Five unmistakeable signs you are slacking at work

Saving money is tough. It's even tougher when you don't have a job. Use these tips to make sure you're not slacking off. 

Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor/File
The work space. Lisa Carter works at her cubicle in the Department of Education with a fine view of the U.S. Capitol (2001).

Nobody wants to be considered an underperformer, but unfortunately, there are times when most of us fall behind at work or don't fully meet our responsibilities. Catching — and correcting — underperformance early is the surest way to get back on solid footing quickly. Here are five classic signs of underperformance to watch for.

1. No One Gives You Real Responsibility

Sure, there are a zillion projects you'd love to do for your company… but no one will give them to you. Missing out on a project here or there happens to everyone — after all, only one person or team can get each assignment. But when you feel like you never get the projects you want, and the data backs you up, there's a good chance you're underperforming.

Generally, the projects people want are high profile or important in some way. And bosses usually trust these sorts of projects to employees they know they can count on. If you never get one, it may mean that they aren't sure you will follow through in a way that makes them look good.

Attack this head-on by doing the very best you can with whatever projects are on your plate right now. Do what you have to do to make sure the project is completed successfully, and the next one you get may be better. Do this long enough and you will prove your worth to the company and show management that you can handle the serious responsibility of high profile work.

2. You Find Yourself Making Excuses

When someone asks you about a part of your job that isn't going so well, what do you say? Do you take responsibility, or do you offer an excuse? Sometimes, bad things happen and the outcome truly is out of your control. If you're offering excuses fairly frequently, though, it probably means that you aren't working hard enough, but don't want to admit it.

The next time you hear yourself making an excuse, take note. Think about whether it is legitimate. If you aren't sure, ask someone you trust to help you evaluate the situation. Then, take steps to take responsibility for what is going wrong. Talk to your boss proactively and come up with a plan of attack. Then follow through, no matter what comes up.

3. You're on Your Mobile — A Lot

Whether you like them or not, mobile phones are an important part of the ways we live and do business. However, you don't need to be on your phone all the time while at work. If, when you think back over the last few days, you realize that you spent the majority of your time talking, texting, or emailing on your phone, there's a good chance you're underperforming.

Think about it. Your mobile phone is rarely the most efficient way to do things. Emailinggoes much quicker on a computer. And emailing or talking on the phone is usually a faster way of handling things than texting. Really, the only things most efficiently handled on a phone are (wait for it...) phone calls. If you're using your phone in the office to do other things, you aren't working as efficiently as possible.

To counteract this, put the phone down. Lock it in a coworker's desk, if you need to, or set aside certain times each day where you use it and put it away the rest of the time. Beyond that, make sure that, when you are using your phone at work, you're using it because it is the only or the best way to take on a task.

4. You Can't Articulate Your Goals

If you don't know what you're working towards, it's hard to perform well. Whether you can't articulate your goals because no one told you what they are or because you don't remember them (or didn't pay attention in the first place), not knowing where you are going almost guarantees that you are underperforming.

If you don't know your goals, sit down with your manager to lay them out. And if your manager doesn't know them or can't articulate them, do the best you can to set some for yourself. Even if you don't know what your manager values, you can probably make some educated guesses as to what would impress him or her. Write these out for yourself and you will probably find yourself working towards them in a much more focused, efficient manner.

5. You Miss More Deadlines Than You Hit

Everyone misses a deadline now and then. It's not good, but it happens. Sometimes, it can't be helped. Other times, it means you lost a bit of focus and you can easily regain that. Occasionally, though, missing deadlines becomes a way of working. When this happens, it tends to indicate that the deadline-misser is underperforming.

Think about your deadlines over the last six months. How many did you hit? How many did you miss? If you have missed more than you hit, you are underperforming.

To pull yourself out of the deadline missing rut, figure out what is going wrong. Are you bored? Are you saving everything until the last minute? Are you at the mercy of other people who are saving everything until the last minute? Be brutally honest with yourself. If you find that you have any responsibility in the matter (and you probably do!), start making changes. Set aside time each day for projects with approaching deadlines. Reward yourself for the time you spend working. And do whatever you need to do to finish the next project on time (and the next one, and the next one).

Take the time to evaluate your performance today and change whatever needs to change in order to improve your focus and efficiency. In less time than you think, you can find yourself a more valuable member of your company.

This article is from Sarah Winfrey of Wise Bread, an award-winning personal finance and credit card comparison website.

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