Taking charge of your career direction
I was on the phone last week with an individual who asked this question: “I’m at a pivotal point in my career. Do I take a technical path or do I begin to move toward a management role?”
Great question! I’ve given this a lot of thought since that conversation. I applaud anyone who actually takes time to step back and think strategically about where they want to go in the future. I would estimate that about 5% of the population moves deliberately through their career – and the rest of you just take whatever comes your way. I will also assert that those who proactively define their professional direction
are much happier at work.
First, you have to figure out what you like and don’t like about where you are today. I’m not talking about the company or your boss; rather the characteristics of your role, how you spend your day, your tasks and activities. Here is an exercise you can do to help you make some decisions.
1. Track your daily activity. Write down how you spend your day. Separate your activities into a task list – briefly describe what you are doing so you can recall it later.
2. Grade your tasks. At the end of every day give each line item on your list a rating – 1 to 5 stars. 1 star is an activity that today you didn’t like and it didn’t make you happy. 5 stars are activities that you really enjoyed today, this made you happy and you wish that you could have spent the whole day doing it.
3. Keep it up for 4 consecutive weeks. It’s important to continue this log for 4 consecutive weeks. There are so many outside influences that affect how you feel at work and about the tasks you do. You might give a task 2 stars on Thursday because your energy level is low, or you got up late for work. On Monday you give it 3 or 4 stars because your football team won yesterday. It’s important to grade each line item with how it made you feel TODAY.
4. Compile your data. After you’ve gathered 4 consecutive weeks of data it’s time to bring it all together. Build yourself a grid – 2 columns titled “tactical” and “strategic”. List the activities from your daily lists – but only list each activity once. Then, record your stars for each line item identifying them as a tactical or strategic. A tactical activity is a task-based activity (filing, updating the customer database, writing a status report, attending a recurring team meeting) and a strategic activity is a thought-based or creative activity (forecasting sales for the next month, attending a planning meeting for the next product release, trying to solve a quality issue with the latest release of a product, working on your marketing plan for next year).
5. Analyze it. At a high level, simply add up your stars for each column. Is tactical work where you get satisfaction? Does strategic work far outweigh the other column? Look at this information in other ways as well. If you group your line items by placing similar types of activities together does that provide you with some additional clarity?
I went through this process in my career a few years back. I was in a very nice role in a good company, I liked my manager and the people I worked with, but I wasn’t happy. By working through this process I was able to pinpoint exactly what was wrong. I set out to find a position that would satisfy my personal needs, and support my personal values. NOW, I can’t wait to get to work in the morning – even on Monday! For those of you who know me, I believe you’ll agree J
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