It’s never too late to work on your professional resolutions.
Reality-check time! Did you make any New Year’s resolutions for your career? If so, what was your hope and plan for 2016 – and, more importantly, how are you progressing towards those career goals?
If you are like most people (according to the research by the University of Scranton, only eight percent of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions), chances are you had the best intentions in the beginning of the year. Those intentions have probably been overcome by urgent tasks, fire-drills and the routine flow of your daily life.
The good news is that it is not too late to make a change and move ahead, professionally and personally. Here is your blueprint for dusting off those resolutions and career goals and making them work for you – even late in the year.
1. Make sure you are working on the right goals.
Begin with taking a hard look at the career goals you have set for yourself. Are they still relevant – and do they light a fire under you?
The easiest way to illustrate this is with an example. Perhaps one of your work goals for the year was to be promoted to a manager-level position. Let’s say that over the course of the year you have had an opportunity to assume some of the manager-level duties and responsibilities, and the experience has taught you that you are not as prepared for the promotion as you had once thought. Your original goal or timeline may need to be revised.
Here is another example. Let’s pretend that my goal at the start of the year was to learn a new software program. I often find myself needing to generate graphics, and being able to use a tool like Photoshop would be a useful skill. However, as I take an honest look at my progress (none to speak of), I have to ask myself why I have not made any headway towards my goal. It is possible that the goal is not all that important to me, or that it requires an investment of time and resources that I am not prepared to make.
So, take a fresh look at your career goals. A dogged commitment only serves you if you are chasing the right target.
2. Compress your timeline.
When you were setting out your resolutions, you had planned to have a full year ahead of you. Let’s make the question more interesting. If you only had 3 months to reach your career goals, how would you do it? If your doctor told you could only work 4 hours a day, how would you rethink the challenge and your answer?
This question gets at the heart of boosting your progress. All too often, we complicate issues and challenges by adding extra layers of perceived difficulty. Push yourself to cut through the artificial complexity to the core of what matters. You may find that you can make more progress in the next 3 months than you had in the entire year leading up to this point!
3. Compare your career goals to your daily tasks.
A quick check between your big annual goals and your daily to-do list can predict whether you will be able to make meaningful progress towards what matters to you. If the comparison identifies a big gap, address it. Your career goal may be to be promoted to manager, but if your daily tasks keep you mired in the routines and responsibilities of your current position, you are not giving yourself the opportunity to learn new skills or prove your ability to function at a higher level.
If your supervisor is supportive of your long-term career aspirations, consider asking him or her for guidance.
4. Take initiative.
We love it when the right opportunity falls into our lap. Taking initiative and making things happen takes more effort, courage and resilience. It is useful to remember that no one is as invested in your professional growth as you are. So, if the right chances are not lining up for you, you may have to create your own. Volunteer for a project, offer help, ask for resources to take a class. Find advocates who will support your cause, and make sure you do your part.
5. Take it one step at a time.
Speaking of taking action, keep in mind that small daily steps compounded by time can add up to significant change and massive impact. While it is inspiring and useful to dream big, plan your actions to be so small that you cannot fail.
For example, if you set a career goal to develop a training program for onboarding new staff, the prospect of facing a blank piece of paper and the pressure to generate perfect training materials may freeze your creativity and motivation. However, if you reframe the goal as writing two pages of draft material per day, with no regard for quality, you have an easier starting point. Chances are, by giving yourself a free pass on quality you will generate more ideas – and many of those will be ultimately useful for the end product. Take small steps, create momentum and trust the process.
6. Stay persistent.
Achieving our career goals often takes the support and collaboration of other people. Whether you are hoping to bring in a big account or shorten the month-end close cycle, you don’t get to do it alone. Asking for what you need – whether resources, trust or an opportunity to do something new – puts you in a vulnerable position. That does not feel comfortable, and many of us would rather avoid it.
A common way to avoid the discomfort is to assume that the other person’s lack of outward interest or responsiveness automatically equals a negative answer. However, there are many other explanations for why your initial request may not have been met with an immediate and enthusiastic “Yes!” Make an allowance for the other professional to be occasionally swamped with work or distracted, and don’t mentally say “No” to yourself on someone else’s behalf.
If they choose to turn you down, let it be their choice and decision. Polite persistence can result in big wins.
7. Commit to being more present.
Technology has made us all accessible 24/7 and has created thousands of new distractions. As a result, many of us find ourselves doing our Amazon shopping while at work, and answering work emails from home. If that pattern is allowed to continue unchecked, you risk blurring the lines and never being truly “on” or “off” as your attention is perpetually elsewhere. That, in turn, can impact your effectiveness at work and your satisfaction and joy at home.
What’s the solution? When at work, be at work. When at home, be at home. It is easier said than done, but by committing yourself to being fully present at work and recharging at home you can actually boost your professional growth.
8. Take charge of your money.
This point may not look directly career-related, but clarity on where your hard-earned money goes will help with job satisfaction. If you are planning a job change, retraining, or a complete change of direction, having a reserve can give you the space and the time to complete the move with less pressure.
Begin with a budget, create a safety net savings account, and take ownership of what happens to your money. If you have tried budgeting before and it gives you hives, keep in mind that today’s tools can make the process a little more fun – look into YNAB (You Need A Budget) and SaveUp to start.
9. Don’t ignore your professional profiles and networking.
In theory, we all know that your professional network can make a tremendous difference in landing you a new job or opening doors to new opportunities. In practice, many of us find networking to be too time-consuming and emotionally difficult to make a regular practice of it. As a result, we scramble to reach out to cold contacts when we need a new job – something that is not fun or effective.
Instead, commit to interact with at least one person in your professional network per week. It may involve sending a quick note or message, meeting up for coffee, or sending out an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. By cultivating relationships year-round, you improve the odds of making a meaningful connection. On that same note, keep your resume and professional profiles updated throughout the year, not just when you are actively looking for a new job.
10. Invest in yourself.
No matter what your career goals for the year were, they boil down to the need to invest in your personal and professional growth. Sometimes, that investment means money; other times, it is about effort and time. By being clear on what goals matter and making a commitment to take steps in the right direction, you are effectively putting your development and future first.
In summary, January 1st is not the only day of the year to make a change. Time will pass no matter what you choose to do, so may as well have it working for you! Choose a meaningful career goal, map out the way, create momentum and recruit allies to help you along the way – and you may find yourself reaching your target sooner than you had expected!
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