Dear Shannon: How can I build my career each day?
Adopt these 10 habits to achieve your career goals (and don't forget that life is not all about work).
Life seems busier than ever these days, doesn’t it? I call it the Q4 crunch: Organizations the world over are poring over annual targets and firming up their budgets and strategies for the following 12 months, while for me and my sustainability job-seeker clients and readers, it’s a time to take stock and think about the position we’d like to be in when the leaves start to fall in 2017.
I’ve never been the sort of person to wait until New Year to reflect on the changes I want to adopt in my professional life, and autumn seems like as good a time as any to cast off the old and prepare for the new. So with that in mind, here are my top 10 good habits to build your career every day and help you achieve your career goals.
1. Stay on top of trends
With so many ways to receive information, it can be hard to stay up to speed with all the goings-on in your sector. Websites, social media, news, your company’s intranet — it’s exhausting. That’s why it’s so important to pick your poison and stick with it.
I like Google news alerts that go straight into my email every morning, along with Twitter for "straight from the horse’s mouth" information and insight into what’s trending. These are the two major channels I use to stay informed. But get focused on the sustainability issues you care about most or the companies you want to follow and use your news feeds to keep you on top of market movements.
2. Nourish your networks
Any of my regular readers will know that this is not a new habit. I write about how important it is all the time. Your networks are the people you know in real life and the people you engage with online, and include everyone from old alum buddies to former colleagues to potential employers.
Nourishing your networks means sharing relevant information, acknowledging when others have done a great job, showing an interest in others’ work and saying thank you. If you’re doing it, great, do it better. If you’re new to it, set aside just 15 minutes every afternoon to invest in it. The career dividends will be high, I promise.
3. Check in with your team
We’ve all done it — been so absorbed in a project or blindsided by a deadline, that we miss the fact that our colleagues are human beings with lives and feelings and sensitivities that we, as fellow human beings, should be mindful of. So make a habit of "checking in" with your team and test the waters to make sure everyone’s engaged, on side and open, and to nip any problems in the bud, especially when things are busy.
People are the epicenter of our work, our communities, our profits — so making them feel valued, understood and heard is crucial to building morale and commitment. The return on your time investment will pay off in spades.
4. Celebrate others’ success
This is a big one. If someone on your team has had a success, launching a new service or winning a prestigious client or achieving an ambitious target, then celebrate it! You don’t have to whip out the party poppers and buy a magnum of Moet, but a simple "well done" can go a long way. Even small successes should be noticed and celebrated.
5. Be grateful
Equally, if you’re the person on the receiving end of said celebrations, remember to be grateful to the team and the organizational culture that enabled your success. That doesn’t mean being so humble that you dismiss your own role in the achievement, but it does mean placing your achievement within the big picture context and acknowledging the belief and trust that others had in you to get the job done.
Remember to communicate your "gratefuls" to colleagues (and family) every day so that others feel recognized and appreciated and that you spread your positivity. I do my daily "gratefuls" with my boys at the dinner table every night. It is interesting to hear what others prioritize as important to them.
6. Be curious
When you’ve been in an industry for a while, it can be tempting to start believing other people when they call you an expert, and begin to feel like you know everything you need to in order to do your job. That’s the moment the alarm bell should start ringing — when you can start to get complacent, too. It’s the toll of the death knell for your passions and the entrance march for professional boredom.
Don’t forget that you own your professional development, no one else. Ask for the budget to get that training and grow your own skills and knowledge regularly, even if you are an "expert."
This year I invested in a course on doing a Tedx Talk and also to certify as a professional coach with the ICF, even though I already am one. So be curious. Ask questions. Get excited. Keep your mind open. Seek out new ideas. Stoke those passions.
The daily grind is a killer for proper reflection so schedule time to do whatever it is that helps you get in tune with yourself.
Me? I meditate 15 minutes a day and practice mindfulness that includes three-minute "resets" throughout the day. It helps me de-clutter my mind, focus on my priorities, stay calm and rational and maintain my sense of purpose.
Other people find that keeping notes or a work journal can help bring them back to center. Do whatever works for you.
8. Trust your intuition
Often, it’s those quiet, reflective moments that allow that inner gut instinct to bubble up to the surface.
It might not be evidence-based, it might not even make perfect sense right now, but intuition is something humans evolved for a reason — our unconscious mind is smarter and more insightful than we might think. If it is saying "I am not happy in my job and I need a change," then take the baby steps to make that happen. Don’t let life get in the way as an excuse to stay in something that your heart is not committed to.
It is easy to say the task of change is too big, too overwhelming. But life is just too short. Trust that inner voice. It knows what you need.
9. Get some fresh air
Exercise and spending time in nature have huge benefits for your physical and psychological health, so don’t trade off an exercise class or a long walk for more time in front of the laptop. Mental "fresh air" is important too.
When things get crazy at work, I make sure I have an absorbing novel to disappear into. Taking a break at lunch for a 10-minute walk also helps get that blood pumping without your mobile phone to distract your mind.
This is especially important at night when I’m going to sleep and I’m tempted to check emails or social media. Limit screen time and make sure you switch off. Keeping your phone out of the bedroom helps greatly. I bought an alarm clock so that I wouldn’t be tempted to use my phone bedside.
10. Remember — it's not all about work
Successful, happy people have a healthy work-life balance. Spend time with — and focus on — your family, friends and outside interests if you want a truly sustainable career.
Map out your different roles — all of them — daughter, sister, wife, mother, volunteer, business owner, boss, mentor, etc., and then allocate each week which one you will focus on to keep in balance. I took the five-day Steven Covey Seven Habits of Highly Effective People course more than two decades ago and I still apply the principles of keeping your "roles" in balance.
So there you have it, my top 10 tips for building your career, and your life, every day. You don’t have to do them all seven days a week — some will be weekly or monthly commitments — but they all contribute to the ongoing actualization of your professional, and life, dreams. Let me know what you think in the comments, and if you have your own top tips, please share them.