Are you spending so much time doing your job that you don’t have time to work on developing your career? If so, you’re not alone.

Like most achievers, you’re focused on doing a great job at your job, and you have no time left for working on your career.

The thing is, you’re not doing anyone any favors.

  • It hurts your team who depend on you for advocacy and direction
  • It hurts your family who are cheering for your growth, and
  • It hurts your organization who need you to bring your best.

Frankly, you can’t fulfill your potential if you’re not developing yourself as a leader and positioning yourself for the next level.

If this describes where you are right now, don’t worry. Here are three things you can do to work on developing your career and your potential, even when you have no time.

The add-on strategy

One of my clients had so many tasks and responsibilities that she just couldn’t carve out time to do things she wanted to do to advance her career. It wasn’t that she lacked relationships with key people. In fact, she was meeting with them regularly. It’s just that she had no time to focus on her own needs.

That’s when I suggested she turn her thinking on its head. Instead of trying to find more time and getting down on herself for failing to do so, why not embrace the fact that she’s fully booked and find better ways to use what she has?

What if she were to add a three-minute side-bar conversation at the end of her meetings with key people?

She wouldn’t need to find more time to set up new meetings to advance her career. She just needed to make better use of the ones she already had.

My client loved this strategy, and we dubbed it the “add-on strategy”. Now she’s happily adding on some key conversations to ones that are already taking place on other business-related topics.

Think of it as adding a “PS” to your email instead of sending a brand new one. And in some cases, the most important point of your correspondence is in that last Post-Script!

Listen and learn

Another aspect of investing in your career is to keep learning and growing. And a great way to learn is by reading.

I’ve heard about people who read three to four books a month, and how much richer their conversations are and how much more creative they are in their work.

Even though I love to read, I’ve always struggled to fit in more than a couple of books a year while doing my day job. Then, two months ago, I discovered audio books through the recommendation of a friend. What a godsend!

The beauty of audio books – and podcasts as well – is you can download them and listen when you’re commuting, driving, on an airplane, or cooking dinner. And you can also adjust the speed – my personal preference is 1.25 – 1.5x.

Now, I’m about to crack the code on reading (or rather, listening to) three books a month. That’s a 10x improvement from where I was just a year ago.

If you’re going to test out the audiobook strategy, you might also benefit from my friend’s additional piece of key advice: the minute you think of a book you want to read, immediately purchase and download it. Don’t even think about the price. The $10-$20 you spend will be more than recouped by the better ideas you have and the way it makes you a more interesting person that clients and colleagues can’t wait to hear from. He’s been right.

And when it comes to podcasts, most of them are free!

Claw back time

Sometimes the issue of having no time to focus on your career really is about clawing back some time.

With so much time spent in meetings, that’s a prime candidate for cutting back and recovering your time. A great way to do that is to set a higher standard for meetings before you dutifully attend them.

A few questions to ask before agreeing to a meeting might be:

  • Why are we having this meeting and what are we trying to achieve?
  • Do we have the right people at the meeting to achieve that purpose?
  • Am I needed in this meeting and if so, what is my role?
  • Is there a clear agenda and someone to take the lead in running the meeting?

Once you’re in the meeting, it’s useful to agree what success would be for the meeting so you know when to call the meeting to a close. Then, remind the group of the agreed goal if the discussion wanders by saying something like: “These are great points, but I’m looking at the clock and we’ve got 15 minutes left to get to our definition of success for this meeting.” Or, “I know Tony and Sue have to leave right at 10:00, and we’ve still got several agenda points we need them for.”

When it’s not your meeting, you could still protect your time by letting people know that you have to leave at a certain time. For example, you could say, “I’ve got a hard stop at 9:55 because I have a client call at 10:00.”

Or if you’re in a senior position, it could be, “I can only stay for the first 15 minutes, but you’ll be in good hands with my team. Perhaps we can start with the points you need me for?”

And of course, an easy win is to stop setting up one-hour meetings unless they’re absolutely necessary. Make 30 minutes the default and learn to make the best use of that meeting time. After all, having constraints makes us more creative.

Take baby steps

Whatever your situation, the key is to take action and experiment with one or more strategies so you can see what works best for you.

As my Chinese ancestors would say, “a thousand-mile journey begins with the first step.” So keep taking steps, even if they’re baby steps. They add up.

Congratulate yourself on having that career-related sidebar conversation, learning some new ideas, or clawing back some time. And let each step inspire you to keep going.

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

What small step could you take today to fulfill your career potential?

Leave a comment and let me know.