How to make time for the work that matters.

how to make time

Sonja Langford via Unsplash

Stop for a minute and think of all the people you work with.  Who would you say is the busiest?

I bet one person pops into your head immediately.  Because every office has that one “busy” person – the person who always has too much to do and makes a big, passive-aggressive production about it.  The person who responds to tasks with a resigned sigh but, because they have a lot of institutional knowledge, are respected and even seen as an expert at their job.  Which isn’t surprising, since they’ve been doing that same job for years.

So why hasn’t the Busy Bee been promoted?  Because being busy is career quicksand.  You can work yourself silly, but if it’s not right kind of work, you’ll never get anywhere.

In order to move up, you have to do the kind of work that makes you management material – understanding your industry, effectively prioritizing, creative problem solving, learning to lead a team, and so on.  You have to do more than just your core tasks.  You have to take on the projects that will help you grow as a professional

But how?  You already have a full day of assigned duties and you can’t simply stop doing them, right?  Of course not.  I’m not suggesting you neglect your work.  You have to do your job and do it well.  But leaders identify ways to get what they need.  If you need more time, you’re going to have to create it.

Waste is a concept I became familiar with during my time in manufacturing.  Every process we do is full of waste – actions that take time and energy but don’t create real value.  Maybe it’s moving material from place to place.  Or sitting idle while you wait for your next task.  Or finding a defect and having to scrap your work.  Eliminating waste is key to reducing costs, improving quality and decreasing production time.

You probably don’t work in manufacturing but I believe the concept of waste is valuable in any field.  If you look closely at your day, you’ll likely see that you expend time and energy on things that aren’t really necessary.  If you can reduce or eliminate that waste, you can get more work done in a shorter amount of time and, in essence, create more time.

Here are some examples of what I mean:

Are your tools in the wrong place?  The things you use to do your job should be readily accessible, when and where you need them.  If you find yourself reaching, stretching and searching for things you need, you’re wasting time and energy.

Are you in the wrong place?  If your tasks are repeatedly taking you outside your work area, consider whether your workspace should be closer to the people you support.  Think in terms of process flow rather than department or function.

Are you doing more than is necessary?  By this I mean adding extra administrative steps for no reason – like printing reference copies of things that are readily accessible online.  Save your energy for going above and beyond in ways that actually matter.

Are you reworking things that weren’t done right the first time?  Sometimes things come to us broken and we just fix it as part of our process.  Taking extra time now to address the problem at its source will save you time over the long term.

Are you inconsistent in your processes?  Find the best way to do a repetitive task and stick with it.  The speed and accuracy you gain will free up time to do more glamorous work elsewhere.

Each of these individual examples may seem trivial, but considered together, they add up to a significant amount of wasted time – time that you can be using to do the right kind of work for your career.

 

Advertisements

Have you been favorited?

star-struck bokeh by Neal Fowler

If you’re advancing quickly in your department, being given more responsibility and added authority, then you may hear rumblings of favoritism – accusations that a superior has given you preferential treatment for one reason or another.  Is it just sour grapes?  Or could your ability and integrity truly be in question?

If you’re genuinely concerned, start by asking yourself why you might be the “favorite”.

Is it because you only tell your boss what he or she wants to hear?  Because you highlight your own achievements while downplaying the work of your teammates?  Because you enjoy playing politics?

Or… is it because you work hard and consistently add value to your team?  Because you’re eager to learn and are willing to take on new tasks?  Because you have a positive attitude and are generally pleasant to be around?

If you’re in the latter category, relax.  You’ve likely earned the recognition you’ve received. And you’re probably perceived as well-liked because…well, you’re likable.

If you objectively feel that your manager doesn’t have any ulterior motives, just keep doing what you’re doing.  Focus on your job and make a point to recognize the hard work of those around you.  Be generous with your praise and share the limelight whenever possible.  Eventually, any unfounded grumblings will fade away.

 

(Photo by Neal Fowler via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Thoughts on finding a job you love.

thoughts on finding a job you love

Martin Dörsch via Unsplash

Back in 2000, I didn’t have much of a career plan but I did know that I wanted to do something like write, or teach, or work in a museum.  I had no desire to work in accounting, but I needed to pay off my school loans, so I accepted an Accounting Specialist position at a tech company.  I put my head down, did the work and by 2005, I had gotten my MBA and was leading a team within the credit department.  But I felt like I’d gone as far as a wanted to go at that company.

So I quit, thinking I’d write, or teach, or work in a museum.  But being unemployed was scary and after a month or so, I took a job as a Project Manager at a manufacturing company.  I learned the ins and outs of manufacturing and along the way, led the implementation of the company’s new accounting software.  Which then made me the go-to person for accounting questions and, before I knew it, I was being groomed for a controller/CFO position.  Yep, there I was, back to accounting again.

But I still wanted to write, or teach, or work in a museum.  So with an MBA, more accounting knowledge than I ever wanted and a lot of experience managing teams, I decided to jump again.  But this time, I actually had a semblance of a plan.  With a Master’s degree and a good chunk of experience, I could teach at the college level.  I found a small non-profit that offered a nice benefit package and worked as their Business Manager three days a week and I taught as a part-time adjunct at a vocational college the other two.  It meant a pay cut and a shitty commute, but, after eight years, I was finally doing one of the things I set out to do.

Why am I telling you all this?  Because I hope you’ll be touched by the inspiring tale of my climb down the career ladder?  No.  It’s because I know what it’s like to be in a job that doesn’t match what you imagined for yourself.  And I want you to know that, as hard as that is, it doesn’t have to be permanent.

But – and here’s the bad news – you also have to realize that there isn’t going to be a silver bullet solution.  Sure, in your daily browsing of Craigslist you may stumble upon something that interests you.  But will you be qualified for it?  Will the hiring manager be able to see why you’d be a stellar fit, even with no related experience?  Maybe.  But more likely, finding your dream job will take a series of incremental moves, each one building up your skill set.

Using this job to set yourself up for the next one means finding ways to stretch yourself – taking the trainings, getting industry knowledge and accumulating those resume bullet points.  It also means getting your finances in order and building a savings cushion.  And most importantly, it means finding ways to be seen as a leader and taking on a management role, even if you know you haven’t drank the organizational Kool-Aid.  It doesn’t matter if you hate the field you’re in, people management is the most transferable skill you can acquire.

So, as you’re working your way to you a job you love, focus on what you’re gaining now that will serve you in the future.  And remember that sometimes the only way out is through.

 

Dealing with the dreaded “what do you do?” question.

what do you do?

Björn Simon via Unsplash

When you were a kid, did you want to be a butcher, baker or candlestick-maker?  Maybe.

Policeman, firefighter or astronaut?  Probably at some point.

Doctor, lawyer or teacher?  Sure.

Accounting specialist, administrative coordinator or client services professional?  Hmmm…maybe not.

But that’s where a lot of us find ourselves.  And it’s hard.  Because we want to be able to talk about our jobs – they take up a big chunk of our life, after all – but it’s not always so easy to explain what we do.

Professional titles are our conversational shorthand.  When someone asks “What do you do?”, a title immediately puts us in a category and tells the listener something about who we are – at least in theory.  And we’re drawn to titles that make it clear how we add value.

Baker?  Done.  We know what that person brings to the table.

Teacher?  Yep.  Clear value proposition.

But if you’re a generalist, it’s not really that easy.  You have to work harder to explain what you do and what you care about.  And you know what?  That’s actually a good thing.

Who are your customers?  What are they struggling with?  What problems do you help them solve?

Do you take something complicated and make it simple?  Do you turn something boring into something fun?

Do you make your team better, stronger, faster?

So many people bemoan the lack of meaning in their jobs, but what if we shift our focus away from title and onto simply how we add value every day?  Beyond making your cocktail party banter less awkward, it may actually provide some career inspiration as well.

So tell me, what do you do?

 

Six things to do when you don’t know what to do.

Sylwia Bartyzel via Unsplash

Sylwia Bartyzel via Unsplash

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar:  You’re not happy in your current job but aren’t sure what else you’re qualified to do.  You’re not making enough money but you can’t afford to quit.  You want to do something meaningful but you haven’t found your “passion”.

Go back to school?  Start your own business??  Join the circus??? 

If you’ve become paralyzed by indecision, the best strategy may be to stop, take a breath, and come at the problem from a different direction.  Here are some ideas to get you moving:

Dive deep into a new subject.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  Pick something that interests you (work-related or not) and start learning everything you can about it.  Explore it from different perspectives and thru different mediums.  Follow footnotes and interesting asides.  See where it takes you.

Get an activity tracker and start walking.  Feeling aimless drains your energy and you may find yourself in a sedentary rut.  An activity tracker (I like the FitBit) will help you focus on getting up and out.  And walking will clear your mental fog and get you thinking big thoughts.

Declutter.  Our physical space and our mental space are deeply entwined.  Clearing our  material baggage has a magic way of clearing our psyche as well.  Purge ruthlessly and then examine what’s left.  It may hold clues to what really matters in your life.  (Marie Kondo’s book on the magic of tidying up explores this in depth.)

Keep a time log.  “I don’t have time.” is probably the biggest excuse we use for not moving forward.  But you probably have more than you think.  Track everything you do for a week and see where your time is really going.  Then evaluate what you can change to make time for something new.

Start a blog.  Pick something that interests you and start writing about it.  It doesn’t have to be ground breaking stuff, but commit to writing something on the regular.  Explore other blogs and start connecting with people online.  Be open to the process and again, see where it takes you.

Volunteer to work with someone from another country.  Volunteering is good experience in general, but working directly with someone from another culture – tutoring a non-native speaker, for example – is an excellent way to put your own life in perspective.

 

How about you?  Have you ever felt aimless?  How did you deal with it?

 

(This post contains affiliate links to Powell’s Books.)

Four tips for having a better day.

lemon ginger water

Dominik Martin via Unsplash

I don’t know about you, but I find it often takes hearing the same advice many, many (many?) times before it actually sticks.  But eventually, I internalize good ideas and am the better for it.  Here are a few oft-cited “make your day better” tips I’ve recently adopted:

Hydrate in the morning.  One reason we often feel tired and icky in the morning is because it has been several hours since our last drink of water.  We wake up mildly dehydrated and drinking coffee first thing just exacerbates the problem.  I enjoy reading about productive morning routines and this advice pops up frequently.  As does…

Don’t check email or social media first thing.  It sends you down a productivity rabbit hole and puts you in reactive mode for the whole day.  It’s better to tackle your most important, meaningful work before anything else.  Which ties into this next one nicely…

Utilize your peak energy.  For me, this is the first two hours of the day.  If I “ease in” to my day with Facebook and Bloglovin’, I miss that important energy window.  My energy drops dramatically in the afternoon and I rarely feel like doing focused or creative work.  And of course…

Pay attention to Benedict Cumberbatch.  Seriously, I just did not see the attraction for the longest time.  I was vaguely aware of him from the Sherlock series (and found Watson more interesting).  But now I get what everyone is talking about.  This interview with Fast Company is good and this episode of Graham Norton is better.  (Plus, you get Miranda Hart, who is just beyond hilarious.)

 

How about you?  Is there any good advice that you’ve been slow to adopt?