Here’s an idea: Stop complaining about micromanagers since you can’t change them, and start using them to your benefit. One of the most important workplace strategies is managing up. And one of the easiest types of boss to do this with is a micromanager.

Usually, when I tell people how to manage up, I tell people to work very hard to figure out what your boss cares about. With a micromanager, you know right away. She cares about your job responsibilities. Another difficult part of managing up is getting time with your boss. A micromanager loves to hang out with his staff, though, because that's the most effective way to get a hand in everything the staff is doing. So in some respects, micromanagers make your job of managing up much easier.

In the most extreme cases of micromanagement, the underling does the work and the boss does it all again. All other cases fall somewhere on the spectrum between that and good management. (Hold it. Are you wondering who is a micromanager? Here’s a test. Are you disappointed this is not an anti-micromanager tirade? Here’s a good one.)

So look, if you have a micromanager, you don't have to do your work because your boss is doing it for you. On top of that, your boss actually wants to be doing your work, so you giving him the opportunity is effectively managing up. Of course, you need to do a little work or your boss will get annoyed, because micromanagers don't want to start from scratch. They want to have you get started so they can dismiss your efforts.

So do that. Put very little thought into the work you are doing that you know your manager will redo anyway. If you need to come up with a list of ideas that you know your boss will not take, use only the time it takes to go to the bathroom to do the thinking for that list. And that's all. If you need to write a report that your boss will line edit to the point of oblivion, then write the report as a stream of conscious.

Now you have time for so many other things. Here are things to spend time on while your boss is micromanaging you:

1. Find an area of the business your boss does not feel competent in but you do. People micromanage because it's easier to do what they are comfortable with (your job) than what they are not comfortable with (management).

This means there's a hole somewhere in management. Find that hole and do a bit to fill it. You might be able to do some of your boss's job that he is neglecting (probably big-picture thinking). Or, if that doesn't work, write a memo identifying problems and offering concrete examples of ways you can fix them. Distribute the memo to a wider audience than just your boss.

2. Find a new person in the company to work for. Get the person interested in helping you move to his department by offering to do some projects for him since you have some extra time. Remember, do not dis your current boss. Just be great for the guy you want to work for.

3. Do a little side project of your own. There is a lot to learn in this world, and you probably have an Internet connection at your desk. If you don't, write a novel. If you do something productive with the majority of your time then you won't care that your boss makes the small amount of time you spend working for him unproductive.

All these tactics should float under the radar, until you reach a level to have the autonomy you want, according to Dean Dad, (who will make baseball fans happy with a Joe Girardi example of micromanagement.)

Until then, you have to keep your boss happy, and a micromanager doesn't want to know you are not giving a good effort. After all, micromanagers do not think they're micromanaging. They think they're helping. Your job is to make that person feel helpful. It's not that hard. Thank him for taking the time to line edit. Tell him you appreciate all the ideas he comes up with. Even if they suck. You can appreciate the volume. Give compliments to keep the relationship going well while you make your next move.

And wait. Before I'm done, let me say something to you whiners. Some of you will say that you are offended that your boss has a huge hand in your work but leaves your name on it. I say, Who cares? Focus on the three suggestions above and stop worrying about your reputation. You are not writing Moby Dick here. You're doing an office job. Get over it and focus on something else.

I have been micromanaged. In fact, I have been micromanaged by my current editor for my current book. And you know what? I gave in and wrote the book how she wanted me to, which really improved the book. And in that process I learned the difference between writing a column and a book. (Coming out May 2007 — Hooray!)

So think twice before you complain about being micromanaged. Sometimes you can actually learn something from that micromanager. I did. And I'm grateful.

Managing up is the best tactic for getting more interesting work, more responsibility, and more sane work hours, because your boss is the one who can give you this stuff.

Some people think managing up is brown nosing, but in fact, a lot of it is about humanizing the workplace. Managing up is about you caring for your boss, and the result will be your boss caring for you. Here are seven ways to make that happen:

Know what matters to your boss. If your boss is a numbers person, then quantify all your results. And know which numbers matter most to him. All numbers people have their pet line items. If your boss is a customer-is-first kind of guy, frame all your results in terms of benefits to customers. Let’s say, though, that you are working on a project that is impossible to frame in terms of the customer. Then ask yourself why you’re working on it for a customer-oriented boss. It probably isn’t a high priority for him, so it shouldn’t be a high priority for you.

Say no. Say yes to the things that matter most to your boss. Say no to everything else and your boss will appreciate that you are focused on her needs. Remember that your boss doesn’t always know everything you’ve got on your plate. So when she asks you to do something that you don’t have time to do, ask your boss about her priorities. Let her know that you want to make sure you finish what is most important, and this will probably mean saying no to the lesser projects.

Talk like your boss. If your boss likes daily e-mails, send them. If your boss wants a once-a-week summary, then do that. Convey information to your boss in the way she likes so that she’s more likely to retain it. Be aware of detail thresholds, too. Some people like a lot and some people like none. A good way to figure out what your boss wants is to watch how she communicates with you. She’s probably doing it the way she likes best.

Toot your own horn. Each time you do something that impacts the company, let your boss know. Leave a voicemail announcing a project went through. Send a congratulation e-mail to your team and copy your boss, which not only draws attention to your project success but also to your leadership skills. Whatever the mechanism, you need to let your boss know each time you achieve something she cares about.

Lunch with your boss. If all things are equal, your boss will cater to the person she likes the best. So go out to lunch and talk about what interests her. Connect with her by asking her for advice on something about work. If you are very different than your boss, work hard to find common ground in your conversations. Everyone has common ground if you hunt hard enough.

Seek new responsibilities. Find important holes in your department before your boss notices them. Take responsibility for filling those holes and your boss will appreciate not only your foresight, but also your ability to do more than your job. (The trick, of course, is to make sure you do not shirk your official job duties while taking on more.)

Be curious. Remember to make time to read and listen. Then ask good questions. You will make yourself more interesting to be around, and you will elicit fresh ideas from everyone around you. Your boss will feel like having you on the team improves everyone’s work, even his own, and that, after all, is your primary job in managing up.

What do you do with your ideas? How do you get them traction? It used to be you made a sales pitch – to venture capitalists, to customers, to your boss.

But today young people are deconstructing the sales pitch – paring it down to its core information and parodying the BS that surrounds it.

The nail in the coffin of spin might have been last Tuesday, when Google purchased You Tube, and the twentysomething founders of YouTube, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, made a home video to announce one of the most significant corporate acquisitions of the year to consumers.

The video starts out with the two of them talking about the benefits to the consumer – lines that may or may not have been scripted and sound a lot like spin. But then Hurley says of YouTube and Google, “Two kings have gotten together.” He appears to realize he has lost himself in generic salespeak, and he laughs.

Then someone says, “Just keep going.”

So he does. He makes a Burger King joke.

Among young people, there is a general dislike for the classic idea of sales. “Our company is not a sales-based organization,” says Siamak Taghaddos of GotVMail, a virtual phone service for small business. “Not in
the typical sense. We educate people. I’m a firm believer in letting someone make their own decision.”

Sales spin only works if you have a monopoly on the real information. In an era where information rules and everyone can get it whenever they want, there are scant opportunities to credibly slant the truth. Instead, you
just have to put it out there and hope it works.

Spin doctors on sales teams are out, and authentic communication is in. This is why many companies do not have a sales button on their web site, but they do have a blog. The blog is a way of getting out information in an authentic, efficient way, which is the best path to acceptance.

The power of authenticity for the new generation cannot be overstated. Guy Kawasaki, former Apple Computer evangelist and founder of Garage Technology Ventures, is a notable voice of authenticity on his blog, Signal Without Noise.

Most people with Kawasaki’s experience rely on their authority — the power of their reputation — to push through their ideas. Kawasaki, however, is not afraid to rely on authenticity — a dedication to providing genuine and useful information that has value to his audience.

As a blogger he initiates conversations with his readers rather than issue one-way declarations. His daily posts reflect an understanding that his resume is not as important as the power of the information he provides right now. The tacit agreement is paying off: in the pool of millions of blogs, his is one of the 50 most popular.

So what do you do to both act on your idea, and then be able to convey it effectively, with authenticity? Here are six things to consider.

1. Jettison the stupid stuff.
“Ninety percent of selling an idea is having a good idea,” says Kawasaki. “People think that the difficulty is marketing and sales. But if you have a good idea then you can really screw up in marketing and sales” and still succeed. So stop focusing on how you are going to pitch, and come up with the ideas that pitch themselves by
virtue of their genius.

2. Become the anti-salesman and slip under the radar.
One of the common complaints young people have about working in big companies is that no one listens to their ideas. Outside a company, entrepreneurs have a good idea and move on it. But inside a company there are customs and guidelines for starting new products. Kawasaki says, “Being an entrepreneur and an ‘intrapraneur’ are more similar than different. The key for an intrapraneur is not trying to get permission.” He concedes that you
will have to step on peoples’ toes, but you should do it only after you have a version of the product ready to go.

3. Start a conversation instead of a canned speech.
People are looking for information and have little tolerance for fluff. So if you want someone to believe in what you’re doing, be a good on your feet. “It comes down to being able to handle questions quickly and well,” says
Brian Wiegand, CEO of Jellyfish, a shopping search engine.

Because the Internet turns the idea of authority on it’s head, people want to contribute to a good idea instead of being handed a good idea. So when you want your idea to have traction, “let people add their ideas to your
own so they like the idea more,” says Wiegand.

4. Find people who need you.
Kim Ricketts creates book events at corporations. Like most good ideas, bringing authors to companies fills a need – in this case to give employees the chance to hear new thinkers. Ricketts also fills a void for publishers, who are looking for new ways to sell books. Her events are a great example of how good ideas gain traction quickly, with little or no marketing, because they answer a customer’s problem.

5. Focus on the information.
Often, an in-person sales pitch to a young person is like an IM message blinking on-screen to a baby boomer: Unwanted interruption of information processing.

If you’ve been selling for decades, tone it down, because you sound desperate to a new generation, and also a little dishonest. If you really have a good product, the facts will speak for themselves.

And pay heed to people such as David Hauser, CTO of GotVMail: “I don’t want to be told what to buy. I can research online myself and make the decision on my own.”

6. Be your true self.
Taghaddos says you should worry as much about yourself as your product. “Be authentic: Lay a foundation for a company and yourself. If you are how you want people to perceive you, then people will like you and they’ll buy your product. They’ll do it without any pressure.”

This is a piece I wrote for the new leadership section at

Of course a good education and talent are keys to building a successful career, but for most people, school is over and the parameters of their talent were set on the day they were born. So what can you do now to get ahead? Get a mentor. In fact, get a stable of mentors for guidance on multiple aspects of your career.

“Executives who have had mentors have earned more money at a younger age,” writes Gerard Roche, senior chairman at the recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles. Additionally, his research shows “those who have had mentors are happier with their career progress and derive greater pleasure from their work.” The majority of executives had mentors in their first five years of their career.

But finding a mentor is not easy. For a lucky few, mentors can be found through a privileged network of relatives, family friends or your parents’ business associates. For everyone else, the search requires patience, a clear focus and the self-confidence to be a nudge. “Not everyone can depend on nepotism,” says Alisyn Camerota, New York-based correspondent for Fox News. “I got where I am by turning reluctant people into active mentors.”

The easiest way to create allies is to build a reputation as an overachiever. That’s what Camerota did during an internship early on in her career at a Washington, D.C. —based news bureau. After earning the respect of her boss throughout the summer, she came to rely on her for advice and support. Eventually Camerota felt empowered enough to walk into her office and say, “My internship ends in a week and I don’t have a job. Can I have all your contacts?” She said yes. Camerota copied the whole Rolodex onto a legal pad by hand and cold called the contacts until someone agreed to interview her. Those calls later led to a full-time job.

Mentors aren’t just important for those starting out. They’re essential to rising through the ranks, too. “Obtaining a mentor is an important career development experience for individuals. Research indicates that mentored individuals perform better on the job, advance more rapidly within the organization (i.e., get promoted more quickly and earn higher salaries), and report more job and career satisfaction,” says Lillian Eby, professor of applied psychology at the University of Georgia.

As Camerota’s career progressed, she realized her main goal was to be a broadcast journalist. More specifically, she wanted to be in front of the camera. But for two years, she was stuck behind the scenes for America’s Most Wanted. That changed when Lance Heflin, the shows executive producer, became her mentor.

Camerota’s tactic of working hard and asking specific questions made Heflin aware that she was coach-able and focused on her career, attributes that attract the best sort of mentor. So by the time Camerota asked Heflin to help her get on-camera, he told her that if she was willing to do the work, he would help.

Camerota spent the next six months making terrible tapes. Heflin’s coaching started with her appearance: “Do not wear green ever again. Do you ever see people wearing green on TV?” Then he moved to more nuanced tips: “Treat the camera like it’s your friend,” he told her. And he showed her a tape from a broadcaster he liked, walking through a house as he talked to the camera, making the audience feel like they were right there with him.

The duo went through countless such show and tell sessions. And every now and then, Heflin would say, “Stop. Rewind.” And he’d go back to where Camerota smiled at someone or looked at the camera and raised an eyebrow. “That’s where you threw a nickel through the screen,” Which was his way of saying, “Something came alive here.” You can’t ask for advice like that. You have to inspire it.

Camerota’s hard work and raw talent earned her an outstanding mentor who devoted a large amount of time and energy to showing her how to become a television reporter. Keep your eyes open for someone who loves to help people grow.

There are more of those people than you’d think and they may need you, too. “Both mentors and protégés report benefiting from mentoring relationships,” writes Eby. Make your move now. Test the waters with a few people who seem like they might be good mentors. Ask specific questions, and heed the advice. You might find you get more than you asked for.

ASAP: a ubiquitous term coming from senior bankers. You might assume it means as fast as humanly possible, as in an all-nighter if necessary. But this is not always the case. For example, sometimes it seems asap is just a banker’s best effort at using the word please. As in: Leave a printout on my chair asap.

I've taken to differentiating between the lower case asap, which means whenever I can get around to it, and the all caps ASAP, which means drop everything else. I figure if a senior banker makes the effort to put ASAP in caps, he might actually mean it.

And there’s no ASAP like the Sunday morning ASAP: A favorite senior banker trick to make sure the team is pleasing the client is to send out an unsolicited email to the client promising something by a specific time without consulting the people who actually have to do the work. I've been woken up on a Sunday morning to a voice mail saying we've promised the presentation to the client by noon, so I should get into the office and crank it out ASAP. Oh, and there better not be any mistakes.

Here’s a new word for the workplace: Rankism. File it in your brain next to racism and sexism. And brace yourself for a big change at the office, because rankism is another kind of discrimination we should not tolerate.

What’s rankism, or rankist behavior? It is hiring an intern and ignoring her all summer. Or pointlessly yelling at the receptionist about a manager who is late. Or a professor taking credit for a graduate student’s research. All these are examples of people who think they can treat someone disrespectfully because of their lower rank. The Devil Wears Prada has tons of juicy examples — as well as snappy fashion and a happy ending to make the story acceptable.

But rankist behavior is never acceptable. And Robert Fuller, the man who came up with the word rankism, is on a mission to end it. His big idea is that people have a right to be treated with dignity no matter where they are in the pecking order. He’s part of what’s become known as the “dignitarian movement.” (He’s written two books on this topic: Somebodies and Nobodies and All Rise.)

Wondering if you’re at a job where you’re treated with dignity? You need to receive recognition, humane treatment and a living wage.

If your job doesn’t qualify, you need to speak up, which is hard to do, but having a word to identify the problem is half the battle. “Vocabulary changes thing,” says Fuller. “The Feminine Mystique referred to the ‘problem without a name.’ Sexism was not a word until five years after that book came out. Once the word sexism was available women had a weapon to make demands.”

Fuller wants you to take cues from the success of that movement. Say, “Hey, that’s rankest,” the same way you’d say, “That’s sexist.” But don’t yell: “Having the words rankist and rankism will give workers in every line of action a battle cry. They won’t scream at the top of their lungs. They will mention it calmly and cause the person on top to look at their actions.”

Here are five more steps you can take to combat rankism in your own work life:

1. Get a good read on potential managers.
Management sets the tone of respect or disrespect at work. So sniff out offenders before taking the job. Vanessa Carney works at Let’s Dish, a food preparation company. “The management team here is genuine,” says Carney, “The people who run this company have a good attitude and it trickles down.”

Carney was especially impressed when the owner of the business sat down with her after a few months to find out what, exactly, she wanted to do in her career.

2. Let people know that rankism matters.
Probably those behaving this way are not even conscious that they’re doing it. In one study about harassment, most people who were disrespectful were not aware of it–they thought they were making jokes at the time.

“They are misguided comedians,” says study author Catherine Hill, director of research at American Association of University Women. She also found that people respond to what they perceive as cultural norms. So speak up when you see it, even if you are not on either side of the exchange.

3. Don’t accept rationales for rankism.
Common refrains are “This is the only way the business can work,” (to justify long and unpredictable hours), or “I got through this so you can too,” (to justify hazing-like practices).

Joanna Vaillant is a management consultant — a position known for difficult work conditions. But she did research to find a consulting company that respects its employees: Boston Consulting Group. She recommends talking to people who work in the company about the company. “In business school I talked to classmates who worked at different companies,” says Vaillant. And she chose well. She recently got married and received assignments that would allow her time and headspace to prepare for that big day.

4. Take a bad job.
Working at a low-level job is not just a headache, it’s an integral part of your personal development. A big barrier to fighting racism and sexism is that if you are white you don’t know what it’s like to be black, and if you are male you don’t know what it’s like to be female.

But everyone can work in a low-level job — especially in the service industry where the exposure to rankest behavior from customers is huge.

5. Consider leaving.
One of the scariest things about demanding change at the workplace is the prospect of getting fired. But young people today — those invariably filling up the entry-level positions — switch jobs often. So the risk of offending your current boss for speaking out against rankism does not seem that big a deal.

The workplace is ripe for eradicating rankism. The youngest workers are optimists about their ability to change the world and passionate about valuing diversity. Also, in poll after poll, young people report less interest in money and more interest in the quality of work and the quality of life work affords. So it makes sense that now is the time for the dignitarian movement, and we should all jump on board.

John Annabel, of Northampton, walked into the office one day to find himself working side by side with a new employee whose only qualification seemed to be that she was having an affair with Annabel's department head. Annabel says people didn't particularly care that she was in the office doing no work until she started taking credit for everyone else's work, most frequently Annabel's.

“I wanted to strangle my boss,” Annabel says. “I wanted to bring that dirtbag girlfriend down before she took credit for one more thing.” But Annabel's supervisor told him to stay calm and to say nothing damaging. He pointed out that the manager would never fire the woman, and the two of them would deny all of Annabel's accusations; complaining would only make Annabel look bad.

So everyone in the department laid low — said nothing about the woman who did nothing except among themselves. When the company went through a reorganization, and the department head changed, the new head said, “Does anyone know what this woman does?” And everyone said, “No,” and she was laid off.

In fact, though, office politics might be the most important skill to master as you climb up the corporate ladder. Julie Jansen, author of I Don't Know What I Want, but I Know It's Not This, says that in corporate life, one has no choice but to be savvy about politics. “Politics is everywhere. It is about the way things are done. It is the personality of the company.” So you have to figure out how to fit in. She tells people, “Be an actor, play the game, follow culture and this is jus as big a part of your job as anything else.”

In the end, Annabel left his job in an effort to escape the political climate of his last job, which left him cold. And he hopes to never have to deal with office politics again.

Larry Stybel, president of Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire, says that is it a common reaction to refuse to participate in office politics, but he advises those people “to just get over it.” Politics is not something you can escape. “Politics is really setting objectives and developing a coalition of people that will help achieve that objective.” Stybel explains that office politics does not have to be a bad thing. After all, politics is primarily about diplomacy and coalition building.

Stybel recommends taking the same approach Annabel did in his last job: Find a mentor in the office, someone who is great at office politics, get some direct advice from them about tough spots, but also study them from afar to figure out what they do right.

Jansen adds, “There is a tremendous amount of resistance to office politics.” Many people complain that this sort of behavior goes against who they are at their core. Jansen points out that done right, politics is not inherently immoral. It merely involves, “speaking to the right people, going to the right parties and communicating the way everyone else at the company communicates.”

While Jansen advises that you should not compromise your core values to be political, if you find that you can't ever engage in office politics without violating your core values, then you don't belong in corporate America.

Jansen suggests five steps you can take to be more politically astute immediately:

1. Don't try to change or resist company culture including dress, communication styles and office hours. Being different does not work.

2. Practice self-awareness. This is a life-long task and every day you can become a little bit more aware of how people perceive you. Just doing your job is not enough. You need to do it in a way that makes a positive impression on everyone else.

3. Manage your stress levels so you can avoid emotional displays of inconsistent behavior and inconsistent messages. Most emotional outbursts come from unmanaged stress.

4. Be approachable all the time — in your cube, in the hallway, even in the bathroom.

5. Network before you need to network. Being good at politics means that you are good at relationship building, and you can count on a wide range of people when you need them.

But some people will never feel comfortable playing the political game. For those people, Stybel recommends a job where one can say, “Leave me alone” and still excel at the work: Sales would be a definite no, but a career in, say, programming might work. But take a look at yourself. If you don't have the skills for a leave-me-alone job, you need the skills to make office politics work for you. Otherwise you'll get stuck.

Of all the Google searches that end up at my blog, the most common is some version of, “How do I tell my boss that I’m quitting.” This seems to be a frequent topic at a lot of career sites; quitting well is a big issue.

A lot of the problems around quitting come from the abrupt shift in power. Before you quit, you are beholden to your boss. When you are quitting, you feel a surge in power as you let your boss know you’re moving on to something better.

So really, quitting is about managing assertiveness. You want to be assertive enough to go find another opportunity for yourself, but not so assertive that you offend the person who has been a decent boss. So have humility and thankfulness, but add some choice words about what a great offer you took for your next job.

Assertiveness is a skill that people notice a lot in other people but we don’t pay attention enough to in ourselves, according to Daniel Ames, professor of Columbia Business School. When it comes to quitting, it is easy to get overly assertive, as you become intoxicated with the idea that you don’t need to please your boss any more. And it is easy to downplay the greatness of the next thing you do so as to not seem ungrateful for the job you are leaving. So it’s natural to feel a little unsure in this situation.

The good news is that Ames says we can teach ourselves tactics for effective assertiveness. And since people in their twenties quit a job almost every year, quitting is a great way to learn these skills.

You can judge someone’s personality by what his or her work space looks like. Take Tara Hirshfeld, for example. She’s set up her office on a picnic table. She has the laptop, the headset, even the office-type snacks. But there are leaves falling and cars honking. Intuitively, you know she’s not an accountant-type. And you surely won’t be surprised to hear that she’s a student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

People leave deliberate and inadvertent clues about themselves in their personal space and Samuel Gosling, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, studies these clues. And Gosling concludes that your co-workers are good at judging what the clues mean even if they don’t know why.

Deliberate clues people leave are things like plants, which reveal that you are nice and that you intend to stay a while, and candy, which reveals that you’re an extrovert, because you want people to drop by your office and talk. These are deliberate because a person puts them in their office for other people to see. Some clues are deliberate but not other-focused. For example, a pebble you keep from the beach of your first kiss will not be meaningful to someone who doesn’t know the story, but it reminds you of something nice. Still something like this gives the co-worker information, and he or she will pick up on the fact that you’re sentimental.

Hirshfeld’s clues fall into the inadvertent category. For example, when asked about her picnic-bench desk, Hirshfeld says, “I needed some fresh air.” She inadvertently conveys that she is non-conventional, which, for an art student seems fine. But for an accountant, watch out. You can give inadvertent clues with a plant, too. “Anyone can buy a plant,” says Gosling, “but you need to be task oriented to actually keep the plant alive.”

Be careful about all the clues you leave about yourself in your office because your image is at stake. And the image you project might be more powerful than the work you actually do.

So manage your workspace like you manage the colors in your wardrobe, the layout of your memos and all other aspects of your image. In many instances you’ll be able to control what you project. For example, if you are trying to be more detail-oriented in your work, but you’ve killed every plant you’ve ever owned, don’t buy another because your dead plant will just emphasize your lack of attention to detail.

When it comes to projecting a positive image through your personal space, some areas are more easily managed than others. A messy desk is tough. If you keep a messy desk, it’s probably inadvertent, and you will have to change behavior in order to clean up your act. It’s worth the effort, though. “There is a cultural bias toward orderliness,” says Eric Abrahamson, professor at Columbia University Business School, “Messiness is considered bad.” Kelly Crescenti, an Illinois-based career coach, concurs: “When people have a clean desk it looks like they get things done and they are productive.”

You cannot really know how productive someone is by looking at their desk, says Julie Morgenstern organizing guru and author of Never Check Email in the Morning: And Other Unexpected Strategies for Making Your Work Life Work. But she concedes that “the image issue is giant.” So even if you can find everything you need on your pile-laden desk, clean it if you want to look good. Start with a filing system, and Crescenti advises that at minimum, you take the last fifteen minutes of every day to actually use the system and clean things up a little before you go home.

But as with all image management advice, don’t go overboard: Everything in moderation. Abrahamson provides a postmodern defense of the messy desk: “Messiness is related to creativity because it tends to juxtapose things that don’t normally go together.”

“It’s the last frontier of messiness,” says Abrahamson, and he reports that he’s seen computer desktops that rival the worst of the classic desktop messes. Hirshfeld can attest to that. “The last computer I had got very, very messy.”

But that might be okay; it’s true that your co-workers can accurately judge you by looking at your work space, but it’s also true that your computer desktop is a nice place to hide your worst attributes.

The best thing you can do if you want a flexible schedule is ask for it. Younger workers are finding more and more success when they ask, which should give everyone encouragement to request flextime if they want it.

Laurie Young is a founder of Flexible Resources, a company that specializes in finding flextime jobs for people, and she spends her days convincing employers to create innovative positions. You will probably have to do some convincing as well.

It makes sense: You’d never ask for a raise without presenting competitive salary analysis, and you should do the same when asking for flextime. Fortunately, there is a lot of research to present because many companies offer flextime, and it actually helps those companies because flextime is a cheap and effective tool to boost employee morale.

But keep in mind that flexible schedules aren’t available to people who get the job done. Flextime is generally only offered to overperformers. So be one.