When you’re in the thick of things at work, it’s easy to neglect the fundamentals that can make a big difference to your career (and life).
By “fundamentals”, I’m referring to how you approach everyday activities: your mindset and behavior, and the way you spend your time and energy.
These are powerful forces that can propel you forward or hold you back. If you’re aware of them, you have a much better chance of making them work for you.
That’s why I’m sharing with you some of the key fundamentals that I’ve learned over my 24-year corporate career. I wish I had known these sooner, but I hope they’ll help you move your career ahead faster and more easily.
7 Things I Wish I’d Done Sooner
I’m a worrier. But worrying takes a lot of energy and I let it drain my batteries for far too long.
Last year, I decided to take control and hired a mindset coach. The mental tools and strategies she shared have helped me feel less anxious and better able to get out of my own way.
Of course, this meant making an investment in myself both financially and time-wise. But I’ve found that investment in yourself is always worth it.
What worries are holding you back?
Started Believing in Myself
A natural extension of worrying is doubting yourself. What if I’m wrong? What if nobody wants to work for me? What if I blow it at the client meeting and we don’t get the deal?
These kinds of fears prevented me from speaking up at times. At other times, it led me to defer to others so I wouldn’t have the opportunity to fail.
What I didn’t appreciate at the time is that when you pass up the chance to take the lead, you lose out on opportunities to be visible, and to practice and learn. Over time, that loss of opportunity can be a career killer.
While I’m still a work in progress, I’ve made improvements over the years by coming up with a mantra and learning to change my self-talk.
Are you being your own best friend?
I find there’s a correlation between my physical state and my mental state. When I finally found a fitness routine that worked for me, I felt calmer and more confident. I became more patient and less judgmental. I was even more creative.
In short, I became a far better leader for my team and my own performance improved.
For me, exercise is a way to expend and gain energy while connecting with people in my community and getting stronger. The key is to find a regular routine that fits in your life.
What might work for you?
Take Time to Strategize and Plan
For achievers, there are few things more rewarding than getting things done. I love that satisfaction of checking things off my “to do” list and knowing that I’ve accomplished something.
The trouble is, it’s all too easy to get hooked on doing at the expense of thinking and planning what you should be doing in the first place. And in today’s environment, it’s even more important than ever to regularly review your strategy and plan because things are changing so quickly.
I do three things to ensure that I keep my focus on the big picture.
First, short, medium and long-term planning once a quarter to set the stage for what I want to accomplish and why.
Second, set aside an hour every week (usually on a Sunday evening) to plan out the following week to 10 days.
Finally, write down my intention and next actions for each project before I start doing it. This way, I know when to stop working on a given task.
When do you think and plan?
Learn to Say “No”
To be successful in your career and life, it’s important to have time and energy to invest in the right things. And the only way to have that time and energy is to learn to create boundaries so you can focus on your priorities. This means saying “no” when something doesn't fit with your mission and game plan.
But it’s not always easy to say “no.” The key is to find ways to say “no” in a graceful way that doesn’t offend people.
The benefit is that you’ll have more time to do the important things you want to do. And you’ll feel less stressed.
What could you say “no” to more often?
Stop Being a Perfectionist
As achievers, putting out perfect work is drilled into us.
In grade school, I prided myself on getting straight A’s on my report card. As a teenager, I used to practice piano for hours a day, including playing each section of music over and over again until I could play the entire piece perfectly. At work, I was expected to proofread documents without missing any typos so that the finished project was perfect.
But perfection is overrated.
It can slow down a project and prevent you from producing results. At times, my focus on perfection made me a terrible boss, keeping people working late to get things perfect when what we needed was “good enough”.
While it still takes conscious effort, I can now let go of the need to be perfect and right about everything. Allowing myself to experiment and make mistakes has helped me learn and accomplish more than before.
What would it feel like for you to stop being a perfectionist?
Delegate More Often
When there’s a task or project to do, my first instinct is to do it myself. It’s the old adage, “if you want something done properly, do it yourself.” Plus, I don’t want to inconvenience anyone else.
This means I end up doing things that are necessary, but that I’m not necessarily best-placed to do. Like trying to create PowerPoint® slides myself when my analyst can do it faster and better. Or cutting and pasting the same email to 10 different clients instead of asking my assistant to do a mail-merge.
This inability to delegate also has a negative impact on your team. If you’re handling every client conversation, your team doesn’t have the opportunity to contribute, grow and learn.
Once I started delegating and being okay with asking for help, I had more time to think about strategic things and work on the next iteration of what was important for the firm. I also had a happier, more productive team and more people who wanted to work for me.
How could you become a better delegator?
The thing about fundamentals is that they’re easy to ignore, especially in the busy-ness of our daily lives. Yet it’s precisely the way we go about each and every day that determines how successful we will be in our careers and lives.
It’s worth identifying the elements that might be standing in the way of you fulfilling your potential. And when you do, you can challenge yourself to experiment with ways to change your approach for the better.
Whatever the elements are for you, I encourage you to start taking steps so that you don’t have quite as long a list as I do of things you wish you’d done sooner!
What’s the one thing you could address that would most improve your career (and life) trajectory right now?
Leave a comment and let me know.