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Use Office Politics to Help Your Career!

If you thought your left the cliques and drama behind when you graduated from high school, the reality of the work world must have come as a surprise. Anytime you take the same group of people and lock them into a building together eight hours a day, five days a week, things will get a little hairy, especially when you add the competition and hierarchies of the work place. Failing to successfully navigate the social scene in high school just means you don’t get to sit at the cool kids lunch table. If you don’t get a handle on the politics in your workplace it can cost you your career in the form of lost promotions and poor working relationships.

Officepolitics.com, a great site that features an advice column offering solutions to workplace dilemmas, recently featured a reader letter in which a woman said she felt psychologically scarred by the backbiting and gossip in her office. The phrase “office politics” leaves a poor taste in everyone’s mouth, but the reality is, most of us have to participate to get ahead and get noticed at work. Successful office politicians aren’t rumor-mongers or back stabbers; they’re people who understand that actively pursuing power and prestige is just one of the steps to a successful career.

So how do you become a successful office politician? Louellen Essex, co-author of “Manager’s Desktop Consultant: Just-in-Time Solutions to the Top People Problems That Keep You Up at Night,” says one the first things you have to do is  emulate the movers and shakers. “Think of playing office politics as a game of strategy through which you are able to get the resources and influence you need to accomplish your goals. Most often those who are diplomatic, respectful and build coalitions with effective people win,” she says at CNN.com. Essex offers more great advice, including: don’t get sucked into one faction or another and don’t hesitate to talk about your own successes in the work place. A word of caution — tooting your own horn as Essex recommends is great. Bashing your co-workers is not. Office politics is for advancing your own career, not hindering someone else. If you are constantly running down you colleagues, you look unprofessional and you create a miserable work environment. Don’t be that person! Office politics also turns nasty when it turns personal. For that reason, the folks over at Suite101.com recommend drawing a bright red line between your work life and your private life. In the modern office, that includes not friending your co-workers on Facebook. That’s what the relatively staid LinkedIn is for.

The best way to be an office politics winner? Be a good employee. Take initiative, do your work well and talk about your successes. Those are the best ways to separate yourself from the pack.

It’s Spring. Time to Clean Your Office!

The weather took a turn towards balmy here in Chicago yesterday. Then it rained all this morning. It’s not official until March 20th, but I think it’s safe to say that spring is here. This past winter was the first I spent working from home, and while I was thrilled about not having to commute to work through the ice, I don’t relish the prospect of spending the warmer months cooped up in my home office. Especially since my office got a little…let’s say cluttered over the long winter months. I know I’m not the only one. There’s a reason Spring Cleaning is a widely observed yearly ritual. Spring is the time to throw open the windows, snap on the rubber gloves, grab a bucket a wash rag and get cleaning. Even if your office isn’t in your home, it could probably use a little sprucing up, particularly if you don’t engage a janitorial service.

Every task is easier to accomplish if you approach it methodically. So attack your messy office with a plan! Realsimple.com put together a great checklist for people who work from home. It starts with the bookshelves and ends with your window blinds. By the time you’re done, your home office will look and smell great. You’re at your productive best working in a clean and organized office.

It’s even more important to keep public offices looking great. Your clients and customers will judge your business by the cobwebs in the corner, the state of your restrooms and your office’s general appearance. You may want to hire a cleaning crew and leave it to the professionals, but even if that is not an option for your business, you can still have a great looking office. Just take your cue from the work-from-home folks and start with a plan. MrsCleanUSA.com recommends making a list of priorities — foyer, restrooms, reception area, etc. — and offers some great tips for tackling each one.

Once you’ve done the big Spring Clean, maintaining your office’s neat and tidy appearance is a breeze. Just hit the windows, mirrors and restroom fixtures once a day, run the vacuum before you leave on Fridays and dust your desk, shelves and electronics from time to time and you’re good until next spring. You’ll also make a good impression on your clients and you’ll work more comfortably and efficiently.

Claim ALL the Deductions You Can This Year!

With the April 15 IRS tax deadline looming, its time to start thinking about deductions.  Tax deductions are expenses you incur that lower your income in the eyes of the IRS. The lower your income, the less the government expects you to pay in taxes. Most of you know you can deduct mortgage and student loan interest, but there are a ton of other totally legit ways to lower your tax bill.

In “The Most-Overlooked Tax Deductions” Kiplinger lists 19 tax breaks you may have forgotten about or didn’t know existed in the first place, including state sales tax, moving expenses for your first job, refinancing points, charitable donations and more. In addition, property taxes, vehicle registration fees, the annual cost of your safe deposit box and child care are all tax deductible expenses. You can even deduct tax preparation fees. If you work from, you can deduct a percentage of you housing costs. For example, if your home is 2,000 square feet, and you use 200 sq.ft. for business purposes, you can deduct 10% as business operating expenses. For more deductions, check out this informative article from Helium, an awesome personal finance site.

A word of caution: be sensible when combing over your expenses while looking for deductions. You do not want to get on the wrong side of the IRS! Entrepreneur offers some expert advice on how to properly claim your deductions.  Approach the whole enterprise with the right attitude–you just don’t want to pay more taxes than you owe, not put one over on the government!