It looks like my last/first career-oriented post was received fairly well, so I’m going to try and keep things going, especially when we’re in a bit of a travel lull – it’s time to save some vacation time and miles/money for the holidays. I want to keep this broad before narrowing on specific fields, industries or professions. Professionally, I am fairly young for my level, which does draw some questions here and there about any advice I’d give. Unless it’s someone I know fairly well, whose work that I’ve seen or supervised, I stick to one high level guideline that also happens to be the biggest rule that I’ve set and at times struggle to adhere to. No, it’s not about ending sentences in prepositions.
If nothing else, always follow through on your commitments
This seems obvious, but at least for me, it’s really hard to do without a concerted effort. As a young professional, you’ve probably been there – you hear of a cool idea and you rush to volunteer to help. Or even worse, you’re sitting in a meeting and get voluntold to help. On its own, no big deal, you go back to your desk, think, do, and deliver. But like many processes in the wild, this one has trouble scaling up. A day full of meetings equals a to-do pile of new tasks, maybe even some that you didn’t write down. What will set you apart from many of your peers is your ability to follow through on those commitments. Simply put, things fall through the white collar cracks early and often – and it happens to most people. Thankfully, as long as you have not outkicked your coverage and taken on something that you’re not capable of solving (and can’t draw in the resources to learn and help), staying organized will lead to follow through.
Write it down
Yes, I have to tell you to do that. Write it down. Show up to your meetings with a notepad and a pen. Again, yes, I need to tell you to do that. You would be shocked as to what does not get written down, who doesn’t write in a meeting and who doesn’t show up with a pen at all. If you’ve been invited to the meeting, chances are, it’s with a role in mind – and figuring it out is easy.
- You’re directly or indirectly subordinate to the organizer: Take notes, you’re going to get something to do.
- You’re a peer of the organizer: Take notes, consultation and possibly follow through from your area is needed.
- You’re senior to the organizer: Congratulations, you may be present just to listen and observe. I bet you’ll observe who’s writing and who isn’t.
So odds are, you need to write it down. As soon as you can, write some additional bullets on your initial thoughts, what the deliverable is going to be and the deadline. If no deadline was communicated, find out! Whether anyone told you or not, whether you follow through will be measured on others’ expectations. So make sure those expectations are known to you. As an aside, people quite often communicate poorly, so don’t assume a deadline or assume you can make one up. Whether it’s said or not, you bet the person expecting something from you has a date in mind.
If it came in via email, congratulations, it’s already written. Now don’t lose track of the email and make sure to clarify expectations accordingly.
Manage your availability
The more junior you are, the more you assume your boss knows what’s on your plate and is managing that for you. Nothing could be farther from the truth, especially if you work for me. It’s not that I don’t know what people are doing or how much they have, it’s that I ask people to self-manage their workload and talk to me when we start hitting capacity. I am happy to help manage workload and set or clarify priorities, even to talk to other managers to set expectations on what can and cannot be done, but I need to know. Chances are, so does your manager, so speak up if the workload is approaching capacity – key word “approaching” as it’s better to have that conversation below the water line than above it.
If you work for a micromanager, these things are probably already squared away for you. That style doesn’t work for me so I really can’t speak to it.
Your schedule needs to include time for “doing”
Meetings and talking about ideas are great, but while it might take an hour to develop a task, it will take many more to actually complete it. If you pack your schedule with meetings to talk about ideas, which I admit are way more fun, you’ll paradoxically have taken on a lot more work and also eliminated any time to actually do it (unless you routinely work evenings like I’ve unfortunately been doing a lot of lately). This relates to the item above, where communication with your manager is key. Remember that in most fields, estimating your work is more art than science, so if you plan for razor thin margins, plan to put in some additional hours too.
Finally, don’t be that guy (or gal)
Some of you probably already know what I’m going to say, but just don’t be that person who shows up, gets fired up about an idea, throws up a Powerpoint and then never follows through. It’s really common in more junior professionals, not for any issues with bad intent, but from a general desire to get exposure. The pattern in “that guy” is someone who’s always at the foundational meetings that involve new ideas, will get involved with the “planning” steps, create some nice presentations, then step out when it’s time to get any actual work done – moving on to the next big thing. That works for a while, but at some point, the lack of commitment to seeing things through will cause that individual’s calendar to show a lot more availability. You might even think it’s the privilege of managers to take this tact, but quite honestly, the best managers I’ve worked with spend a lot of time “doing” too and don’t appreciate the get-my-exposure-and-move-on pattern of behavior.
But this is all just your opinion!
Also true. Culture varies by industry, profession and firm, and there is no one size fits all approach. Plus, it’s free advice, free to read and free to ignore. But I’d bet that what I’ve outlined above will help you look good no matter where you are. I’ll certainly spend some time in the future writing about the career risks I’ve taken – the ones that worked and the ones that didn’t. But consider this foundational, especially if you’re just entering the workforce. You simply cannot go wrong by following through on your commitments. Oh, and by the way, this works outside of the office too – long work weeks happen, but don’t forget about the people that matter to you, either.