Brain Food: Your route to the top - To volunteer or not?

Look out for opportunities. Those who never volunteer rarely make it to the top; equally, those who sign up for the wrong things tend not to make it at all. Establish the facts. Find out as much as you can before you commit: what is expected of you, the level of reporting required, your resources. This is the best time to get what you need in place or to walk away if the right support isn't there.

Be selective. Choose projects that are reviewed by the people you want to impress. Use the opportunity to ask for their views and get to know them better.

Think carefully. Consider what you will have to give up if you do volunteer - balance the benefits of taking on something new with the downside of having less time for everything else.

Choose well. Avoid ventures where the best scenario is that nothing goes wrong, like implementing a new e-mail system. If it goes badly, everyone blames you. If it runs well, few notice.

Show your enthusiasm. To get the full benefits of opting in, be seen to be keen.

Delegate. Pass on as much of your everyday work as possible; great opportunities are usually not part of the norm and so require us to free up our time to increase our chances of success.

Give clear instructions. Make sure that those you leave to look after the shop know what to do if things start going wrong, and how to get you back in when they need to.

Volunteer for projects that involve others you rate. Working with impressive people will help you raise your game.

Don't spread yourself thinly. Do a few things properly rather than too many badly. If you get a reputation as a serial volunteer, you may become known as the fickle one who lacks finishing power.

The Mind Gym, www.themindgym.com.

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