The premise of this blog and most of my advice is that you actually care about your own personal outcomes enough to determine goals and take action. You want to be building your career, personal life, and/or financial position over time to the point where you are able to do the things you want in life with relative autonomy. That you aren’t “owned” by someone else.
If this is you, I want you to think on a regular basis about what you’re doing day to day, week to week and whether it’s moving YOUR agenda forward. Take control.
At least two different types of “distractions” seem to swamp many of us.
Expectations: The first is the obvious one (I think). Someone else places expectations on you. It’s easy to get blindly sucked into other’s goals, whether it’s your boss, an organization or someone else. When others lay out goals for us, embed them in performance reviews and annual plan powerpoint presentations, they can seem monolithic. 8% growth this year becomes all consuming.
Believe me, I’ve lived this. When your business has a material impact on higher level executives’ goal attainment (and more importantly compensation and “promotability”) then there isn’t quarterly pressure…it’s daily.
“Busy-ness”: The other, more subtle, distracter is self-imposed. You make yourself too busy to do the important things. There are a lot of root causes:
- Uncertainty – It may be because you don’t know what you want and it’s easier to sink into tons of work.
- Fear – Maybe you like having a dream and don’t want to contaminate it by working on it and discovering it’s not all that awesome.
- Delusion – Your self image is driven by being important. Busy-ness is a sign of your irreplaceability, or at least it seems like it.
Whatever it is keeping you from moving in the right direction, identify it and put a plan in place to address it. Think “what do I need to put in place to be intentional with my time and energy?”
1 – Remember that you control your time, attention and spirit.
Even early in your career, you can focus on getting good at your day job and enabling time for your “night job”. This is the time spent networking, working on special projects for others, generally going above and beyond to build a knowledge, experience and social base.
Very few bosses will tell you to work less. They just won’t. Even if they care about you, we all have our own goals and if you’re on my team, you are part of us reaching the collective (read “my”) goals. If you want to do well it’s important to have your boss’ support, so understanding their goals is central to your success.
If you forget to keep your goals in mind, you leave yourself open for exploitation.
2 – Take control of what you can.
I’m not naïve and I’ve worked dog hours (and still do at times). You need to do what you need to do much of the time. But you may be surprised at what you can control (or at least influence) if you know what’s important.
Here’s a trivial example. Think “life balance”. Back when I worked for a large consulting firm, there was pressure to be billable and sacrifice a lot to client needs. The reality was that much of the time this really meant “we forgot to plan and so need you to blow up your personal plans”. The client often didn’t care if we were gone, but the engagement manager did. It made then feel better to keep us available, a security blanket of sorts.
So how do you schedule vacation? You put it on the calendar way in advance, got an email trail with a partner copied approving it and made your reservations non-refundable. If you did this, you had a 90%+ chance of actually getting your vacation honored. If you didn’t and then wavered when pushed, well…let’s just say you weren’t getting on the plane you wanted to be on. If it was REALLY important, the partner would usually buy you out of your trip and make it worth your while. If it wasn’t, they let it pass.
That’s a small example of what I mean. The influence you exert can be subtle, but you need to know what you are trying to defend. So if things are out of kilter for you on some dimension (hours, goals, expectations, opportunities etc.), work to think through a path to get back on personal track.
3 – Think win/win, but if it’s not win/win – make sure you’re not getting hosed.
Much of the time, your goals and your boss’ will be synonymous. I won’t delve into it here because it’s pretty straightforward. For example, if you want to get promoted, being fully committed to hitting the numbers for your/their business is obviously important.
But if your goals aren’t the same, don’t sit idly by and get played. If you know what your goals are, you have a much better chance of staying on track and having boundaries.
I was just talking to a friend who took a new job because of the work, but also the supposedly more manageable hours. Well, it turns out the hours aren’t as good as promised. They just had to have a “come to Jesus” type conversation with management and essentially say, “you get ~50 hrs a week of my time and I don’t think you’re using it well right now.” Good for you. You have to know your boundaries.
I think it’s surprising to people the extent to which confident/competently laid out boundaries can work and help clarify expectations.
4 – Never forget performance matters.
I talk a lot about things like networking, figuring out what you want etc. But people who kill it get more opportunities than those who are “ok”. “Ok” people often keep good jobs, but they don’t get the accommodations, stretch assignments and other considerations or opportunities that go to stars.
Not just being good, but being widely perceived as good matters a lot.
5 – Don’t be a victim.
If things are still out of whack after trying to fix them responsibly over time, maybe it’s time to cut bait. Know when to move on to another department, boss or organization.
Branch Rickey, famed baseball executive used to say “Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late.” I flip it to “better to leave a little early than wait too long.” If you wait to long, your performance and reputation may suffer. If you’re checked out on the job, it’s better to actually check out before banking a crappy performance.
6 – Caveats.
Please DO NOT take this as overly self-involved and urging you to do whatever you need to do to achieve your goals. That IS NOT my point!
Rather, understand where you are trying to go and whether you are in a place that you can accomplish what you have in mind. Many of you are. For you it’s a matter of influencing and not losing sight of that destination. If you are way off track you may need to consider bigger changes, internally or externally.
So think it through. Whose agenda are you advancing? If it’s not yours, think about it.