With the summer holiday season coming to an end, five experts share their tips to help you get your career back on track and find fulfilment at work
The summer holiday season is coming to an end and, for many of us, that September ‘back to school’ feeling is already encroaching.
Saying goodbye to the sun, sea and freedom not to look at your emails can often feel like the end of the world. There’s nothing like a dose of the post-holiday blues to make you wish you’d chucked it all in and opened a yoga school on a Greek island.
It doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom, though. We’ve spoken to five experts and asked for their top tips on finding career fulfillment in the face of the British autumn.
Avoid having food and drink at meetings – they’re not social occasions
Octavius Black is CEO of Mind Gym and co-author of The Mind Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently
Match work to your natural rhythms. Try to coordinate challenging tasks with the times you are likely to be at your best. If you’re a morning person, for example, don’t start by going through your emails. Instead, tackle that big thought piece and leave the emails for when you’re in a slump. If you have a regular meeting that’s always a bit flat, hold it at a different time of day. If your boss seems on their best form in the afternoon, approach them with your ideas then.
Rethink meetings. We attend too many meetings. Before you agree to a meeting, ask what the purpose is and what the organiser needs from you. Meetings should be for decision-making and discussion rather than sharing of information, so if everyone prepares properly you should be able to limit them to 15 minutes. Stay standing (to keep alert) and avoid having food or drinks, which turn meetings into social occasions more likely to drag on.
Edit every email, cutting its length by at least 50 per cent. Writing a shorter email means that the receiver is more likely to read it, make a quick decision, and write a shorter reply, which in turn saves you time. But what you write is also important. More often than not, we write what we want to say rather than what will get people to think, feel and do the things we want them to. Stick to the facts, keep things simple and, if there’s a request, make it clear.
Get cut-throat. Your top resource at work is your time, so work out who and what you need to spend yours on in order to achieve your goals. At the beginning of each week, decide on three things you want to achieve by Friday, as well as a few people you want to have spent some time with. If you hold steady to your plan, you’ll stand a much better chance of achieving at least some of it.
Step away from the smartphone. If you’re angry or upset at work, do not make any calls or write any emails, at all, to anyone. An emotional email or call will only cause you more repair work further down the line when you have to apologise or rebuild a broken relationship. Leave the work environment, do something you enjoy for an hour, and wait until you are totally calm before acting. If you can, leave things overnight. If you have to respond there and then, keep things factual. Report only on what you’ve seen and own your emotions.
Consider the things you love about your job, then ask your boss if you can do more of them
Kerry Hannon is a columnist for The New York Times and author of Love Your Job: the New Rules for Career Happiness
Take the power. Think of yourself as an entrepreneur and run your career like a one-person business. Think about your brand, recognise who your customers and bosses are, and be clear about what they pay you for. Keep up to date with trends in your industry, look for new ways to add value, and keep expanding the range of ‘products’ you sell by signing up for professional development programmes, or volunteering for projects that will bolster your skill set.
Learn how to play nicely. No one wins when there’s friction in the workplace, so make an effort to get along with all your co-workers. This might mean congratulating a colleague on a job well done, or you could find something you can all share outside work – a company sports team, choir or exercise group, perhaps. Finally, laugh more. A recent Gallup poll found that people who smile and laugh at work are more engaged in their jobs.
Focus on what you like and ramp it up. Consider the things you love about your job, then ask your boss if you can do more of them. Try not to be nervous about asking; your boss usually wants you to succeed, especially if it will make him or her look good, too. Each day, write down three things you’re grateful for. Gratitude for the good parts of your job will give you the strength to ride out the difficult parts.
Transform your workspace. Decluttering is liberating, empowering and a physical way to make decisions about your life. You’re saying, “This is valuable, this is not.” Next, find a positive image to inspire you and help you cope. Close your eyes and visualise it, or tape a version of it to your office wall. Directing your attention away from your work opens up a door in your day for respite, a restart, and a new view.
Mentor someone. As well as infusing your job with a sense of purpose, mentoring can help you get excited again about what you do and boost flagging confidence. Keep in mind that mentoring is a two-way street – a younger person has plenty to teach you, too. Some businesses have formal mentoring programmes, so check with your HR department. If they don’t, keep your ear to the ground about new starters who might need help, or see if you can make connections elsewhere in your industry.
Consider what makes you feel on top, then focus your energy on getting those things right
Anna Rasmussen is a leadership coach and founder of Open Blend Method, a business app that works to keep key talent in the workplace
Don’t balance work and life, blend them. Draw a circle and break it into eight segments. Now imagine that everything is running smoothly in your life. Populate each segment with an element that contributes to this feeling – your children, exercise, progression at work, for example. Score each from zero to 10 on your level of fulfilment, then decide what you would like your score to be. Now think about what you need to focus on to get there.
Prioritise your state of wellbeing. Wellbeing is the backbone of productivity at work and in your home life. It relates to your happiness, stress levels, confidence, and sense of security, and is closely linked to your personal work-life blend. Once you have identified the things that contribute to your optimum state of wellbeing (using the exercise above), make them a real priority. It will be worth it in the long run.
Find your own blend. We each have a certain amount of energy that we can devote to things, but we waste a lot of it comparing ourselves to others who seem (on the outside) to be managing it all. Everyone has a different job, kids with different temperaments, varying degrees of supportive partner. Consider what makes you feel on top of your world, then focus your energy on getting those things right.
Foresight is a game changer. We all have niggles: perhaps your manager doesn’t understand how committed you are to progression since you’ve returned from maternity leave, or your partner is letting you deal with more and more at home… but we choose to ignore them because we have other things going on. Don’t. Talking with a like-minded person is a great way to acknowledge your problems and come up with options to address them.
Embrace our culture shift: it’s 2015. The world is a very different place from our parents’ generation. You and your partner are and will be building your world together, so make sure you really are doing it together. Constantly communicate to ensure that your partner understands how he or she can support you in achieving your blend, and if a big challenge occurs in your family, discuss how you can work collaboratively. Try as hard as you can to see things from one another’s point of view.
Focus on making whatever you’re working on real from the get-go
David Heinemeier Hansson is founder of project- management tool Basecamp, and co-author of ‘ ReWork: Change the Way You Work Forever
Work less. Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. If all you do is work, you’re unlikely to make sound judgements. No one makes sharp decisions when tired. Forty hours is an astonishingly apt ceiling for sustainable productivity. Stop trying to raise it, and instead start thinking about how to make each hour count for more. It’s the constraint of time that provides the creative context for clever solutions. Embrace constraints.
Make the call now. When you put off decisions, they pile up. Piles of guilt and wasted worry. Whenever you can, swap “Let’s think about it” for “Let’s decide on it”. Commit to making decisions. Don’t wait for the perfect solution. It’s the rarest of decisions that can’t later be improved upon, or even reversed. Most things you thought were worthy of additional deliberation turn out not to matter in the least. But moving forward always will.
Say no with gusto. Nobody is going to protect your time and your productivity for you. That’s all on you. But every meeting you really didn’t need to be a part of, every email thread you don’t have a great input on, and every other demand on your time adds up to a big deal very quickly indeed. Make “no” your default, and your rare “yes” will not only be respected, but coveted, and you’ll actually have time to make progress on your stuff.
Something is everything. Focus on making whatever you’re working on real from the get-go. Yes, it’s a rickety mock-up that only works when you hold it at a 30-degree angle against the sun, but it’s something! Something is everything when it comes to making progress. Simply discussing concepts in the abstract leads to illusions of agreement. It’s easy to think that you’re all on the same page when you’re just talking, but if the page only exists inside everyone’s heads, you’re probably not.
Be a quitter. Most stories of glory are about people persevering against all odds and at all cost. Those make for great stories, but often terrible business. The right move when faced with unexpected adversity is indeed sometimes to give up, retreat, and live to fight another four-hour meeting on Monday. It might not be glorious, but in real life bad odds usually – surprise, surprise – turn out badly. Save your bet for a hand worth holding.
Be honest with yourself about what really motivates you and then focus on it with everything you have
Corinne Mills is MD of Personal Career Management and author of ‘ Career Coach ’
Understand your career personality. Look back at your career and think about times when you have felt most energised and useful. When you look closely at the skills you were using, the environment and the relationships, there are likely to be some common themes between the times you enjoyed and those you didn’t. These common themes are often good predictors of what is going to work best for you in the future.
Get motivated. There are usually a number of options that could help bring about the career improvement you are after. Some will be easier for you to achieve than others, but whatever you choose, you have to genuinely be motivated to do it, otherwise it’s likely to fail. Potential new employers will easily spot if your heart’s not really in it. Be honest with yourself about what really motivates you and then focus on it with everything you have.
Talk to people. A career coach can be a great help but friends, family members, business and social connections can also be a great source of advice, feedback and information when you are thinking of changing career. Family and friends will also be able to help you work out if the change you are planning will actually suit you, as well as supporting you through setbacks and celebrating your successes.
Make a career action plan. Set goals and timelines, identify the resources you will need, monitor your progress and share your plan with others to make yourself accountable. Career change doesn’t happen overnight but a plan will help keep you on course. Your time management is also going to have to go up a gear. You are going to have to find time in your busy schedule to make it happen. When people get the kinds of careers they want it isn’t just “lucky”, they’ve made it happen.
Take calculated risks. Research the job market and talk to a recruitment agency to get example job descriptions, find out what employers are looking for and what they are paying. Most importantly, talk to people who currently work in those roles. Making any career change is a risk, but then staying in a job where you’re not happy carries its own risks. If you feel as though it’s the right decision for you and it seems to be achievable, go for it.
This article was written by Lucinda Everett from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.