3 ways to work more proactively and productively with your boss

So you’ve landed yourself your first job. You’re keen, you’re raring to go, you want to get stuck in, prove yourself and learn as much as you can.

In an ideal world your boss will have your workload, projects and development plan all nicely laid out for you. They’ll coach you through what you need to know, answer any questions you have and give you just the right amount of encouragement and constructive feedback as you go along.

In reality however, your boss is probably up to their eyeballs in emails, juggling their own deadlines and competing priorities, while their development plan sits on the backburner. The more you can show initiative in managing your work, scoping projects and proactively managing your working relationship with your boss, the easier you’ll make their lives – and the more interesting, satisfying and productive your work becomes.

Here are three tips to help you work more proactively and productively with your boss:

1. Have an agenda

This is the thing I wish I knew in my first job. Interruptions steal an incredible amount of our time and attention – not to mention our sanity. With emails pinging, phones ringing and open office conversations, it’s no surprise that we often feel like we don’t have enough time.

I cringe at the amount of times I turned around to ask my boss a question. But what do you do when you have questions – and you want to get it right?

Keep an agenda for your boss. Anything you want to ask, discuss, get their guidance or decision on – write it down. Choose your moment – or pre-schedule it with your boss – and bring all your questions to the table, rather than firing questions across the office as and when they occur to you. If you have a boss who is prone to hijacking your desk, suggest they keep an agenda for you too. Ask if they will try it as an experiment for a week, and see how it works.

2. Define outcomes first, then tasks

Outcomes are the solution you’re delivering. Tasks are the actions you take to deliver that.

Your boss might ask you to book a room and order lunch for a meeting, but what’s the real value you’re delivering? Are you the one in charge of making the logistics run smoothly?

If so, you might want to scope out who’s attending the meeting, if there are any dietary requirements, liaise with who’s chairing or presenting to see if they need a projector and any other IT equipment, find out if external guests need directions, arrival instructions or parking permits. And you might want to let your boss know when everything’s in hand, so that they can just focus on the meeting itself.

Replying to client queries might be one of your ongoing tasks. But if “keep client happy” is the outcome you want, that can inform how you keep in touch with the client, whether you email them, call them, or bring cupcakes to your next meeting. Whether you wait for a question or whether you check in with them to see if they have any questions, and whether your job is to get that email out of your inbox as quickly as possible, or to take time to build your relationship.

Understanding outcomes can also cut down on the work. Producing a social media analysis report might seem like a big task, but if the outcome is just to arm your boss with the top line figures of which social media campaigns are bringing in the most website traffic, a one-pager with some key statistics will probably go down a lot better than a thesis.

The more you understand your outcomes, the better you can scope and define your tasks, and the clearer you become of where you add value.

3. Ask your boss: would you like me to copy you in on that?

In our “Getting Your Inbox to Zero” workshops, being ‘CC’d’ into too many emails is one of the top bugbears of managers – and the higher up the organisation you go, the worse it gets.

The trouble is, there isn’t a standard protocol. What one person deems as noise, another person really wants to be kept in the loop. We use CC for so many reasons – to create an audit trail, to get backing, to escalate an issue, to open up a discussion or generate consensus, to keep specific people informed or to broadcast information, and most often “just in case”.

Be the one who actually asks: “do you want me to copy you in?” Don’t guess. Find out if your boss wants to be kept informed along the way, or just to know the final outcome, whether they want to be CC’d in on the conversation as it unfolds, or if they just want a summary update from you before their next meeting.

Not only will this make your life easier, it will make your boss’ life easier too. And that will boost productivity and performance all round.

About the author

Grace Marshall is head coach and chief encourager at Grace-Marshall.com and author of the Amazon bestselling 21 Ways to Manage the Stuff That Sucks Up Your Time.

She is also a Productivity Ninja with Think Productive one of the UK’s leading productivity training companies, and will be sharing practical productivity tips, insights and inspiration at How to be a Productivity Ninja, Birmingham - 13th February. Book yourself and your boss a ticket here: https://thinkproductivebirmfeb2015.eventbrite.co.uk