3 Work Mistakes You Don’t Realize You’re Making

Some mistakes are easy to recognize – you usually know if you flubbed a presentation or upset a client. But others fly beneath the radar, and those are often more dangerous, since you don’t know that you’re making them. Here are three bad mistakes you might be making at work – and they’re common enough that chances are good that you’re guilty of at least one of these!

1. Not doing what you say you’ll do. Otherwise known as “follow-through,” this has the potential to destroy your reputation with your boss and coworkers. And it’s not just about whether you deliver on the big stuff, like a report or new product. You probably (hopefully!) do deliver on that stuff, or you’d be out of a job. But what about the smaller things? When you promise to send a networking client an article that you think they’ll like, do you do it? When you tell your boss that you’re not sure of the status of Project X, but you’ll find out and let her know, do you do it? A lot of people don’t keep these sorts of commitments – and it does get noticed. You might not lose your job over it, but you’ll definitely create a reputation for being unreliable – and lose the chance to build a reputation for doing what you say you’ll do, which has some serious currency in the work world.

2. Not getting clear on your priorities and acting accordingly. If you’re like many people, you have a constant flow of “stuff” coming at you throughout the day – dozens of email messages, issues to research, small tasks to take care of, people dropping by your office with questions on a project, etc. With a  steady flow of demands coming at you, it’s easy to lose sight of the most important things you’re there to get done, and then reach the end of the day – or week! – without having had time to work on your own biggest priorities. In fact, the biggest time management mistake most people make is spending their time on what’s immediately at hand or on what’s most comfortable to work on, rather than what’s most important.

Instead, figure out what one or two items are most important to accomplish on any given day and make those your priorities. Whenever possible, do them first before other things have the chance to intervene. The details will fill in where there’s room.

3. Unresponsiveness. People who are unresponsive rarely think of themselves as unresponsive, but if you don’t answer all your emails and return all your phone calls, you’re guilty as charged. What’s more, you need to answer them in a timely way. So if, say, you wait to respond until you have an answer – even if that takes two weeks – you’re going to appear unresponsive to the other person, who is expecting at least an acknowledgement and a “I’m working on it.”

If you recognize yourself in any of these three bad habits, let this be your wake-up call to take control and put a stop to it!












Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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  • The Other Dawn

    It truly annoys the hell out of me when people aren’t responsive. So many times I’ve called a week later and I’m told, “Oh, I’m still working on it. I should have an answer tomorrow.” Please just email me and tell me you’re working on it! At least that way I know my request was received.

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    Tana Siemaszko Reply:

    I also like when someone says , in addition to “I’m working on it,” that it will probably take x amount of time. Where x is a value that is worst case scenario, if everything went wrong. I used to tell my staff “I’d rather you told me Friday and gave it to me the Wednesday before, than the other way around.”

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  • Tractor

    good article. I find that those kinds of promises made but not kept or the unresponsive types quickly lose credibility in my world.

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