When you’re looking to advance your career and grow professionally, the number of classes out there can be overwhelming. And, you don’t really need a class. Being great at your career starts off with being a highly motivated, thoughtful, and hard-working person. You can become that and work towards greater career success by learning how to manage your time, communicate well, think critically, be adaptable, and motivate yourself.
Time Management Skills
Some of the most coveted skills for career success are time management skills. No matter your industry, your position, or what job you want to advance to in your career, time management skills will serve you in your goals.
Effective time management skills mean you have the ability to assess your workload, choose priorities, delegate tasks, and focus on getting the most important things done. If you’re looking to improve your time management skills, work on these two subsets of time management to be better at prioritization and focusing.
Prioritization and Task Management
When most of us hear the term time management, we think about multitasking, working through lunch, and sending off that last email late at night. But, time management is actually about prioritization and task management.
The first step in prioritizing your tasks is writing them all down on a master to-do list. Once those tasks are written down, you can work on prioritizing which tasks are the most important and then batching similar tasks.
Batching tasks is an important part of task management. When you batch similar tasks and do them at the same time, you spend less time task switching. Your brain is smarter and more efficient when working on similar tasks.
As you’re prioritizing the most important tasks to get done, here’s what to consider:
- Task due dates
- Who might be waiting on you to complete this task and if that will create a bottleneck for a larger task
- Whether or not a large task should be broken down into smaller tasks to be worked on over time
- What information you need from others in order to be able to complete your tasks
Prioritization and batching tasks can make you an expert task manager which will make you an efficient worker.
Time Block for Focused Tasks
A great way to manage your time is to time block. Time blocking means you set a time constraint for completing a task. By giving yourself a time constraint, you can improve focus and become more efficient.
A great tool for time blocking is a Pomodoro timer. You can do the Pomodoro Method using any timer or download a plug-in for your browser. The Pomodoro Method dictates that you focus for a short amount of time then take a short break. After multiple focus sessions, you take a longer break. Traditionally the focus timer is set for 25 minutes with a 5-minute break, but you can adjust these blocks as necessary. Set a goal for how quickly you want to complete your to do item and then track it by the number of Poms you complete.
Creating time block goals and using the Pomodoro Method makes it easier for you to focus and improve your time management skills.
No matter what job you do or position you have, you need to be a good communicator. Being a good communicator is about being able to listen and understand what’s being requested of you and to be able to respond in a clear, concise, and friendly way. This type of communication is critical in advancing your career.
When discussing communication, it’s easy to jump to how you talk or write when communicating. But, that misses a critical aspect of communication — listening.
While being able to communicate your message is an important skill, being able to understand what someone else is sharing with you is equally as important. This is where active listening comes in.
Active listening skills include:
- Repeating back what you think the person has said to you to ensure understanding.
- Listening to understand instead of formulating your own response.
- Looking for facial expressions and body language to offer deeper context to what someone is saying.
- Focusing solely on the conversation and not being distracted by your own thoughts, phone, or computer.
- Asking follow-up questions to clarify anything you’ve misunderstood.
- If you’re communicating via email or Slack message, assume positive intent. Often, written communication comes off as more negative and harsh than intended by the writer.
Clear, Concise, and Friendly
While the definition of “good” communication will vary for each person, there are a few steps you can take for an overall high-quality communication style. You want your communication to be easy to understand, brief, and friendly.
Here are a few tips for clear, concise, and friendly written communication:
- Communicate your message clearly, but in as few words as possible.
- State your “ask” or what you need as early in the message as possible and provide an explanation afterward.
- Repeat your “ask” at the end of the communication.
- Highlight important information in bold for easy reading and skimming
- Use short sentences, bullet points, and paragraph breaks to make it more readable
- Don’t be afraid of emojis, they’re a great way to show emotion in professional communication.
- Add personalization: use someone’s name, ask a question about their personal life, or provide a simple salutation such as, “I hope you had a good weekend!” or “Happy Friday!”
- If you’re asking for a meeting with someone, make it easy for them. Offer 3 time slots to choose from and offer to send them a calendar invite.
- Be friendly. Written communication tends to come off as less friendly, so use emojis, exclamation marks, and personalization to come off as more friendly.
A great way to improve your communication skills is by reading. Find an author, blogger, or email newsletter writer you admire in your industry and start studying their word choice, punctuation use, emojis, and sentence structure to understand why you find their communication so successful. You can use your takeaways to improve your own communication and get the results and career success you want.
Critical Thinking Skills
Critical thinking skills refer to your skills in problem-solving and strategizing. It’s the ability to think of creative solutions to problems and to look towards the future to plan out and strategize what you’ll do next to reach your goals. Especially for contractors and freelancers, critical thinking is a critical skill.
Consider the Source When Evaluating New Information
Critical thinking is about observation, analysis, inference, and problem-solving. But, before you can get to problem-solving, you have to be a critical observer of new information. To solve problems, you must take in new information, but you have to evaluate that information and decide how important it is and whether or not it’s accurate.
As a critical thinker, you must evaluate each piece of new information. To do that, you should:
- Consider the source of the information.
- Seek out alternate sources for the same information.
- Look for opposing views on the topic and evaluate the quality of those sources.
- Understand the data behind the conclusion of the new information.
Critical thinkers don’t passively accept the information they’re given. They question the source and the source’s motivation to assess the quality of the information before accepting it.
Ask Questions and Do Research Before Forming an Opinion
As humans, we like to think of ourselves as rational and logical. But in reality, we base a lot of our decisions on assumptions, gut instincts, and feelings. To counteract this way of forming decisions, we have to become critical thinkers who ask questions.
A few questions you can ask to help you form an opinion include:
- What are 5 different ways this problem can be solved?
- Who has the information I need to solve this problem?
- Where can I get more information about this problem?
- Who can I ask to get a different perspective on this problem?
- What information do I not have that I need?
- What questions can I ask to get more information to help me make a decision?
Asking the right questions and doing research can help guide us towards logic-based decisions and opinions instead of basing our opinions on what “feels right.”
Change is a part of the human condition, and yet, when it comes from outside forces, most of us resist change with a vengeance. Change is often uncomfortable, causing us to question our beliefs or learn something new that we’re not good at. If you’re looking to grow in your career, you’re going to have to be adaptable and unafraid of change.
With a small perspective shift, you can become more forgiving towards change and hone your adaptability skills.
Focus on Growth and Goals
Those who aren’t as adaptable see change as something new and different, and they view that in a negative light. But, if you can shift your perspective on new and different things, you can easily become more adaptable.
Instead of seeing change as something different and bad, see it as an opportunity for growth. Look at the change as an opportunity to grow and reach your goals. When you see any small change as a chance for growth that will lead you to reach your goals, you’re more likely to accept that change instead of resisting and fighting it.
To hone your adaptability and focus on growth, try out these ways of shifting your perspective:
- Keep a list of goals you want to achieve. When something new comes along, go back to your list of goals and see how you can use this newness to get there.
- View asking for help and learning as a strength, not a weakness.
- Seek out mentors who are good at the things you’re not good at and learn from them.
- Get inspired by artists and creatives who aren’t afraid to be bad at something or fail.
Hone Your Curiosity
The secret behind adaptability is adopting a learner’s mindset. When you’re focused on learning, you’re looking at the world with curiosity. Those who are curious are less likely to feel afraid of trying something new. Curiosity and learning are all about trying something new, even if you’re going to fail at it. Failing is just an opportunity to learn.
To spark your curiosity, try:
- Listening to a podcast about a topic you know nothing about.
- Read a book in a genre you don’t normally read.
- Take a class on something you know nothing about.
- Doodle. Get some oil pastels and nice paper and just make something. You’re not trying to make something good, just make something.
- Try baking or cooking something you’ve never made before.
- Play make-believe or a made-up game with children.
We all have curiosity inside of us, we just have to find it and encourage it to come out.
When working as a contractor, you’re often on your own. This means that to get your work done, you’ve got to harness your self-motivation. One of the best ways to get better at motivating yourself is to get to know yourself.
Knowing your productivity habits and how your ability to accomplish tasks ebbs and flows throughout the day is a great way to help yourself find more motivation, especially for those times when you’re feeling low energy.
Harness Your Resilience
There are two key things you can do to harness your resilience: make a list of things you can do to take care of yourself and keep a list of things you’ve accomplished in the past. When you’re feeling unmotivated or like you can’t get it done, it’s time to break out the lists.
Rereading a list of your past accomplishments is a great way to harness your resilience because it shows you all of the great things you’ve accomplished in the past. If you’ve done it before, you can do it again.
Another reason you might be feeling unmotivated is because you’re tired, emotional, or haven’t had a break. Having a list of self care ideas can help inspire you to take a short break, take care of yourself, and then get back to work. Pushing yourself to slog through your work is possible, but it will make the work less efficient and take longer. When you give yourself the grace to take a short break, you can come back refreshed and motivated, where you’ll get your work done much more efficiently.
Get to Know What Drives You
Another great way to get to know yourself and improve your motivation is to know what drives you. There are two main types of motivators:
- Intrinsic: An internal reward or motivator, such as for fun or because we’re curious.
- Extrinsic: An external reward or motivator, such as for money, power, or good grades.
All of us are both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated at different times. When you’re looking to understand what drives you, it’s important to look at tasks that you always like to do and feel motivated to do and tasks you’re less motivated to do. Start to look for patterns in those types of tasks.
Noticing the pattern can help you to identify what drives you. Once you know what drives you, you can learn to hack the system. Then, when you’re feeling unmotivated, you can look for a better motivational strategy to help you get through the task.
When it comes to career success, there are some key skills that can take you far, no matter what goals and jobs you work. Knowing how to manage your time, communicate well, think critically, be adaptable, and motivate yourself will take you far in your career and in reaching your goals.