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It’s no secret that time management is an important part of creating a happier, more successful life overall. Everyone, no matter what their career path, will have a moment where they feel as though their workload is unmanageable or overwhelming. While that moment may be fleeting for some, it could very well be a persistent feeling for others. The key to finding success rests in how one responds to that feeling of inundation at work.
A healthy approach to time management will help workloads feel more manageable, instill a better sense of work-life balance, and ultimately lead to a more successful career overall.
Why is Time Management Important for Your Career?
For one, there’s only so much time in a day. Our time is limited, and it’s important to use available time wisely. Deadlines wait for no one, and superiors will make note of your ability to make deadlines within the allotted time constraints. When time is managed poorly, quality of work may suffer, or worse, work may not be completed at all. It will be difficult to excel in any career path if you’re experiencing difficulty getting work finished.
Time management also allows for you to create a timeline to meet larger career-oriented goals. True success never happens overnight. Rather, success comes from careful planning and small steps that will eventually cumulate to become your end goals. Mastering time management is not only important when it comes to plotting necessary, smaller goals on a timeline, it helps you follow through with those goals in an efficient manner.
So How Does One Get Better at Managing Their Time?
There are innumerable lists of tips and tricks available to increase your ability to manage your time. But the most important thing to understand is that true time management comes from a complete change of perspective. In order to be successful at managing your time, you have to make a promise to yourself to remain committed to the changes you make. It’s about changing your long-term habits, and focusing on making a positive change. Keeping that overall change in mental state in mind, start with these two major steps to better time management:
Start Planning Your Weeks
There are certain things that we will always have to do on a daily (or weekly) basis. On Sunday nights, set aside some time to work on your calendar. Schedule out specific chunks of time for checking your email. (Once in the morning, once before & after lunch, and once around 3:30pm is a schedule that may work for you. Tailor this schedule to your specific job.) By setting aside specific times for your email, you avoid the timesink that can come from being constantly connected to your email. Schedule in lunch, coffee breaks, and any recurring meetings as well. When all of the recurring tasks are blocked in, schedule in all of the tasks that you already know need to be completed that week. This may need to be adjusted based on what happens during the week, and that leads us to our next topic:
Learn to Prioritize
In most work environments, it’s easy to get caught in the revolving door of tasks that land on your desk. It’s important to determine which tasks are the most important, and stick to working on/completing those tasks first. Those crucial projects should never fall to the wayside of the smaller one-off tasks that come your way. Get the tasks with the highest priority checked off of your list of things to do that day, and work your way down to the smaller tasks.
Time Management is hugely important to your overall success. Start with these two steps, and then branch out. Find other tips that work for you, and then, find your success!
In our last article we discussed determining what the real purpose of your organization is, often referred to as your Mission Statement. We emphasized how important it is for you and your employees to understand why your organization exists, what it does, who it does it for and how it does it. This is the first stepping stone to building employee engagement and a productive workforce!
Once you have clearly defined and communicated your mission, your next stepping stone is figuring out a way to drive employee behavior in support of your mission. One of the ways you can successfully do this is to create core competencies as a part of your overall Performance Management system. Core competencies are particular behaviors that you want to encourage and measure in each individual in your organization. You will want to think about 4-5 core competencies that are shared by all your employees. These should be directly driven from your mission statement and the work you will do to support your mission statement.
It is important to have shared core competencies to ensure that each of the employees are moving in the same direction and the same behavioral attributes are being rewarded across the organization. Examples of these core competencies might be “Results Management” or “Critical Thinking”. Competencies that are important for everyone in your organization to excel in. You might also think about whether core competencies by function are important. An example of a core competency by function might include “Attention to Detail” for your Accounting team, while an example of a core competency for your marketing team might be “Creativity and Innovation”. If you are going to create these by function, try to limit it to another 4-5 so that you end up with no more than 10 total.
Another decision point is whether you want to level these core competencies to account for the differences in expectations between, for instance, an AP Clerk and a Dir., of Accounting. In general, I feel it is important to use leveling as our expectations of one position are different than of the other.
There are many excellent Performance Management systems that exist on the market today. Many will give you a list of core competencies to choose from, as well as letting you create more custom varieties for your own individual organizational needs.
Think about engaging your workforce to help choose the core competencies, especially those by function. This will encourage both buy-in to your Performance Management process, as well as drive employee engagement.
Next time we’ll talk about developing goals which you will incorporate into your Performance Management system.
In this blog post, I highlighted the importance of mentorship in your career and professional life. Mentors provide much needed support and direction as you navigate within your network and work to establish yourself as an expert in your industry. The question that always comes up after someone determines that a mentor is the vital key that they are missing is, “How do I find a mentor?” Finding a mentor is not as simple as walking up to someone at a networking event, and asking “Will you be my mentor?”. Mentoring is about a relationship; it needs to be organic and should grow out of real interactions between people who are already familiar with one another. Here are a few bits of advice to keep in mind when you’re looking for a mentor:
Make Yourself Mentor-Ready
You will not be able to build a successful relationship with a mentor if you don’t know what you want. You need to take the time to reflect, and create a working outline of your needs and professional goals. This doesn’t have to be a list of things that are set in stone, but you do need to know what you want, so you can seek out a mentor who aligns with your aspirations.
Relatedly, work towards being someone that anyone would want to mentor. Do work to establish yourself as much as possible within your field; know what your strengths and your weaknesses are. Work to associate with the right people, create meaningful work, and be a professional that other professionals want to work with.
As I mentioned earlier, mentoring is born of real relationships. Very few people are willing to invest their time in a stranger. Work to build meaningful connections, both online and in person, and get involved with others through as many different avenues as possible.
- Get active on twitter, and follow people that you admire. Look at who they interact with, and follow them too. Read the content that they produce, and maybe even reach out and comment on something they’ve written. Do the same on Linkedin.
- Go to networking events and make real connections with people. Websites like meetup.com have endless options of meetup groups and events where people are eager to make connections and build up their network as well. Find conferences where people you admire are speaking and don’t be afraid to walk up and start a conversation.
In the beginning, avoid the “I need a mentor”conversation. Instead, work on getting to know these various individuals you’ve brought into your life. Exchange emails, meetup for coffees and lunches, and ask questions. Feel out these interactions, and if over time you think that someone may be a good fit, then ask them if they would be interested in being your mentor. Many believe that the official question will be unnecessary, because the organic relationship that you’re working on will naturally shift into a mentor-mentee relationship on its own.
No matter what industry you are in, finding a mentor will be one of the most valuable career moves you can make. It’s almost difficult to drive home the importance of finding an individual to act as your mentor (no matter what stage you are in, in your career). A mentor-mentee relationship is one of trust and mutual respect, and a (good) mentor will be able to create opportunities that the mentee would never have had access to otherwise. Almost all successful entrepreneurs and business moguls have had mentors to help grow them into the powerhouses that they are today.
Mentors Will Have the Experience to Challenge You
Mentors will often have several more years of industry experience than you do. All that they’ve seen and learned in those years is invaluable information that you now have access to. Mentors have likely experienced situations that you haven’t even dreamed of yet, and they will be able to prepare you for them preemptively. A good mentor will also use their experience to push you beyond what you think you’re capable of. They will be able to guide you through situations that may be out of your comfort zone, simply because they have experience that you have not gained yet.
Mentors Have Extensive Networks
One of the most important things in terms of career growth is increasing your network. Yes, you should absolutely be learning to network on your own; having your own network of contacts is hugely important. But the truth of the matter is that a mentor will likely have a more extensive and better established network than you, simply because they have had more time to curate their connections. A good mentor will be able to connect you to people you wouldn’t otherwise be able to interact with, and set you up with opportunities that wouldn’t be available outside of their personal network.
Mentors Will Be Able to Provide the Insight & Advice That You Need
It’s important to have someone to bounce ideas off of. A valuable mentor will be able to provide you with advice that is backed with actual experience and information. Good advice is invaluable, and if you can look past your own ego and pride to listen to someone else, your mentor will be able to provide you with exactly what you need to hear. (Note: Make sure your mentor has the ability to provide constructive criticism and feedback. You’ll need to know when you’re wrong.) This doesn’t mean your mentor will know all; but it is likely that they will have insight far beyond your years, and that’s wildly important when trying to establish yourself in any career path.
When individuals have been working a job for a while, it’s easy to just find a daily groove, and go with the motions. But going with the flow doesn’t always mean we are being as effective as we can be in our positions. The reality is that some employees fall into their normal workflow, and are not entirely sure what else they can be doing in order to improve their effectiveness at their job.
I’ve spent some time pondering ways that employees who are looking to avoid stagnation can start to develop their skillsets at work. There are a few major steps that one can take to become more effective at their job.
Determine the Purpose of Your Work
The first step to improving is to understand exactly what you are trying to improve. Effectiveness in any job can only be achieved if there is a full understanding of what the job is. The easiest way to do this is to conduct a thorough analysis of your current position.
- Look through the formal documentation that is available for your position. Determine what the objectives and main priorities are on the job description. If you have access to the the rubrics for performance reviews, review those as well. They will give you an accurate picture of what is expected of an exemplary employee.
- Seek out any available training that is available for your job. Training materials are a great resource because they go beyond just telling you what you’ll get rewarded for. Training materials will also give you best practices and provide some (hopefully helpful) instruction on how to do your job well. Seeking out training materials also shows initiative to your superiors. (Bosses love when their employees show dedication to betterment.)
After you’ve reviewed those documents and materials, you should be armed with a better understanding of what you should be accomplishing and working towards in your current position.
Turn Up the Positivity
This may feel cheesy to some, but there really is something to be said about adopting a good attitude within the workplace. Positivity can go a long way in terms of productivity.
- Studies have shown that people who are consistently positive have a better ability to handle stress, work related challenges, and general adversity.
- Maintaining a positive attitude also helps you to see things more clearly. If you’re less stressed, you can make more rational, and beneficial decisions.
Be sure to check back next month to determine what else you can do to become more effective at work.
Your body language has more of an impact on your career than you’d believe. According to Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA,
The three elements account differently for our liking for the person who puts forward a message concerning their feelings: words account for 7%, tone of voice accounts for 38%, and body language accounts for 55% of the liking.
Body language is our non-verbal communication of our feelings and thoughts; we judge other people on their body language, and we are constantly being judged by our body language. Due to the fact that so much is communicated outside of the words that we speak, it’s important to be aware of our bodies, and to work to give off the correct impression. These are a few things you should keep in mind about body language in the office.
Don’t Cross Your Arms
This isn’t a new one; we’ve been told that crossed arms are a poor signal since we were young. But, it bears repeating. When you cross your arms, you are literally creating a physical barrier between you and the person/people you are addressing; that’s an immediate signal to them that you don’t want to be a part of whatever conversation that you’re having. Crossing arms may be an unconscious defense mechanism for some people when they are nervous or uncomfortable, so try to be aware of your body in situations where you are not feeling 100% at ease.
One of the tell-tale signs of nervousness is fidgeting. Nervousness is definitely not a characteristic that you want to be known for in the office. Nervousness dictates discomfort, and your colleagues will begin to scrutinize the reasons for your apparent discomfort. If you’re a natural fidgeter, try to keep your movements to a minimum when interacting with your coworkers.
Maintain Eye Contact (But Don’t Stare)
It’s important to maintain eye contact with anyone that you’re speaking to; it builds a feeling of connectedness between you and your audience. An avoidance of eye contact signals untrustworthiness to others, and that’s the last thing that you want to be known for within the office.
But, it’s important not to let your eye contact cross the line into staring. Very intense, unbroken eye contact will make others uncomfortable, and it can be interpreted as aggressive or even creepy. It’s a delicate balance. Work to read the body language of your company in order to gauge the proper amount of eye contact necessary.
Remember Your Posture
Always stand up straight. Good posture is a universal signal to others that you are sure of yourself. Elongate your spine, push your shoulders back, and keep your head held high. Take pride in how your carry yourself, and others will respond positively to your aura of power and self assuredness.
In last month’s blog, I begin to delve into some of the most important tips and tricks of the interviewing preparation period. If you follow those three steps, you will have a solid foundation to work off of when walking into your interview.
But one must always prepare for the worst, and there is always the possibility that you will not be ready for a question or scenario that an interviewer throws at you. So, for part two of “Interview Like a Pro”, we’ll be covering what to do if you end up stumped during your interview.
Take a Deep Breath and Remain Calm
The last thing that you want to do when you feel stuck is to panic. Of course, this is easier said than done, but it’s of the utmost importance that you don’t allow your brain to slip into a frenzy. Once panic sets in, it will be extremely difficult to recover, and your body will start to have physical reactions to the stress. Try to avoid blurting out the first thing that comes to mind, and do not immediately say “I don’t know”.
The key is to remember to breathe. It’s been proven that deep breaths help to clear your mind. Remind yourself that it is perfectly fine to not know the full answer, and then focus on coming up with something viable.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
It is perfectly acceptable to ask for clarification if you feel as though the question is unclear. Depending on your industry, it may even be expected that you ask questions. In web development interviews, interviewers actually prefer that you ask questions, so that they can have access to your thought process.
Pro Tip: Talking through your response may actually help you to clarify your thought process.
Be Okay With (Gracefully) Admitting Defeat
If you’ve tried talking through your thought process, and still can’t come to a conclusion( or you know for a fact that the question you are being asked requires specific knowledge you do not have, it’s okay to say that you truly do not know. Promise that you will follow up with the correct answer post-interview.
Always send a follow up! If you promised an answer, make sure you send it. Otherwise, send a follow-up email that thanks the interviewer(s) for their time.
Landing a job interview is always cause for a celebration. But, once that initial endorphin high wears off, it’s time to start getting ready for the big day. As a human resources professional, I’ve been a part of countless interviews, and have witnessed interviewees with a wide range of interviewing aptitudes. I like to tell people that interviewing is like taking a test. You would never go into a final exam without studying, and you should never show up to an interview without taking some time to prep. Use this post as a study guide, and ace your next interview.
Research, Research, Research
The one mistake that I see time and time again is a candidate forgetting to do their research. Research everything that you possibly can, but at the very least learn about the person interviewing you, the position you are interviewing for, and the company that you are trying to work for. The internet truly holds the answers to everything that you need to know. Search LinkedIn for your interviewer, and learn a little bit about their background. Jot down some talking points about a project they’ve worked on, or the school they went to; everyone loves the opportunity to make a human connection in such a professional setting. Browse through the company’s webpage, and determine what their mission statement is. Be sure that you will be able to come up with insightful and educated answers to any questions you may be asked about the company.
Practice Makes Perfect
Everyone knows that interviews are nerve wracking experiences. One way to ease nerves and guarantee that you won’t blank when asked a question is to practice your answers. Again, look to the internet to find common interview questions, and practice answering them with a friend, or by yourself in front of a mirror.
ProTip: Craft your story. Don’t memorize cookie cutter answers. Instead, remember some key talking points and work to become comfortable with telling your interview exactly how and why you would be perfect for the job.
Find The Right Outfit
First impressions truly are everything, and a poor outfit choice could be detrimental to your chances. The rule of thumb is to be as professional as possible, and it’s generally always better to be overdressed than underdressed. But, on the same note, be sure to research the company culture. Many industries want to be sure that you’re a culture fit, and wearing a full suit to a startup where everyone wears sweatpants could also hurt your chances of getting the job. No matter what the wardrobe situation is, always make sure that your clothing is clean, well tailored, and ironed.
Be sure to check back next month for Part 2 of Interview Like A Pro!
Every professional should be constantly working to develop their networking skill set. The word “networking” is thrown around in almost every career-oriented workshop or classroom, but many people do not fully understand the benefits of proper networking, and struggle with determining exactly what networking entails. In my line of work, I’m constantly seeing well-networked individuals flourish, because a great network provides great opportunities. These are a few networking tips to follow whether you’re just getting into the game, or a seasoned networking vet looking for a refresher.
Practice Makes Perfect
Networking can feel very overwhelming and intimidating to some people. If you’re an introvert, the best thing to do is to practice. Find a few networking groups and start making contacts. Dr. Ivan Misner, Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of Business Network International, says that you should create four different networks of people:
- Casual Contacts: The individuals you meet by attending mixers and general networking events.
- Strong Contacts: Business professionals you interact with at industry specific events and groups. (Depending on your industry, you may be able to find groups that gather frequently with the specific goal of creating strong business relationships.)
- Knowledge Contacts: People you meet through professional associations.
- Online Contacts: Casual contacts that you connect with online. (We are in the age of the internet, and your online presence can be the key to your next big career move. Linkedin is currently the most effective online networking site available. )
Network Before You Need To
If you’re just getting out of school, be sure to keep in contact with professors, classmates, family friends, etc so that you have a network of people to turn to during the first job hunt. If you’re thinking about changing jobs or industries, start attending events and bulking up your network before you feel like you MUST leave. The one thing that “seasoned” (trustworthy) networkers shy away from are individuals who feel desperate. Try to network with people when you don’t have an alternative motive, so that your interactions come across as genuine.
Maintain Your Network
Remember that your network is made up of people. You have to make sure that you build and maintain relationships with the people you connect with. The last thing that you want to do is be the person that only reaches out when you need something.
One great way to maintain your network is to set up a calendar of birthdays and special occasions. Sending a quick text or email on those days will make you stand out as genuine and engaged. Outside of the special occasions, make sure to send thank you notes, set up coffee dates, or send over articles you think might be of interest.