Career advice: 3 shockingly simple secrets to success at work, according to science

ByJames Dennin

Eyeing that corner office or working up the courage to ask for a raise? While it obviously helps to have a solid record as a hard worker to back up your request for a fatter paycheck, burning the candle at both ends is counterproductive. 

In fact, several studies have suggested that working too hard might even hurt you, especially once you're over age 40. Research has linked excessively long hours to diminished cognitive function in older adults. Yikes. 

The key for workers of all ages who want to get ahead is to be smart about the way you work — so that you've always got a little gas in the tank in case someone needs you to step up to the plate. Here are three big ways to up your game. They are actually pretty easy, and are all backed by research.

1. Add motivated people to your wolfpack 

If you're feeling lethargic at work, that third cup of coffee might be the wrong move. Indeed, your low energy might actually have more to do with your surroundings — and coworkers — than you realize.

That's according to a new paper from researchers at French National Institute of Health and Medical Research which found that people unconsciously imitate nearby folks' laziness, prudence, and impatience because of herding effects. 

So get out there and shmooze. Or, if you are having trouble finding type-As to add to your friend group at work, step outside the office and make use of professional associations and meet-ups in your area: Motivated people are typically pretty busy, so you'll have to go to them.

2. Life-hack your way to better sleep 

Yes, you know you need more sleep to avoid errors at work — but there are more surprising reasons recharging your brain is important, too.

A new paper from the Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands found that even a single night of bad sleep leads to measurable emotional problems in the workplace. "Unwanted behavior in the workplace often stems from selfish impulses that are not kept in check by self-control," the paper's author, Laura Giurge, told the BBC

Bad sleep leads to poor self-regulation, which leads to conflict once you clock in: Excessive social media scrolling, unwarranted feuding with colleagues, and even office theft were linked to a lack of good ZZZs, the report found. Giurge estimated that sleep loss accounts for billions of dollars in lost productivity.

Luckily, there are a lot of ways to improve sleep quality — backed by science. Exercise is a common remedy for insomniacs, and the type of workout matters: Research suggests moderate aerobic exercise is better than strength exercise for getting you ready for a good night's sleep. For best results, leave a window of at least six hours between your fitness regimen and bedtime. 

Hate the gym? Other research suggests that mindfulness mediation can improve sleep quality, and for that there are apps that can help even novices.

Another strategy is to take a look at what times of day you're eating, bathing and getting dressed. Other research has found that people who keep consistent daily routines also get better sleep. 

3. Brag smarter 

One of the biggest catch-22s in the workplace is how to take credit for all of your hard work — without sounding excessively braggadocious

Some credit-taking is certainly necessary. One paper found that humility can backfire, because if you're too humble on the job, people may perceive you as being less competent. But, then again, if you're not humble enough, people perceive it as a moral failing, the research found. 

The authors actually point to reactions to President Donald Trump as a good example of this phenomenon. If you like him, you think he's a charismatic show-boater and powerful leader. If you don't, he's a narcissist. Whether bragging is well received is all in the eye of the beholder. 

So if you can't read minds, it's tricky to know exactly how much to "turn it up" or down at work. One strategy to help yourself find the right balance is to avoid the humble-brag, since recipients tend to find this strategy insincere. If a hiring manager asks you in a job interview about your "biggest weakness," try to come up with an actual (mild) weakness you're working to address — as opposed to how you "work too hard, and care too much."

Be careful about who you brag to as well; not everyone needs to hear how great you are. A different paper found that people tend to overestimate how much they'll gain from self-promotion and underestimate how much it ticks people off. 

To avoid having your accomplishments come back to haunt you, wait to bring them up in a formal setting. Request a performance review and show up with your receipts as evidence of your successes. Try keeping a monthly check-in, and ask your manager for concrete steps you can take to improve.

Another trick you can try? Liz Wessel, founder and CEO of the recruitment startup WayUp suggests always sending a quick email roundup at the end of any major project. "Share the metrics and results that show it was a success, the learnings that you took away — include what went wrong! — and the people who also deserve credit for making it a success," Wessel told Mic in an email. 

Your colleagues will be thankful for the shout-out, and you can rest easy knowing your accomplishments are on the record — no performance review necessary.

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