When I was teaching business students career management and professional development at Drexel University, a 1-credit course that they were required to pass in order to graduate, there were questions as to the relevance of the class by certain students who had jobs already or planned to start their own businesses. They were not just learning how to land a job, however. The course also taught emotional intelligence, how to brand themselves as professionals, how to collaborate with a multi-generational workforce, and how to make professional development a habit so that they can continue to grow and expand in their career.
I understood that they had heavy workloads; Drexel’s 10-week all-year-round terms were very demanding. Many of them were in co-ops and Division 1 sports. I’m not sure how I would have done with a schedule like that, in spite of the fact that I worked multiple jobs and played rugby during college.
But what they don’t see from their vantage point is how many people enter the workforce, get on the wheel, and go wherever it takes them, and then look up one day wondering how they got there, and wondering if it’s too late to take control, change courses, and wind up somewhere better without sacrificing the quality of life that their current job supports.
There was tremendous value to that course, but the biggest value these students received was the habit of making time for professional development. Even when a company offers professional development, it’s often steered by them, and limited to what that company can offer in terms of growth.
The people in their 30s and 40s who have achieved executive status have gotten there by being thoughtful and intentional about their next steps.
So what are the best habits to accelerate your professional development?
One of my previous coaches, Bill Walsh, advised me to make a list every night of the 10 things that I can do the next morning that would take me the farthest the fastest and to aim to get them done before 10 AM, and then take the rest of the day off if I want, or take meetings the rest of the day. He called it the “10 before 10.” The idea of being done at 10 AM sounded great, and I tried it. I tried getting up at 6 AM every morning. I was not very with it. I didn’t get into a groove until 7. I couldn’t get my list done by 10, because I had to get my kids to preschool from 8:30 to 9:15, and I found I needed a nap by 2. I couldn’t take a nap, because I had my kids home then. I had very little energy to do anything with them.
I tried it for 30 days. It just didn’t work for me. Besides the fact that I am a late night person by nature, being a mom was not compatible with that schedule. I would rather work while the kids are at school.
Other coaches, such as Tim Ferriss and Lisa Nichols have said, “Just focus on 1-3 things.” I believe the distinction is to do 3 strategic things in the midst of all the tactical things you have to do. In a Facebook group I run with Kareen Walsh, we just focus on one big strategic action each week. I call these massive action items. They are sometimes a bit out of your comfort zone, but stand to propel you quickly from where you are to where you want to be.
Personally, I think you have to try different systems out and see what works best, but you also have to give it 30 days – a good 30 days. Whatever new system you try, it will take time to adjust your life with your new rhythm.
Which system you try really depends on your needs and your goals. How fast do you want to grow? In what direction? What are the other demands on your time?
If you’re working full-time and not actively searching for something new, choosing one massive action item to accomplish each week, along with all the supporting things that need to be done, like research, follow-up, and networking, is a good habit to start. You can use Monday to evaluate your goal, prioritize, and get organized. You can use Tuesday to do whatever research is needed, Wednesday to take massive action, Thursday to add value/follow up/send thank yous, and Friday to celebrate. Perhaps your massive action will be setting up a meeting with a different department, writing and submitting an article to an industry publication, or volunteering to speak for a professional organization.
If you are in full-time transition, aim to do the 5 categories of categories outlined above every day: Admin, Research, Massive Action, Network Nurturing and Self Care/Celebration. You could also accomplish 5 administrative tasks Monday, research 5 target companies/employers Tuesday, complete massive action items Wednesday, help 5 people in your network Thursday, and then treat yourself for a week of smart work (notice I didn’t say hard.)
If you’re working full time and actively searching, 3 massive action items to accomplish each week is a good goal, and keep in mind that applying online to a job is not a massive action, and you should not expect a massive response. Massive action is reaching out to a hiring manager directly with a well-crafted, customized, enticing introduction letter, or inspiring someone in your network to be an internal sponsor for an open opportunity. Massive action could be attending a networking event, and preparing by evaluating the attendee or speaker lists and doing some homework so that you know who you will try to speak with and what to say.
If you’re bootstrapping a business, you’re not quite at a place yet where you can delegate everything; certain things just have to get done and they have to get done by you and your skeleton crew, if you have one. You may need to try the 10 before 10, or 10 before noon if you find early mornings aren’t your best time to make things happen. And then you may not be able to take the rest of the day off, but you will have taken the time to focus on developing your business, not just running your business.
Whichever system you try for 30 days, the point is to start now taking the time to focus on how you want to move forward and make it a habit. I also advise that you rate your momentum regularly so that you can be more aware of when adjustments need to be made.
If the system is working, you will feel that momentum is in your favor by the middle of the 3rd week. You’ll probably rate it a 7 or higher on a 10 scale. That’s when you will be taking more meetings and/or having more interviews. Continue to maintain your habit, regardless of how great the momentum is. You may choose to scale it back so that you can handle the bandwidth, but continue it at some level.
Remember, too, that if you struggle with forming habits, hypnotherapy is a very powerful tool that can shift the habit from a push to a pull, accelerating how fast you can expect to gain the benefits of your new habit. You can schedule a free consultation here.
Also, if you have found yourself finally looking ahead, wondering how you got here and where the best place to go is from here, get Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days.
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Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a corporate consulting and career management firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play.
While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales.
Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer and Certified Career Transition Consultant and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot.
She was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business and recently instructed for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy at Cabrini College, where her students won the national competition and were named America’s Top Young Entrepreneurs.