Many people assume that to launch ahead in their career, they need to make huge changes, like going back to school or landing a major new client. Of course, those things might be important, but what most people overlook are the tiny things you do every single day that add up to have a big impact on your career. It’s not the one-off huge wins, but the everyday habits that can take your career from good to great or even excellent. Here are four things to assess today:
Your To-Do List
Do you come in each morning and create a to-do list? Guess what? You are already behind! You should actually create your to-do list the night before. As you wrap up your work, look over your goals for the day while everything is fresh and determine which ones need to be rolled over to the next day as a priority. But the key is to make sure that you are only adding priorities to your list. Many people automatically move everything over, but a better solution is to look at why something didn’t get done and figure out how it got overlooked. Maybe it isn’t really a priority and doesn’t deserve to be on your list. Or, maybe it was just “too big” and therefore wasn’t actionable. Your to-do list should be very action oriented, so a better way to list your needs is to write out the task you hope to accomplish, not the name of the project. For example if you are working on a big presentation, don’t write “Anderson Client Presentation.” Instead, write “Contact accounting department for year-to-date statements. Begin collecting ideas from team for new launch plans.” While you’re making your to-do list, also remember to check your next day’s agenda to see what commitments you have and what needs to be prepared so you are ready for an early-morning engagement. The to-do list must be both measurable and manageable to make it useful.
Many people come to work and spend precious early morning time answering their email. But maybe for you that is the time when it’s quiet, you’re fresh and you could get the most accomplished. Your productivity can be directly affected by the time of day, so pay attention to your best working times and make sure that you devote those to the tasks that require the most brain power.
Also, make sure that you are not allowing constant interruptions to slow your productivity. If you’re in the midst of a project, shut your door or otherwise indicate that you need uninterrupted work time. And be sure to turn off your email and phone alerts as those can pull you away from your goals and squander your productive work time. Also, beware of the lure of the internet. We all know that social media can be a time suck, but so can “research” on the internet. It’s too easy to start clicking link after link, so if you are writing or working on something that needs some research, make yourself a note and do the research later all at once, leaving a placeholder in the document, so that you don’t end up spending unplanned time on the web.
One of the single most effective ways you can spend your time and efforts is in networking. Remember that it’s not about finding your next job, but making connection that will help you throughout your career – well, and maybe also help you find your next job. Having a strong network means that you know whom to turn to if you have a question about your industry, want the scoop on a potential new client, or want to reach out to someone at another company. Chances are good that if you have a robust network, you’ll be able to find what you need by mining your connections. In addition, a good network can help you if and when you are job hunting. There are two important rules to remember about networking: first, it is about giving not getting. Paying it forward in a networking relationship, by letting someone know of an article that might interest them, or commenting or sharing a status on social media, are great ways to stay in touch without having to devote much effort. Pay attention to what people in your network need, and see if you can help, whether it’s with a resource or a referral. The second rule is that it’s about quality not quantity. It used to be that the person who had the most business cards (or connections on LinkedIn) won. But it’s not about how many people you know, but how well you know them. Having a bunch of names in your business card file is no more helpful than browsing through the Yellow Pages. You want to make a point of having real conversations with people and establishing connections and points of interest, so that you stay top of mind when an opportunity arises that they think might be of interest to you.
This is the easiest – and the hardest – one to master. There are days when the last thing you feel like doing is being pleasant and going the extra mile. Your boss is demanding. Your coworkers are lazy. Your clients have unrealistic expectations. We’ve all been there, and the difference between people who succeed and everyone else is all in the attitude. Whether you want to or not at the moment, you will never regret the time you took to offer an extra hand, give an encouraging word or just suck it up and do the best you can. Because as hard as it can be to have a positive attitude at times, this is the only aspect of your career that is 100 percent in your control. You – and only you – can decide how you will react to situations and how you want others to view and perceive you. Making the effort to turn your attitude to the positive side is worth it every time.
Do these things seem small? They are, but as you work on them day after day, they’ll make a critical difference to your success.
by Cathie Ericson