The end of the year is always a hectic time. Unfortunately, with so many personal obligations centered around holiday activities, it’s easy to get distracted and let your professional loose ends remain untied. When that happens, you end up starting the new year behind the eight ball, racing to catch up. Who among us hasn’t been there?!
To help you out, I’ve created a simple, easy-to-follow downloadable checklist for end-of-year career activities. This isn’t about checking things off your regular workday to-do list (which is also important, obviously). This is about taking care of those pesky career-related tasks that should be done on a regular basis but are often neglected until an urgent need arises. This is about being proactive—doing small but important things now to help make your life and career easier (and more successful!) in the future.
Download your FREE copy of my End-of-Year Career To Do List Here >>
Is there something you think should be added to the End-of-Year Career To Do List? Post it in a comment below or email me so I can add it to future versions.
As we approach the new year, now is a perfect time for reflecting on the year that was—where you’ve been and where you want to go in the future. This is equally important for your professional life as it is for your personal life, which is why I always recommend doing an end-of-year career review. While I’ve written about this topic in the past, this year, I wanted to make the process even easier for you. So I’ve created a simple, downloadable worksheet to walk you through your end-of-year career review one step at a time.
Download your FREE copy of my End-of-Year Career Review Worksheet Here >>
Why is reflection so important? Here are just a few of the reasons:
1. It helps solidify lessons of the past (so you keep doing what’s working and don’t make the same mistakes in the future).
2. It provides a means of celebration for all the victories you’ve experienced (and helps you identify what made them possible).
3. It helps you organize your thoughts and feelings around where you’ve been so you’re better able to determine where you want to go next.
Is there something you think should be added to the End-of-Year Career Review Worksheet? Post it in a comment below or email me so I can add it to future versions.
In case you missed it, I held my “quarterly” free coaching call earlier today. You can listen to recording using the audio player below or download the MP3 if you’d like. We had well over 100 questions submitted and, while I would have LOVED to answer every single one of them, that would have taken all day. We did manage to get to quite a few though! And don’t worry; there’s another call coming up in the near future.
Here are just a few of the topics we discussed:
- How to prepare for a performance review
- How to mentor and coach people you don’t manage
- How to get a promotion
- How to stay challenged at work (and why it’s absolutely crucial!)
- How to know when it’s time to switch directions career-wise
- AND MORE!!
If you’d like to participate in the next call, please register and submit a question by visiting this page. As usual, if you can’t attend the live session, go ahead and register and submit a question if you have one. You’ll be able to listen to the recorded version at your convenience.
BONUS: You can also listen to previous free calls from the registration page.
Download MP3 >>
Are you ready to elevate your professional skills, achieve your career goals, and experience more satisfaction at work?
If you want to get ahead in today’s workplace, you have to keep your skills razor sharp. The Career Academy gives you the competitive advantage you’ve been looking for. Learn about the Career Academy here >>
Before I jump into the advice portion of this article, please allow me a moment to vent…
I get anywhere from a couple dozen to a hundred or more emails a week from my blog readers. I love it and I read them all, I assure you. I do not, however, answer them all. If you’ve sent me a message and waited breathlessly for a reply that never came, keep reading. I’m going to give you some tough love, followed by some tactical solutions for your problem.
Here’s what happens about 60 to 70% of the time: A reader writes an email that outlines every detail of his or her career situation—pages of text giving me background and side stories and every piece of information I could possibly need to provide the helpful advice this person is seeking.
And then, one of three things happens:
- The person simply stops writing. There’s no request for help. No specific question asked. Nothing.
- The person acknowledges that he or she can’t pay me for my service but would like the help anyway.
- The person asks, “What should I do?” or some version of it.
These are the messages I typically don’t return—not because I don’t care, but because it would be impossible to do so given the volume of work I have on my plate.
But there’s another reason I don’t respond too. You see, I don’t have any desire to help people who can’t first help themselves. (And I believe the vast majority of the world would agree with this sentiment.)
However, it dawned on me this morning that many people might not know exactly how to do that. And that’s okay!! I shouldn’t get annoyed, right? Instead, I should teach people what they need to know about asking for help. And that’s what this article is really about (it’s not just an excuse for me to blow off steam, I promise!).
So here’s what it takes to get the career help you’re looking for, whether from me or anyone else.
1. Be Quick
Everyone in the world has Attention Deficit Disorder these days, so get to your point quickly. Don’t waste the person’s time with endless details before you’ve even determined whether or not he or she is able (and willing) to provide the support you’re after.
Simple trick: Practice defining your problem in three sentences or less. Until you can do that, it’s not the right time to ask for help.
2. Be Specific
Make a direct, specific request. What exactly are you seeking? Don’t be coy. Put it all out there in a straightforward easy-to-understand way.
3. Be Willing To Do Your Part
Let’s be honest: If you’re not willing to invest anything in this, why would anyone else want to? And I’m not just talking about financial investment either. Sure, if you’re approaching a career coach who makes a living providing this service, you should expect a fee. If you aren’t willing to pay, don’t expect a service.
However, even if you’re just asking a trusted friend or advisor for some guidance, you should still demonstrate your personal investment in the process. What are you going to do to make their investment of time and energy worthwhile? Maybe you can offer to treat them to lunch. Maybe you can simply acknowledge the favor by letting them know you’ll owe them one. Or perhaps you just need to assure them that you’ll listen with an open mind and that you’ll take their advice to heart. Often it doesn’t take much to convince someone you’re looking for assistance, not a handout.
What you should NOT do is expect a free ride. You shouldn’t expect to unload on someone, grab their valuable advice and run off into the night without a hint of reciprocation.
4. Keep Expectations In Check
Sometimes I wonder if the people who send me those emails think I’m psychic. For some reason, they expect me to simply give them all the answers to their career problems—and to do so for free over email.
I make it a rule as a coach never to TELL people what to do. Why? Because it’s impossible for ME to know what’s right for YOU—no matter how much information you send in an email. Telling is not coaching.
Don’t trust anyone who professes to have all the answers. A good coach will guide you in finding your own answers. That’s the only way to reach the right conclusion for YOU.
Never ask for help and expect miracles. If you’re looking for an easy, fast solution, grab a dart and throw it at the wall. Use that as your guide. I guarantee the success rate will be the same as if I threw an answer at you over email.
5. Be NICE
There’s no shame in asking for help, but it’s still a request. You’re asking another person to use his or her precious time and energy in service of you. Acknowledge that. Be sincere, polite and humble. And above all else, be nice. A little flattery never hurt anyone. Let the person know why you trust him or her to guide you in this situation.
If you’re requesting help from someone you don’t know, this one is even more important. Explain who you are, how you found this person, and why you’re drawn to them.
I hope this article helps at least a few of my dear readers help themselves. It doesn’t take much to get what you’re after. Follow these tips and I promise, you’ll find the help you’re looking for.
Photo Credit: Patrick Fingle (Flickr)
It pains me to announce that my grand experiment with using electronic time management systems has officially come to an end (sort of). You see, for the past several years, I’ve been using a variety of tech tools to help organize my life and work—appointments, tasks, projects and more. But now, I’m back to paper (sort of).
Don’t worry: I’ll explain what I mean by “sort of” in a bit. In fact, I’m going to give you a complete overview of my brand new time management system. I’m calling this a “reboot” since it’s really an opportunity to start over fresh (which I just love).
But before I get into all that, I want to share what I learned about the pros and cons of electronic time management systems since this is one of the most common questions I receive regarding organization. Hopefully I can help at least a few of my dear readers avoid the struggles I’ve encountered for years now.
Warning: This article is quite long and detailed. It’s intended for those who really love this kind of stuff (like me). If you’re not interested in the pros and cons but you DO want to know more about my newly rebooted organizational system, skip to the last section labeled My New “Hybrid” System.
Safety in the cloud
I moved to electronic systems after I lost my paper planner on an airplane in 2010. It was an absolute nightmare to recreate my appointments and to-do list from memory, and I didn’t do a very good job as you might imagine. That’s when I said, “There’s got to be a better way!” And voila, my electronic adventure began.
It’s absolutely true that electronic systems provide an extra element of safety. Even if you lose your computer (TOTAL NIGHTMARE!), you can still access your online accounts from your iPad, your smartphone, and other computers. And anything stored on your hard drive can be retrieved from backup files (I use Carbonite for those who are interested).
So this is one pro with a pretty powerful benefit. When it comes to paper organizational methods, there’s always a risk of loss. It’s rare that I lose things, but when it’s something this important, it’s pretty devastating. So the safety offered from electronic systems is hard to overlook.
Always at your fingertips
In theory, electronic tools are always in your pocket or just a click away—whether on your phone, tablet, or laptop. This means you should be able to quickly and easily capture information no matter where you are or what you’re doing.
Unfortunately, even for a tech-savvy person like me, this proved to be far less simple than I initially imagined. To access online systems, you have to (duh!) have Internet access. Sadly, that’s not always possible. And even when it is, the wonderful world wide web isn’t always as fast as you’d like it to be when you just want to jot down a quick note.
Plus, I experienced a variety of syncing issues between my devices. Things I had input on my phone wouldn’t show up on my computer and vice versa. I’d spend hours troubleshooting, and with many of these problems, I never found solutions.
Some online task and project management systems are more up to speed on this kind of thing and have apps for your phone to make capturing information easy even when you’re offline. They then sync up with the online system when you have Internet access again. Others are installed directly on your computer as software and are ONLY available from that one device.
I’m sure there are many great systems that work seamlessly together, sync immediately and perfectly every time, and have tons of tools to integrate with multiple devices. My point in sharing this with you is to simply illustrate the importance of doing your research ahead of time. Know which devices you’re going to use, how you like to use them, and what you’re going to use them for and make sure the time management tech tools you select are designed to play nicely.
Electronic time management tools come in all shapes and sizes, from super simple to massively complex. Most offer a variety of features you can use or not use as you see fit. What that means is that you have the ability to create a specific, customized and sophisticated system for yourself. Depending on the tool you choose, you can use color codes, set priority levels, track progress, establish deadlines and even ask your system to remind you (via text or email or pop-up usually) of appointments or to-do items or anything else you so desire. If you’re willing to invest the time and go through the process of really defining your system, the right technology can provide almost any organizational feature you can dream of.
For me, one of the biggest frustrations with electronic systems is that jotting down a quick note on a tech tool will never be as fast as grabbing a piece of paper and writing. Even if it’s just a click or two away, it still requires a different kind of thinking. If I’m in the zone working on something (as I am now, in a Word document) and I’m suddenly reminded of a task I need to add to my to-do list, I’d have to click out of my current application, click into my task management system, determine the right place to log this item, perhaps complete some other unnecessary parameters (like due date, etc.) and then click back over to my Word document. Compare that to my new system—a running paper list in my planner (more on that later). I can grab a pen, jot my to-do item down, and keep going with my current task.
To circumvent this problem in the past (when I was using electronic tools), I collected post-it notes throughout the day and then went into my task management system at the end of the day to log all the items at once. While this worked for a while, it really just added an extra step and extra clutter. Plus, too often I got distracted and ended up with piles of post-it notes that hadn’t been entered.
Learning a new system
Any electronic system is going to have a learning curve. It takes time to train yourself on something new, no matter how simple or “intuitive” it may be. Plus, you have to learn how to make the system work for your needs. Some of the features won’t apply to you while others will sound good in theory but in practice you’ll find them to be overkill. So you need a good 30 days of use to figure it out and really get in a flow with it. Only at that point will you be able to determine for certain if it’s something that really suits your needs or whether you should try a different system (at which point, you start all over). I went through this at least four or five times in the span of just a few years. I tried Omnifocus, Basecamp, Remember the Milk, Google Tasks, Evernote, and even a good old-fashioned Excel spreadsheet.
Talk about wasting time to manage time!!
I don’t know about you, but I get a little sick of technology. Sometimes, I just want to disconnect. It’s so easy to say, “I’m just gonna jump into my calendar really quick and update a few things,” and the next thing you know, you’re watching cat videos on YouTube.
Personally, I like paper. I like colorful pens. I like pretty organizers and stickers and notepads. Online systems just don’t have the same visual appeal. For me, I’m motivated to use something when I like looking at it. And no system will work if you don’t use it. In my opinion, even the electronic systems that are really well designed don’t compare to a pretty, well-organized paper planner. (For those who are interested, I think Basecamp is the best visually speaking, though still a distant second to paper).
Sometimes it’s TOO much
Look, my needs (and the needs of most people) are pretty basic. I need a place to put my appointments so I don’t miss them and a place to capture and track things I have to do. All the other stuff is gravy on top, but not really necessary. If I stay reasonably on top of things (by utilizing a few of the tools listed below), I don’t need all that other mumbo jumbo offered in electronic systems. In reality, those systems just inspire procrastination—they give me more opportunities to fiddle around with my organizational systems rather than actually get things done. The key to a good system for me is simplicity, and electronic tools are always more complicated than paper.
My New “Hybrid” System
So here’s where I’ve landed on all this: I’m now using a hybrid model that is mainly paper with a few electronic elements thrown in for good measure. To make this easy, I’ll just outline the key characteristics of my new system as simply as possible below:
I’m using a paper planner again (hooray!). It’s a Franklin Covey binder with the following elements:
- Month-at-a-glance calendar sheets (on 2 pages). This is where I mark travel and other significant events throughout the month. I don’t bother with daily appointments here.
- 2-page-per-day sheets. This is where I put appointments and to-do items for each day. This is also where I track my various daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly “trackable” activities, which I mark with colorful smiley face stickers when they’re done (totally motivating even though it feels like I’m a first grader). These items are currently:
- Working out
- Completing my morning routine
- Completing my weekly review
- Career Academy maintenance
- Various other private personal and professional activities
Why I love the paper planner approach:
Everything is in one place. If there’s ever an opportunity to jot something down on a post-it, I can stick it to a page inside the book and know it’s safe. I have plenty of space for notes each day. The colors are fun, the pages are pretty and it’s so, so nice to just flip from page to page (even when I’m away far away from my computer and other tech devices) and see what’s going on and coming up (as well as what’s passed if I’m interested).
I also use a separate paper notebook for project notes. I consider a project anything that has multiple to-do items. Basically, it’s something that I wouldn’t put on my daily to-do list because it’s too big to complete all at once. These items have to be broken up into pieces and then those pieces can be distributed onto appropriate daily lists. This separate notebook is where I brainstorm and organize and ensure that these projects aren’t forgotten. I’ve created specific project goals for the next 6 months as well as the next year to help keep this focused. Anything that’s not a part of those goals gets put at the very back of this notebook for safekeeping and future reference.
The morning routine and weekly review mentioned in the “trackable activities” above are two critical elements that make this system work. These are the times when I get a bird’s eye view of what’s going on and what’s coming up so I know I’m staying on top of everything. This is when tasks and priorities are established, shifted, etc. If something wasn’t completed yesterday, I highlight it, and transfer it to today’s list (or somewhere else). If something new has come up, I add it to the appropriate list on the appropriate day. A variety of things take place during the morning routine and weekly review process (I have a checklist for each to make sure I don’t forget anything). If you want to hear more about this, leave a comment and I’ll make a note to write a blog post on it in the future.
Because I’ve had the experience of losing my paper planner in the past, I’m not taking any chances. I use Google Calendar as a back up for all my important dates, travel, appointments, etc. Yes, it’s an extra step but it’s fast and the peace of mind it offers is invaluable. Plus, if something is absolutely critically important and I’m afraid of forgetting it, I can add an email reminder. (I try not to do this too often as I got a little obsessed with it in the past and found the emails stacking up quickly, which defeats the purpose.)
Electronic Contact Info
I use Gmail and my phone for managing contact information including email addresses, phone numbers and physical/mailing addresses. I also have a Word document that includes emergency contact information (i.e., parents, travel companies, credit card companies, etc.) in case I ever lose my phone, computer and/or wallet. I keep a copy of this in my online Dropbox and a physical printed copy in my planner.
So that’s my new system. You can see that I haven’t completely abandoned technology, but I certainly am not looking for it to be the end-all-be-all solution. Paper helps me simplify. In my opinion, it just feels easier and more natural for daily task and appointment management.
I keep my planner open on my desk throughout the day and keep it with me as much as possible when I’m away from my desk. Like anything, you have to really use it to make it work.
I encourage you to take a look at your own organizational systems and see if they need a reboot. I didn’t do it until I was feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. Now that I’ve got this new system in place, I feel better and I’m getting more done. Don’t wait until you’ve reached a breaking point. Start today and enjoy the benefits now.
Photo Credit: Heudu (Flickr)