9 Little Things That Make All the Difference in Your Work and Your Studies

Image shows an old photograph of two women working quietly at a desk.Conscientious students are always looking for ways to improve themselves, just as ambitious employees constantly strive to further their prospects of promotion.

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But it’s not always the big, bold statements that enable students and employees to impress teachers or bosses: sometimes it’s the little things you do on a daily basis, often without even realising it, that make all the difference to your success in work or studies. In this article, we look at some of the almost-effortless things you can do to ensure you make a great impression with the people who can influence your academic and business success.

1. Improve your handwriting

Image shows a pen lying on a beautiful hand-written page.
Beautiful handwriting will always impress people.

If you’ve ever looked at handwriting from times gone by – perhaps those elegant, perfectly-formed Victorian scripts you see on documents of that period – and wondered why nobody writes neatly like that any more, you have only to look at your own day-to-day writing habits to figure out why that is. Handwriting has suffered greatly with the advent of the computer; typing has, in many instances, almost completely replaced handwriting, and there just aren’t as many opportunities to practise writing things by hand as there once were. This means that, having barely written anything by hand before, some students enter the exam hall having to write for several hours in one stretch, and come out suffering with crippling arm ache, having produced a series of answers that the poor examiner is going to have a hard time trying to decipher. Once that student finds a job, their poor handwriting can still come back to haunt them: for example, they might jot down someone’s contact details having answered the phone and taken a message for a colleague, leave that colleague a Post-It note with the information… and the colleague can’t read the writing, so the message can’t be returned. For all the technology available to us today, there are still numerous instances in which handwriting is needed – and if nobody can read yours, you may inadvertently be shooting yourself in the foot. Making an effort to improve your handwriting, both making it more legible and maybe even making it more visually impressive, is surprisingly worthwhile. You’ll find lots of tips on how to do so in this article from The Guardian.

Image is a button that reads "Browse all Study Skills articles."2. Take your punctuality very seriously

Image shows an ornate outdoor clock.
Even if you’re only a little bit late, it creates a terrible impression.

Few things create more of a poor impression than lousy time-keeping. From being on time to lessons and lectures when you’re at school and university, to turning up on time for work, meetings and interviews when you’re employed, punctuality is the mark of a conscientious person on whom others can rely. If you’re persistently late to things, people stop trusting you and start feeling frustrated with you, and this can have an impact on your reputation, whether in education or employment. Your teachers may mention your poor time-keeping in your university references, or your employer may mark you down in appraisals, and possibly even subject you to disciplinary action if your lateness becomes an on-going issue. If you have trouble getting to things on time, conquer the problem by always allowing more time than you think you’ll need. Set your alarm clock earlier so that you have more time in the mornings for getting ready for school or work, and always research how long it will take to get to somewhere new – allowing extra time if traffic, train delays or other obstacles may hinder your progress. In business or for interviews, always have the phone number of the person you’re going to see – whether it’s your boss, a client or the interviewer – so that you can let them know if you’re going to be unavoidably late due to external circumstances such as a traffic jam or train breakdown. That way, even though you were late, they’ll know that it wasn’t your fault, and you’ll have given them notice so that they can do something else until you arrive.

3. Learn how to shake hands confidently

Image shows a handshake at the end of a meeting, with the other attendees applauding.
First impressions make a big difference.

British people often feel awkward about how to greet someone, and some feel very self-conscious about the quality of their handshake. However, shaking hands is a standard gesture that will be expected in business situations and on many other occasions in life, so if you’re one of the people who avoids doing it because you’re worried you “won’t do it right”, it’s time to conquer your embarrassment. You’ll create a good impression if you’re the first to proffer your hand when you meet someone new, so practise shaking hands with a friend until you feel comfortable with it. A firm grip is necessary, but don’t crush their fist in the process; a confident shake will demonstrate your own self-confidence, but don’t shake their hand so hard that they feel as though you’re about to dislocate their arm from its socket!

4. Smile!

Being friendly will get you far in every situation in life, and a smile disarms people even when they’re out to complain to you about something. Smiling in lessons at school will help you establish a good relationship with your teacher or lecturer, resulting in better references from them and good reports of your attitude. In business it’s just as important; business revolves around people, and building relationships is key to success in any industry. People are much more likely to buy from people they like, whether that’s in a small shop or a big business-to-business corporation. You want to be a nice person to have around in the office, as well as being the person that clients and business contacts want to talk to. You can be that person very easily: a smile costs nothing, and it will make a tremendous difference to how those around you perceive you, making people more likely to want to help you, get to know you and do business with you.

5. Say thank you

Image shows a pretty thank you card.
This kind of old-fashioned politeness will make people think kindly of you.

Along similar lines to smiling is the idea of saying “thank you” more often. We all love to feel appreciated, but we often forget to tell other people that we appreciate what they’ve done for us. Whatever situation you’re in in life, you’ll almost certainly find plenty of occasions for thanking people, even if it’s only for small things. At school, you might find the opportunity to thank a teacher for inspiring you to choose their subject, or for helping you out with a problem you were having – perhaps a card at Christmas or at the end of the school year to acknowledge their efforts in supporting your studies. At university, you could thank your pastoral tutor for their support throughout the year, or buy a box of chocolates for your dissertation supervisor to thank them for getting you through this milestone in your degree. At work, it’s often the day-to-day things that otherwise go unnoticed that would benefit from being acknowledged with a “thank you”: things like someone contributing a great piece of work to your project, or someone coming into work early or staying late to help you out with something. Even if it’s just part of their job, it’s still worth letting them know that you appreciate them – it makes them feel valued, and strengthens your relationship with them.

6. Set your alarm clock for earlier – and get up when it goes off

Most people love to lie in bed pressing the ‘snooze’ button until the very last possible moment, and end up being late to school or work as a result. It’s not just time-keeping that benefits from an earlier start, though. Many successful people are known for being early risers, because getting up early allows them to make best productive use of the day. If you get up early, you quite simply have a lot more hours in the day to get things done, which takes the pressure off and allows you to stay on top of your workload.

7. Be organised

Image shows an organised desk area.
Sorting out any areas of organisational chaos will pay off hugely.

We’ve already discussed the importance of good time-keeping, but general organisation skills are equally crucial throughout your education and working life. From filing your academic notes to handling work emails, good organisation will stand you in good stead for any project you happen to be involved with. Being organised means allowing plenty of time for things – not starting something hours before the deadline – and being tidy, so that you always know where everything is. It also means being logical in your planning and execution of projects, thinking of everything that might affect the outcome and keeping everyone informed who needs to be.

8. Admit when you’re wrong, and learn from your mistakes

We all make mistakes, but it’s how we react to them that makes the difference between long-term success or lack thereof. It’s never easy to admit when we’re wrong, but a little humility goes a long way in such a situation. This could apply to you in an academic context when an argument you’ve made in an essay is found to be weak or invalid; instead of persisting with your argument, or taking feedback as personal criticism, it’s best simply to admit that you were wrong and try to do better next time. In fact, acknowledging that an argument doesn’t have enough support is a vital skill in academia, no matter what level you’re working at; academia relies on coming up with hypotheses and disproving them, and to be taken seriously, you must have enough evidence to support everything you say.
It’s important to be able to admit when you’re wrong in other situations too, particularly in business. For instance, if you were working in a marketing department and you had a hunch that you should be targeting a particular group of people with an advertising campaign, but it turned out that your campaign had lacklustre results, it’s better to admit you were wrong and try a different approach than to press on with trying to target a group of people who clearly aren’t interested. Acknowledging your mistakes – rather than trying to sweep them under the carpet – allows you learn from them and do better next time.

9. Make the most of your online presence

Image shows a stamp in the style of a Facebook like button.
Taking care of your social media profiles is becoming ever-more important.

Whatever stage of your education or career you’re at, sorting out your online presence is a simple thing you can do that will show people that you’re someone who should be taken seriously. Setting your Facebook profile to ‘Friends Only’ so that your private stuff stays private, creating a professional-looking email address and signature, and watching what you say publically online are all things you can be doing to improve your online image. If you’re on Twitter, you can take advantage of numerous Twitter feeds to help you grow your knowledge of the subject and your network of contacts. If you’re at school or university, you can follow people who tweet about your subject, or make contacts who might tweet about possible job openings when you leave university.
In your career, Twitter is a great tool for informal business networking, as you can retweet and reply to what other people are tweeting, and they’ll do the same for you in return. You can follow clients and business contacts and use Twitter to communicate informally with them, strengthening relationships. You can also connect with them on LinkedIn, a professional networking site that also has groups that you can join so that you can discuss issues in your industry with others. You could even get yourself a website or blog to showcase your personal brand, with information about how to contact you, details of your credentials, and your latest news and views. All this contributes to showing that you’re an up-to-date, internet-savvy person who’ll be a valuable asset to any company you might wish to work for in the future.
So, as you can see, you don’t necessarily need to do something huge to show teachers or bosses that you’re worth your salt. Little day-to-day details add up to make a big difference to how you’re perceived by those around you, and can help you achieve success in academia and the workplace.


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Image credits: banner; handwriting; clock; handshake; thank you card; organisation; Facebook.