OK, this one may hurt.
Think you have what it takes to dig a career hole for yourself and then stay there? If not, here are three tips that are sure to get you the kind of attention nobody really wants.Miss deadlines: If each person in a company operated in an independent vacuum, a missed deadline might not be such a big deal. But, as you well know, almost every action of every employee has some kind of effect, either direct or indirect, on the performance of another employee. Let's say Person A—that would be you—has four days to complete the first part of a project; Person B has four days to complete the second part; and Person C has been given three days before the ultimate out-the-door deadline.
Since you're not that hung up on specifics like deadlines, you take an extra day to get your portion of the project done. Person B has now missed an opening window of time for getting his portion launched so he, in turn, borrows another day from the master schedule. Now poor old Person C finds himself at the end of the project, and his deadline is one day away. As in DEADLINE. Not Ailing Gray Area. Person C probably has to work late and miss his daughter's soccer game where, as it turns out, she scores the winning goal. And it's all your fault.Complain too much: OK, look, most people like to complain. They do it more often out of frustration if they feel like it's not feasible for them to take any real action — but that's not letting you off the hook. Like it or not, your job is to make things happen for the company you work for. If you can find fault with everything that entails (everything legal, that is), your input will lose its value. Constant complainers have no credibility.
Of course, you complain because you think you know better than those who make the decisions. Maybe you do and maybe you don't. Either way, you don't want to get a reputation as the person who will point out all the bad aspects of every suggestion and have to be dragged kicking and screaming into every new endeavor. It's exhausting for everyone you work with. Ultimately, no one will think of you as a discerning employee as much as they will think of you as a pain in the butt.Be the company doormat: This is the Complainer's polar opposite, but it's just as toxic. Are you the guy who helps everyone? The one everyone knows they can dump work on because you're so nice and capable? And if everyone likes you, they respect you, right? Wrong. Your manager probably interprets this helping tendency as an inability on your part to set boundaries. And, believe me, no one is going to foist any make-a-name projects on you—only the penny ante stuff they don't want to do.
The ability to set boundaries is something you need to have if you want to move up in the company. And if you take nothing else away from this blog, know this: Those co-workers lining up to pawn work off on you will not set your boundaries for you.
Although your intentions are good, your desire to help everyone may result in your workload being too much to handle, which could make you a deadline-misser (see my first point), and you don't want that. Another result is that, with things piled on as they are, you will do no one project really well.
In brief, finish on time, develop a streak of optimism, and learn to say no.
Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.