When you want to be visible in your career: 6 things to always do

Many people have approached me to ask how they further their careers in a time like this. When COVID first hit, many people were just thankful to have a job and a steady income. Now that we have lived in our new normal for a bit, people are starting to think about their careers again. People are looking at their jobs and organizations through a new lens and are asking questions that have always been important but seem hyper-important now.

  • Do I feel supported by my manager, my leadership, my peers?
  • Do I feel like I am more productive and engaged or the opposite?
  • Am I bored or overwhelmed? Can I strike a good balance?
  • Does my organization have the technology infrastructure to support me in my work?
  • Are there stretch opportunities for me to look at how we can do business differently?
  • Do I have the development support I need?
  • Is my manager accessible or are they trapped in meetings all of the time?
  • Given our circumstance, is there a career path for me?
  • Are there open opportunities inside my organization?

Going the extra mile, standing out among your peers or especially trying to pivot into something new can be difficult when you have lost touch with leaders or can no longer pop into someone’s office to ask for advice. When most companies promote people based on accomplishments and relationships, how can you be “seen” in a remote environment?

I have had three professional acquaintances in the last month find new positions in different companies. I know plenty of managers across organizations who think their people are not at risk right now — that people don’t have other opportunities. That is a mistake to get that comfortable. Talented people ALWAYS have options. People are asking questions and starting to look around if they can’t answer “yes” to many of the above questions.

From a leadership perspective, I would ask what you are doing to promote an engaged workforce today. Are you providing development opportunities and ways for people to move within your organization? Now, more than ever, is a good time to look at your internal mobility strategy and put one into practice.

For people looking for a career path and figuring out how to be seen from your living room couch, I would argue “what” you can do has not changed; just the “how” has. Connecting to people, having stellar LinkedIn profiles/internal profiles, pursuing external professional education and virtual experiences to boost your knowledge and connections still help you with your career. Focus on these six areas to get started:

  1. Know yourself. Knowing who you are and what you want or don’t want is still the best place to start. I highly recommend any book on Ikigai – a Japanese philosophy to understand what you like, what you are good at and what you can make money at. At the heart of this Venn diagram is the ultimate point of what you could do as a career. I have used this methodology myself to journal about my career desires.
  2. Make connections. I realize this is nothing new but it is even more important now to be extremely proactive in this regard. The key to being seen is to not let people forget about you. Good work should always stand out, and it will, but help yourself out and ask for virtual chats with people you respect and who you want to know about you and your work. So many people have told me over the years how they got passed over for a promotion and didn’t understand why. They were killing it in their job but no one knew. Schedule 20-minute chats. Make it a priority.
  3. Share your knowledge. Even though we are in unprecedented times, there are still forums to contribute, speak or just attend in your field. I have three speaking engagements in Q3. Although we can’t be in person, every professional organization is figuring out how to stay connected to share best practices and network. Write for a journal, if you like, pursue a certification in something and ask if your company will help fund it even if they won’t pay for the whole thing.
  4. Add to your expertise. The number of providers who are dropping their prices or even giving away learning for free are plentiful right now. Platforms like Udemy, Coursera, Skillshare are offering classes dirt cheap to supplement your expertise or help you build knowledge in a new space. Now, I won’t lie. You have to be a very self-motivated learner to stick with these programs. Some are amazing and some are so-so but even the amazing ones can be difficult to stick with if you don’t have a schedule and the commitment to complete it. It’s like college. No one is standing over you to ensure you do your work. All of that motivation has to come from within.
  5. Update your profile. This is a great time to update your LinkedIn profile, internal profile, resume. Be ready when you do find a new opportunity whether that is inside or outside of your organization. Add that badge to your LinkedIn profile when you achieve a certification, attend a course or publish an article. Do something to further your knowledge and exposure within your field and then share it with the world.
  6. Share what you’ve learned. One way to stay visible and communicate how self-motivated you are is to offer to share what you have learned or what you have written about with your team and other teams. Back to being proactive, offer to share 10 tips for analyzing data or 5 ways to tell a better story. Whatever your area of expertise you are forming, offer to share that with your manager and other managers. Get the word out that you are a motivated learner and are trying to develop yourself. This will communicate volumes about who you are.

These times are challenging but it is not an impossible time to make a move internally or externally. Learn about yourself, develop yourself and promote yourself. These three points have been true forever but are even more critical now. Schedule the time and make it happen!

When you want to be productive: 7 tips to move away from “busy” to getting things done

I don’t know about you but I feel busier than ever. In my last blog I talked about taking care of yourself and finding balance to stay sane. But, as we are so busy these days, I have been asking myself: is busy the same as being productive?

We may have moved into a society where “busy” is some kind of status symbol. “Oh, I can’t possibly get to that, I have so much on my plate.” My calendar has no room for at least 3 weeks.” “I just don’t have any time before my vacation.” “I am just super slammed coming off of vacation.” Hmmm…should we take vacations? 🙂

These are all direct quotes I have heard from others and myself in the last month. Why are we this busy? Are we really making progress or are we spreading ourselves too thin?

I was always told that if you need something done, find the busiest person on the team; they are the most productive. Is this fair? Shouldn’t we find the person who may be bored and want another challenge instead? Why is Jane always the busiest? Maybe she doesn’t manage her time well. Maybe she can’t say no. Maybe she is focused on 10 things when really she would make more of an impact focusing on three.

“Busy” does not necessarily equal being productive. I don’t see us spending the time on prioritizing efforts anymore. More is more when, sometimes, less is really more. Less can have more of an impact. Kate Northrop wrote an entire book on this subject: Do Less: A Revolutionary Approach to Time and Energy Management for Busy Moms. Trust me. You don’t have to be a mom to get something out of this.

I relish a day where truly doing less is worn as a badge of honor instead of how packed one’s Outlook calendar is. We lose a few valuable skills when we pack our schedules, like having time to think. Remember thinking? Where you are not in a meeting or on a deadline or rushing to day care but you can sit undisturbed with a blank sheet of paper, an open computer screen or a freshly erased whiteboard to capture your thoughts about a problem or future idea. I feel this has been sacrificed to the Greek God of Busy. We will call him Stressodomus.

Other skills we have lost include staying calm, learning when to let things go, problem solving and prioritization.

To battle the power of Stressodomus, I have 7 tricks to help me make an impact and not be overly scheduled. These work most of the time. Unfortunately, sometimes things do come up that are unplanned. That is life, and all we can do is shift things around when those events happen.

  1. Prioritize. This is my favorite one and I have written about it before. Every week…I know even that sounds impossible…but every week pick the top 3 things you want to get done and ensure you have scheduled time to do that. I will admit that I have gotten away from doing this myself. I now spend a little time on Sundays jotting down these items to help me plan my week.
  2. Check alignment. Connected to prioritization, review with your manager what you are working on. Is this the best use of your time? What are the expectations? Are these expectations feasible? Is what you are doing aligned to the group’s or organization’s strategy? This can be difficult but push on whether lots of projects are helpful or if you focused on less, would we make more of an impact. I once was told by a leader that if I fixed one problem instead of working on all the other programs I had on my plate, I would be noticed and regarded in a positive light. Ask questions to find out where the biggest pain is and focus there.
  3. Automate or eliminate. Sometimes, there is just lots of busywork. Ask yourself and others if this has to be done. I can’t tell you how many companies I have gone into and asked why something was being done or done in a certain way only to hear back: “Well, we’ve just always done it that way.” When asked why, no one can provide a real business reason. This is the perfect situation to make a proposal to stop something or automate it with technology, if that is an option.
  4. Say no. Oh boy…for us people pleasers, this one also seems daunting. I can’t possibly say no. That will hurt my promotion chances or Bob, our COO, will never ask me again, or Leslie will never ask me to go lunch if I turn her down. Wrong. Practice with me: “I can’t take that on right now but I could help next month.” Or, “I can’t take that on right now but I could review your thoughts next week if that would help you.” Or, “I can’t go to lunch this week but can we pick another date?” If you feel you need to explain why then explain why. I have a huge deadline to get “x” out the door. Believe me, good leaders and bosses will understand. Good friends will also understand.
  5. Limit meetings. This one is also hard. I suffer from the condition where if I have an open slot in Outlook, I accept the meeting. As adults, we have a right to determine the importance of meeting requests in relation to our work and when we can and cannot accept them. Be critical. Can you really be in meetings from 7 am – 12 pm without a break? I have done it. In fact, I did this two weeks ago. The reality is…no. Don’t do that to yourself. Block even 15-minute slots to give yourself a break.
  6. Shorten meetings. I am moving toward a new rule for myself — to make 30 minutes my default meeting length instead of one hour. If something needs more than 30 minutes, then it can be extended with an agenda and a good reason. Most updates and check-ins can be kept to 30 minutes.
  7. Get a white space. Whatever works for you…a whiteboard, a notepad, Evernote, Notes app on your phone, chalkboard…use an open space to capture your top 3 things of the week and doodle or draft points that will help you achieve that. With most of us being outplaced from an actual office, this may be tough. Some of us have an office at home where we can have this tool hanging on a wall. If not, grab a physical or electronic notepad.

Busy is not what we should strive for all the time. We should trade in our busy badges for productivity and impact badges. Doing less allows us to earn these badges. Figure out your three things. Write them down. If you don’t they will be lost to Stressodomus and you will get pulled into the vortex of “busy”. Do everything you can to not let that happen.

When you want to strike a balance: 5 things to think about

I have been struggling to balance work, family life, aging parents, a child preparing for college next year, exercise, mindfulness, sleep, reading, writing, caring for our garden, volunteering, planning meals and more.

I am not sure why it seems harder in these times. Without a work commute, some of this is actually easier as I have newfound time on my hands but it actually seems harder than ever to fit everything in.

Why is that? I have the freedom to manage my everyday how I see fit. I can choose to stop work and exercise or to continue working late into the evening (not recommended). I can choose to lay on the couch watching bad Lifetime movies (sometimes recommended) or read that book I have been meaning to – Untamed by Glennon Doyle is high on my list at the moment.

I relied on the physical barrier between work and home to help me prioritize my time. I had a real dividing line between work time and personal time because of the commute. With that now gone, it can sometimes be difficult to draw artificial lines around work to allow space for other things that are important to me and make me the whole person I am.

In speaking with others, they feel the same way. When the pandemic started, there were all sorts of jokes and memes about having time on our hands to start that furniture restoration project or traveling to your living room as a mini-vacation. After months and months, I am finding the urge to do more, be more, accomplish more, and still without the time to do it all.

If I fall back on my traditional Time Management training, I would place my to-dos in a 4 quadrant graph to prioritize those things that must be done, that have the greatest impact and do those things first or at your maximum productivity range in your day. So, starting the day answering loads of emails received overnight doesn’t count. Yet, that is what I do. I think it is time to dust off some of that training and start applying what we know works.

#1: Routine

For some, this is a creativity buzz killer. I have a friend who HATES routine. Her whole life was founded on the philosophy that she could go anywhere, do anything and have the freedom of being single to do it. Now, her wings are clipped and she is struggling.

However, having a routine, or rather, a schedule, helps us frame our day and guides us toward doing what we want to accomplish. I start work at 7 am. This is new for me, but with a global team, it is best if I start early. I stop working at 4 pm every day no matter what. There are some exceptions but they are rare. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, I exercise at 4 pm. Tuesday and Thursday, I just hang loose. I read or write. I still have work emails pouring in at 4 pm but I try not to answer them. Setting boundaries is difficult but if we have that power, we should use it.

#2: Downtime

While I am not a huge TV watcher, I do think having downtime to watch movies or shows helps us rest the brain or, at least, focus on something else. By 4 pm, I am brain-fried but that is usually because it has been a productive day. I am very much into crime/true crime. My partner doesn’t get why that genre is my escape. It isn’t soothing but it is interesting. Those who also watch crime shows will understand. It is an escape of sorts because it is about solving the mystery, understanding what is foreign to us, getting some sense of satisfaction when the “bad guy” doesn’t get away with it.

If you love sappy Hallmark movies, watch those. If you are totally into military movies and documentaries, make time for that. If you geek out on sci-fi, awesome. Set time to explore those new worlds.

We spent time remodeling our patio recently and I now spend some evenings out there just watching the birds at our bird feeders or noting the breeze blow through the trees. I highly recommend shifting the brain to something unrelated to you, hence, true crime for me, or on nothing at all, like a breeze or rain.

#3: Hobbies

Where I have always been challenged is that I want to do so many things. I want to read, write a blog, write a book, start a side hustle, feed the hungry, help lonely seniors, etc. On the one hand, I love that I have so many interests. On the other hand, that can become paralyzing. My list is so long that I don’t do anything. Perhaps this sounds familiar to some of you?

The best advice I ever received was to pick one thing. It is easy to get overwhelmed with all that could be, all the things we should be doing. You can “should” yourself to death. Discover what you really want to do and then do that. Focusing on too many things will lead to anxiety, inadequacy and frustration. After you pick one thing, take one step. Don’t analyze what step to start with. I have spent months on something like that. Just take one step. Act. Through action comes clarity. Try something out. As you get more routinized about that one thing, you may be able to take on more. To start with a list of 10 things and figure out how to cram them all into a weekly schedule, will burn you out.

#4: Sleep

For those who may struggle with anxiety, you probably have received lots of advice on how to get a good night’s sleep. Go to bed at the same time. Listen to a podcast or white noise to help you block out other noise. Don’t eat before going to bed. Breathe deeply to relax, and so on.

Here is what I have learned about sleep. It eludes some of us some of the time, and that is okay. I often will analyze why I wasn’t able to sleep, which leads to more anxiety and more sleeplessness. Don’t fall into that trap.

I go to bed every night at the same time for the most part. I wear a headband speaker (highly recommend to avoid the pain from earbuds) that plays wind noise through my phone app called Atmosphere. I find that soothing. If I start to spin or focus on my to-do list, I breathe deeply or open up Insight Timer, a meditation app that has great sleep meditations. If none of this works, then I do the best I can. If I don’t get great sleep one night, I force myself to shrug it off. Oh well. It happens. I will go to bed early tonight. That usually works.

Now, I still struggle from time to time. Sleep is a very difficult objective to reach when you are concerned about it. But, if it eludes you, don’t stress about it. That only adds more stress.

#5: Kindness

While we should be kind to others, we really should be kind to ourselves. I am a huge WIP in this homework assignment. Have grace and kindness for yourself. Most of us are our own worst critics. Choose grace over guilt about something once a week. If you don’t go help the elderly one week, so what? Try again next week. If you don’t cut the cord to work out at 4 pm on Wednesday, it’s okay. There is always Friday to try again. If you grab takeout instead of making that healthy meal you planned, no worries.

This has been one of the hardest things to do…cut myself some slack! When we get down on ourselves, we create our own anxiety. This has taken me a while to figure out. I still fall into that trap but I pull myself out of the trap much quicker than I used to. One day, I won’t fall into the trap in the first place. Until then, I have grace over guilt on this topic every week.

I find that today, more and more of us are battling with stress and anxiety. Some days, we are fine. Some days, we struggle and lose it over something silly like your child not putting their dishes in the dishwasher (for example – smiley face). Some of us are unemployed and struggling. Some of us have an ill family member or a struggling teenager. Life still continues whether we strike a balance or not. So, we need to think about the five things above and cut ourselves a collective break!