A few posts ago, I made an analogy between the regularity of a daily flossing habit and an ideal career development practice. I should emphasize that this was not to suggest that one must devote significant time to career development every single day, but to find a schedule that is regular enough for you that you can maintain some continuous thread of effort and thought, so that each session doesn’t feel like starting from square one. At the same time, finding ways to incorporate threads of your career development work into a daily practice in extremely low time-commitment ways.
Here’s an example of what I mean. You may choose to set aside one hour a week to dig deep into your career development work. For that amount of time, you might work with a checklist of tasks to complete that changes week to week, or you might want to incorporate tasks that you repeat or revisit each week. After spending that hour working, consider giving yourself a simple “assignment” for the week. Maybe it is to send out one email each day. Or maybe it is to read your mission statement daily.
We see many benefits to building this type of practice for yourself – obviously, it will help your career goals, as well as minimizing the guilt you may feel that you are neglecting that side of your professional life, but it is also valuable for the experience of learning how to build habits. By committing to very small and very doable increments of action.
Schedule a meeting with yourself.
Taking time for your career development work is a gift to yourself – when else do you get to reflect on what you really want and strategize on how to make it happen? Scheduling time to think about the big picture tends to falls into the Important/Non-Urgent category, which means that it is crucial that you make an unwavering commitment to setting aside this time and protecting it from the more urgent matters that will inevitably come up. My favorite way is to put it in my calendar because that signals commitment to me. If something truly urgent comes up then I’ll reschedule my meeting with myself as close to the original date as possible. As you begin building the habit, this time should be uninterrupted and free of distraction (including the internet), especially when you are in strategy mode.
Starting out, aim to schedule one hour of career time at least twice a month – weekly would be ideal.
Here’s how you might structure that hour:
Step 1: Decide how you will use your time – set an intention and make a list.
Step 2: Have you addressed categories 1 and 2?
At the end
Step 1: Look over the agenda items you’ve completed. Feel accomplished.
Step 2: Are there any notes you want to make for yourself for your next meeting? Get that stuff done
Lower the bar!
We tend to work with very high achievers who set a high bar for what they expect of themselves. Of course, in many ways this is a helpful quality for achieving goals. However, one downside of setting high expectations for ourselves is that sometimes they are unrealistic given time constraints and other realities. Most of us (definitely myself included) are extremely busy, overbooked, and at the same time struggle with procrastination and the associated guilt (a topic for another post!). As a result, we may set goals that we know are unrealistic…and then we feel discouraged when we don’t reach them.
As a result, we highly encourage experimenting with setting the bar low – not for all aspects of your life, but for the practice of building new habits, like making career development a regular behavior. This means instead of having a to-do list of 30 items you must complete by the end of the day, strip the list down to 3 items. Or better yet, just one! You’ll be amazed by how quickly you get something done with you can give it singular focus, instead of juggling 30 upcoming tasks in your brain all at once.
Lowering the bar is useful not just for a single working setting and how you choose to spend your time, but also for building daily or weekly habit. It is best to start small and add gradually. Countless times, clients have promised us that they are ready to build get back into the habit of practicing their instrument for two hours every day – starting tomorrow. Inevitably this approach ends in failure. Why? Because if they realize they don’t have two full hours, they don’t practice at all. And this leads to even more frustration – not only are they disappointed with themselves for not practicing, the feeling of being out of integrity with ones words and commitments is very demoralizing.
That’s why we always try to circumvent this situation by proposing the following – practice for ten minutes a day. Or maybe ten minutes three days a week. Make it easy to put a check mark in that box – one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. Our clients typically roll their eyes when we suggest something so, well, easy, but when they do it, amazing things happen: first of all, 10 minutes typically extends into much more time each session, and second, completing goals and checking off tasks gives them a sense of victory and heightened self-esteem. Small reinforcements the “I get stuff done!” feeling is powerful.
That’s a long way of saying that if you give yourself tasks for the week following your dedicated career hour, make them doable – stupidly doable. As I mentioned before, it could be committing to sending out one email a day, or reading your mission statement every morning first thing (easiest way – tape it to the bathroom mirror or the refrigerator). Also, make time limits your friend. Concerned it will take you an hour to get the email just right? Set a timer for 10 minutes and get to work – just see what happens.
We hope you’ll try these techniques to find a career development practice that works for you. Let us know how it’s going!