Spring Cleaning for Your Career

You rearranged your closet, pruned the rose bushes and cleaned out the garage. But don't put away the broom or take off your work gloves just yet. Because until you sweep away that career apathy you're suffering from, you still have more spring cleaning to do.

You wouldn't be alone in your quest to spruce up your professional life. Since the start of the decade, the Conference Board, a leading business think-tank, has been trotting out studies telling us that only one in two Americans is satisfied with his or her job.

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And while a raise, promotion or permission to work from home in your underwear might be nothing more than a 3 o'clock daydream, you can punch up your drab old position the same way you'd fluff those sagging bed pillows.

How? Certainly not by volunteering for projects that bore you to tears in the vain hope that the head honcho will reward your slavish commitment. Instead, take inventory of the tasks you thrive on — and tackle them with the same gusto as Cinderella did when she got that free ride to the ball.

Build new alliances: Don't have the peer network you need to make your job easier? Then create one (with the big cheese's blessing, of course).

That's what self-professed "troublemaker" Claire Kuhl, 55, did. When the Greenwood, S.C., resident began working as an entry-level technical writer at one of the big three credit-reporting agencies more than a decade ago, the company was sorely lacking in any standards for creating technical documents. So Kuhl took it upon herself to round up half a dozen writers from various departments to collaborate on a company-wide style manual.

"It made my work easier and it was a lot more fun, not just being a lone wolf in the corner but having people to network with," she said of the group, which convened during monthly lunches at first, then quickly moved to e-mail.

Kuhl wasn't the only one who was pleased. A year later, management turned her ad hoc editorial committee into a full-fledged department, placing Kuhl at the helm. Within seven years, Kuhl, who has since left the company, was managing a team of 30 employees and contractors.

Adopt a pet project: A common complaint from right-brainers is that they don't have enough opportunities to flex their creative muscle on the job. But software design engineer Brian Cross, of Seattle, wasn't having any of that. Fascinated with robotics, the 31-year-old Microsoft employee decided to teach himself to build a robot that ran on the company's mobile operating system, on his own time and own dime.

Several evenings spent tinkering with code and old mobile phones later, WiMo (www.wimobot.com) — which Cross says rolls around and streams video "kind of like the Mars Rover thing" — was born. And so was a new phase of Cross' career. Because WiMo showcases the company's products (in addition to drawing on a whiteboard and dancing the hokey-pokey), word quickly spread among marketing managers. Cross received funding to create more versions of WiMo — now on company time — and to demonstrate them at software developer conferences. And his boss let him scale back on his regular workload to make time for his inventions.

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