Tag Archives: Time management

Taking control of your career requires taking control of your life.

take control of your life

Alejandro Escamilla via Unsplash

Your career is as much about your life outside of work as it is about what you do from 8 to 5.  Money, health, relationships…it all impacts how effectively you manage your career.  Whether you’re trying to find your life’s passion or simply want to land a better gig, it’s time to get more than just your resume in order.

First, take a look at your finances.  If your dream job means taking a salary cut or paying more for medical benefits, will you be able to make it work?  Committing to living within your means and building up a savings cushion is critical.  Career decisions shouldn’t be made from a position of scarcity, so now’s the time to start building good financial habits.

Speaking of habits, how are your diet and exercise?  Are you getting enough sleep?  A new job will make it tough to focus on self-care.  Building a healthy routine now – prepping weeknight meals on Sunday, hitting the gym regularly – will make it easier to stay on track when work gets crazy.  And don’t forget about relationships.  Make connecting with the important people in your life a regularly scheduled event.

Since you’re career-minded, I’m sure you’ve already spent some time polishing your resume.  But have you given your online presence a once-over recently?  The bulk of all your online content should reflect your professional experience and interests.  Take the time to clean up anything unflattering and make sure you’re putting your best digital foot forward.  (This is a good post on crafting a professional digital identity.)

And finally, let’s talk about time.  You already feel like you don’t have enough and here I am telling you to add more to your to-do list?  I know it seems daunting but I’m willing to bet you have more time than you think.  I challenge you to keep a time log for a week and see what you learn.  (And I admit that I hate tracking my time too, but it’s worth it.  Start here.)

How about you?  What would you add to this list?

 

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.

 

5 big ideas I’m working into my 2014 project plan.

post it note joybot

There’s a lot of information out there in the blogosphere.  Some good.  Some almost good.  A lot… well, just… not good.  And even amongst the good, some ideas stick and some don’t.  But sometimes you find the information you need, just when you need it.  And those are the magic moments.

Here are a few ideas that are resonating with me as I draft my 2014 Project Plan:

1Why You Should Build a Habit of Writing Every Day from David Spinks:

“In a tech world where everything is constantly changing there’s one thing that has remained consistent for as long as we’ve had business and that’s writing.”

2How to be The Luckiest Guy on the Planet in 4 Easy Steps from James Altucher:

“The “idea muscle” atrophies within days if you don’t use it. Just like walking. If you don’t use your legs for a week, they atrophy. You need to exercise the idea muscle.”

3How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams, as shared by Shane Parrish:

“Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do.”

4Screw New Year’s Resolutions – Try Designing Your Career from Jennifer Dziura:

“Staring at a blank calendar page and then writing “exercise” or “creative writing class” or “study for the GRE” or “make a weeks’ worth of healthy meals” on it twelve times is an excellent way to gauge your real feelings about these things (and thus help to define your values).”

5The secret for keeping a New Year’s resolution: KPIs from Penelope Trunk:

“KPIs are humbling. They are not grand, change-the-world goals. They are small reminders of where you really are in this life.”


How about you?  What’s resonating with you as we approach the New Year?

(Photo by Sarah Joy via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

 

Drafting My 2014 Project Plan

project plan

I have a mental process that tends to drive my husband crazy.  Some might call it back-asswards.  I call it detail-oriented.  Let me give you an example.  When we started remodeling our bathroom, I was focused on what, in my husband’s mind, were minor details (shower tile), before we had settled on the big items (picking a contractor).  But in my mind, I had a vision of the finished bathroom which included a shower accented with a very specific penny tile.  Which would look best with a specific porcelain floor tile.  Which meant we needed a tile guy.  And our first-choice contractor was great at tile, so we wouldn’t need a subcontractor, which would save time and money.  But we would need to pre-order the penny tile to make sure it was available when we needed it.  And the penny tile was a bit expensive so we should choose a basic subway tile for the rest of the shower to offset the cost.  And, and, and…okay, so you see what I’m getting at.  I was attacking the project from the end, when my husband was starting at the beginning.  But picturing the details of the final product allowed me to work backwards to create a more complete project plan.

As annoying as it is for my husband, this technique was super valuable to me when I worked as a project manager.  I would start with the completed project, a new office layout, for example, and do a mental walk-thru, envisioning how each work area was used, where traffic was congested, where garbage was stored.  Working backwards, I then built those details and contingencies into the project plan.

So this year, I’m applying the same technique to my personal and professional goals.  I’m starting with what I want my life to look like at the end of the 2014.  Laura Vanderkam frames this in the form of the Christmas letter, writing down what you want to tell the world about what you accomplished or experienced in the previous year.  I think of it as creating a mental image of myself living my best life.  By documenting my 2014 accomplishments now, I can work backward into creating an action plan that will actually help me achieve them.

As I’m building my project plan, these are some of the questions I ask:

  • What strengths can I build on and what weaknesses will I have to address?
  • Am I including a goal that I have failed at in the past?  If so, what skills do I need to build to overcome that obstacle?
  • Do I need external resources – financial, technical, emotional?
  • What’s going to keep me motivated?  And conversely, what could potentially derail me psychologically?
  • Where will I find feedback and encouragement?
  • What are my key milestones and how will I celebrate them?

I’m not a big fan of resolutions – the “I’m going to do X, Y or Z when I turn 30. Or 40. Or in the New Year” variety.  If you’re not committed to doing it right now (smoking less, exercising more, reading the classics) then you probably won’t be motivated to do it at some arbitrary date in the future.  But I do believe in the power of a good project plan.

 

How about you?  How do you approach your goals for the New Year?

 

(Photo credit: Microsoft)

 

Be a better manager in 40 minutes a day.

Today

Last week, Sarah Von Bargen’s Every. Damn. Day list got me thinking about my daily benchmarks for productivity.  As a work-from-home mom, my personal list includes things like showering (a surprising luxury) and feeding the kid (yes, he wants to eat EVERY day).  But since you’re here to read about management and not my sporadic personal hygiene, here are four daily tasks to keep you on track, even on days when the rest of your to-do list has gone up in flames.

1.  Tidy up.  I think of organizing my desk as the business equivalent of making my bed every day.  It signals that I’m awake, upright and ready to tackle the day.  Whether you’re a neat freak or someone who thrives in organized chaos, spend 10 minutes every day on administrative tasks – filing, opening mail, approving receipts – to keep them from becoming messy and demoralizing eyesores on your desk.  Doing a little each day keeps recurring tasks from becoming huge projects that you need to fit into your schedule.

2.  Walk around.  Whether you call it “management by walking around” or just stretching your legs, you need to get out from behind your desk and see what the rest of your team and organization is doing.  You can learn a lot from seeing your team function in real-time, so take 10 minutes each day to engage with your team without a set agenda.

3.  Think long-term.  It’s easy to get caught up in the urgency of daily tasks and forget to allow time for working on your long-term goals.  Networking, professional development, deliberate practice – you don’t need to schedule large blocks of time for these things.  Once you’ve mapped out tasks required to reach your long-term goal, you can work your plan in 10 minute increments. You’ll be surprised by how much you will accomplish over the course of a month.

4.  Do nothing.  Spend 10 minutes each day reading, writing or thinking about something non-work related.  And, no, I don’t mean browsing E! Online or Facebook, although sometimes those little brain-breaks are healthy.  Instead, pick a topic you want to learn more about – creativity, happiness, design – and allow yourself a daily 10 minutes to explore it.  Getting your brain out of its normal routine will give you fresh perspective and inspiration when you return to work.

“A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.”

~ Anthony Trollope

 

(Photo credit: Microsoft)

Keep calm and make a list.

to do list

In less than a week, I will be braving a cross-country, red-eye flight with a two year old.

Holyfreakingcow.

This is our first plane trip as a family and our longest extended stay away from home.  To say I’m anxious would be an understatement.  My mind has been racing with what seems like a million things to plan:  Figuring out what to bring on the flight.  Getting the house and dog ready for the sitter.  Anticipating what gear we’ll need once we’re in New York.  My blood pressure rises with every new thought.  But today I finally sat down and made a list.  And, amazingly, I feel much better.

Why do I always forget how calming a list can be?  Until it’s on paper, it’s an infinite string of things.  But once it’s in a list, it’s a plan.  And plans I can handle.

Here are some of my favorite thoughts on to-do lists:

 

freak out

Even my hair was freaking out about this trip.

You might also like:

On optimism.

 

4 Productivity Tips from Eleanor Roosevelt

I doubt Eleanor Roosevelt ever used the term “productivity”, at least not in the way we use it today.

But she had many insights into getting the most from life, all of which she recorded in You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life.

In her chapter on The Uses of Time, she offers these “hacks” for getting the most out of each day:

 

1. “Achieve an inner calm.”  Learn to maintain an internal equilibrium as the world swirls around you and you will be able to work in any environment.

2. “Concentrate on the thing at hand.”  Abandon the myth of multitasking and the person or task getting your full attention will be the better for it.

3. “Arrange a routine pattern.”  Create a consistent daily schedule to insure you’re addressing everything that needs to be done, while allowing some flexibility for handling the unexpected.

4. “Maintain a general pattern of good health.”  Take care of your body and it will give you the strength and energy to plow through the day.

This post contains affiliate links to Powell’s Books.