you work with, your co-workers will have already formed an opinion about you.  They will have an opinion about how smart you are from your work habits, your interests, and how you act throughout the day. Trying to look impressive in meetings and using big words to sound smart when you are talking in front of all of your co-workers will not change the way they think of you.  Meetings are not useful places to try and impress people by sounding smart.  Speaking in an overly formal manner, and using language that is not characteristic of your speech can have the opposite effect.  Your co-workers will grow to respect you more if you can speak honestly, openly, and efficiently in meetings. When you try to use big words in meetings your run the risk of misusing words and sounding unintelligent.  The language we use in team meetings does not have to be complicated, and if you want to sound smart, using simple language can often help you more than complicated language.

Practicing using your language at work to connect with your co-workers and develop a thread of commonality is the best practice.  When you are in an entry level position or working at a minimum wage job, it is likely that you will be in a meeting with people whose educational levels vary.  There may be people who are currently taking college courses alongside high school students or college graduates.  These meetings give you a chance to practice communicating in a way so that everyone understands your ideas, and can provide their own input.  You may have a great idea, and your thought may spark a better idea in someone else, and if you are able to foster an environment of open and honest communication then it will not matter if the next good idea is from the high school student or the college graduate because they will both be comfortable with sharing their thought in an easy to understand way. Use the meetings you are a part of to observe others and improve your ability to communicate efficiently so that everyone can be involved with the discussion.

Learn the Interests of your Co-Workers

During our time at any job we will have many co-workers.  Some will be there for a long time, some will only last a couple weeks, some will be funny, some will be hard working, and some will make us dread our work.  Whatever our thoughts are about our co-workers, there is value in getting to know their interests and passions outside of the workplace.  When you work in an entry level position, or at a minimum wage job, you will be required to learn from others when you start, teach people once you have worked for a longer time, and communicate efficiently with the entire staff to ensure that everything is handled quickly and without errors.  The workplace can become frantic and stressful, but understanding who you are working with, and knowing something about them may help you push through the hectic moments.

Learning the interests of your co-workers simply involves asking them questions about their likes or dislikes when work is slow, or when you are working on a simple task that does not require 100% of your attention and focus.  I am not saying you should be having full on conversations every chance you get, and you certainly want to make sure that you are not doing so much talking that it becomes distracting for you or others around you, and you must make sure that your manager or boss does not frown upon a healthy conversation as well. When working together on simple tasks ask your co-worker easy questions about what they have done in the past, what things really interest them when they have free time, about what dreams they have, and what a perfect day would be like for them.  Learn what they like or don’t like about work, and find ways to make things easier for them by helping them master the things they find tough, or by using your skills to cover areas that they are weak in, and communicate with them so that they can do the same.  Opening up friendly communication at work can help your co-workers in many ways, and provide plenty of benefit for everyone at work.

The idea for this post came the other day at work.  I was frustrated with some personal things and my home life, and I just did not seem to be able to leave it at the door.  Working at a restaurant, the first thing I did when I got to work was start on some dishes.  Working by myself in the back of the restaurant was probably not the best idea, rather than relaxing and getting into a good flow, I simply fumed as I thought about what was bothering me at home. I know others noticed that I was upset, and I felt as though I was not bringing the best me to work that day.  After the dishes had been cleared up I was asked to work on the simple task of cutting two large bags of broccoli into bite size chunks with a co-worker.  The job gave us a chance to chat a little, and I approached the task as an opportunity to get my mind off what was bothering me.  I worked with a relatively new employee, and began asking him some questions.  As our conversation grew and I learned more about him, I began to forget what was happening at home, and I began to respect my co-worker more.  After a little pause in the broccoli cutting for some self-reflection, I realized that by focusing the conversation on him and not myself, I was able to engage him in a conversation that he enjoyed while shifting my focus away from my problems.  Focusing on your co-workers interests and having lighthearted conversations with them can help ease you through your work on those rough days.

When thinking about the benefits of conversation and getting to know your co-workers, I quickly realized that my lesson was only one of many positives to come from good communication.  Being able to talk in a relaxed and open way with those around you helps them relax, especially if you can use conversation to build a genuine relationship, and create an atmosphere of trust and safety.  This atmosphere will allow them to feel comfortable with little criticisms, encourage them to work with others, and help everyone feel like part of a team.  The easier communication is between employees the quicker they can work together on tasks that require different skills from different people.  You will learn about what your co-workers are good at or where they have potential for growth, and you will all be able to get the most out of your time at work by becoming more efficient, and having a better attitude.

To be part of a good team you have to know those around you.

To be part of a good team you have to know those around you.

Avoid the Task of Least Effort

This is a topic that I believe extends beyond the first jobs that we have, into the business lives of successful CEO’s, and even our daily routines.  I currently work at a restaurant, which means that there is never a shortage of things to clean, food to prepare, dishes to wash, and so on.  When things slow down after our rush hours, there is usually a period of time where everyone begins to walk around evaluating the needs of the store.  Each person seems to find their little area to work on to stay busy, and if you don’t find the good task first, you are always left with the dreaded dishes.  After watching this pattern, and looking deeply at the tasks that needed to get done compared to the tasks we actually worked on, I began to see how much time we wasted.  Putting myself in an owners mindset and looking at  the important tasks, when we needed those tasks done by, and what could be done that would help the store the most, I began to become more productive.

By looking for the important tasks, even if they are more difficult, smelly, or time consuming, and working on those first I began to feel more accomplished in my work, and others noticed.  By not avoiding the tough tasks, and volunteering for them, my manager began to see that she could trust me more.  She knows that when I am there the things that need to be taken care of will be completed.  I gained more respect from my manager, and have more freedom at work.  While I am there during slow periods, I no longer feel lost, looking for little things to tinker with in hopes that the time moves by faster.  I no longer look for the task that I can halfheartedly do while watching t.v., and as a result I am more engaged at work, and time moves a little quicker.  The tough tasks have over time gotten easier, and I even prefer to do them myself now, because I know the quality of the job will be great.

I believe that this translates into everyone’s life because it is not just a habit we get into at work.  After a long day at work it is not fun to cook and clean.  Avoiding important tasks and making excuses to avoid working on tough things at home is something I know I am guilty of.  I’ll check emails, which undoubtedly leads to becoming distracted on Facebook, and not get to the laundry, dishes, chores that need to be worked on. Creating lists of what needs to be done, and finding ways to streamline working on chores at home can help overcome this form of procrastination.  Checking in on yourself to ask if what you are doing is truly helpful or necessary is a good way, at home or at work, to make sure you are focusing on what needs to get done.

Asking the Right Questions

Many minimum wage or entry level workforce jobs are customer service oriented.  In a lot of these jobs we have to perform tasks to assist customers, direct them to where they need to be, or help them find what they are looking for.  In my current position I find myself answering lots of questions, and guiding customers towards what they want.  I work at a Deli/BBQ, and we have plenty of customers who come in looking for raw meet products to take home and cook themselves.  Many of them are unsure how much product they need, how to cook what they buy, and many are unsure of the differences between some of our products.  Through thousands of questions from customers, I began to see that I had a chance at work to communicate with the customer to answer the questions they did not even know they had, and help them find exactly what they are looking for.

Service jobs provide us with a chance to work on our communication skills, especially learning how to ask the right questions.  Learning how to talk to customers in a way that makes them feel valued, smart, and appreciated can be tough, especially with the variety of people in the world.  Some of my customers are easy to connect with because I happen to notice that we share a common passion or because we both have positive attitudes, but this is not always the case.  It is not easy to communicate well with a customer who has an accent that is hard for me to pick up on, or is grumpy before he walks into the store, but these customers do allow me to practice helping customers who can be difficult.  Learning how to deal with all people, the good customers and the bad, is essential for growth, and it is something any service position provides.  Reflecting on good and bad experiences, and trying to analyze why the experience was positive or not helps you learn what you can improve when working with a customer.

Becoming a source of guidance at work can make you stand out.  People are often unsure of exactly what they are looking for, and since you are the employee at the counter, you are expected to know what they need.  This can feel annoying, especially when you are disinterested in your work, but learning how to anticipate customers questions or wants will help you to direct them.  Pay attention for what most of the customers need, and learn how to solve their problems.  Once you have gotten comfortable with seeking out answers for customers you will become more knowledgeable about your work, and customer needs.  This will allow you to ask the customers questions that you need to know in order to guide them.  I have often found that by asking the right question early on when helping someone I can get them what they need quicker, with less confusion.

Learning how to communicate with customers by asking them the right question can make difficult customers easy, and can make the good customers very happy.  You will shine and feel more involved with what you do, which will help you approach work with a better attitude and more confidence.

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Starting to Grow

Many of us start out our working life while we are going to school, either high school or college, and work a small job to help us pay our way through our education.  I want to talk about my experiences working minimum wage jobs, and share ideas for how to get the most out of a job.  Changing your frame of reference, looking for chances to grow, and keeping a positive attitude are some of the first steps for me towards happiness in my current minimum wage job, and I know there are areas to grow if I work in the right direction.  It takes a little extra effort, but looking for areas that will help me gain experience, being self aware of my thoughts and growth, and trying to improve myself while I work will translate forwards to whatever career opportunity I receive.