In your career, it’s easy to stick with what’s worked for you in the past. Since it’s gotten you this far, why tinker with something that isn’t broken, right?

But here’s the problem with that…

If you’re looking to get to the next level in your career, sticking with what’s worked so far can keep you from where you want to go.

As America’s #1 Executive Coach, Marshall Goldsmith, says, “What got you here won’t get you there”.

At the next level, more is expected of you. And different things are expected. But most of the time, no one will spell it out for you. You have to figure it out for yourself.

So, how do you do that?

Focus on the four essential areas where you’re likely to need to make changes

These are your Relationships, Activities, Thinking, and Personal brand.

Focusing on these areas will bring you many rewards, like being seen as the obvious choice for exciting projects, top of mind when it comes to decisions about your pay and promotion, delivering strategic results that get attention and demonstrating you’re ready for the next step up.

In other words, they’ll accelerate your time to success.

In the previous post, we focused on how to build the right relationships to get ahead in your career. That’s the first piece of the puzzle.

Develop the skills to get recognized, promoted and paid more

Today we’ll home in on the second piece of the puzzle: your activities

Your activities at work can either contribute to your progress to the next level or hold you back. The key is to know which of the things you do are helping versus undermining your prospects.

To help you figure this out, here are three areas you need to look at:

  • How you spend your time
  • How you manage your energy
  • How you create momentum

How you spend your time affects your readiness for the next level

The more senior you become, the more you’ll be expected to be able to operate at a new, higher level beyond the tasks of the job. For example, being able to think strategically, influence people and communicate with impact.

If your activities don’t allow you to develop in these and other “next level” areas that you’ll need, then it’s time to see how you can change things up. You don’t have to make a wholesale change. It’s just adding a bit to your daily and weekly activities that allow you to learn and grow in these areas. And to show your managers that you’re able to operate at this level.

So, think about what you do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Better yet, list them out on a piece of paper. That makes it easier to capture and analyze your activities. Once you see what you’re really doing, you can make some decisions about whether that’s leading you in the right direction.

A few areas to consider include:

  • Strengths and skills: Are you tapping into your existing strengths and skills as well as developing new ones? Are you relying mostly on technical skills versus developing the qualitative skills needed at the next level, like leadership and communicating with influence?
  • Value to the organization: How valuable are your activities to the core mission of your team and organization? Are you able to articulate this to others?
  • Alignment with your goals: Are your activities moving you toward your ultimate aspirations or away from them? If you’re only doing things that are needed for your current job, then you may be missing the opportunity to build the foundation for the role want to have in the future.

Which brings us to the second area.

Managing your energy is the key to performing at your best

When you understand what it takes to maintain your energy levels as you go through your day, you can more easily bring the best version of yourself to what you’re doing.

This not only means you’ll deliver better results, but you’ll also be a better leader and team member. The kind that brings new ideas, feels confident and creates a positive environment for the rest of the group.

To manage your energy so you can operate at or near 100% capacity for the activity you’re engaged in, it’s important to know what activities energize you versus drain you. And while you won’t be able to eliminate the latter completely, this knowledge will help you arrange your work to minimize their effect.

For example, I could talk to people all day long while just 10 minutes of admin exhausts me. But fortunately, a team member loves to organize things and attend to details.

So see how you can delegate, minimize or eliminate activities that feel like “hard work” and do more of the things that bring you ease or provide a learning opportunity. In particular, think about:

  • Your zone of genius: To what extent are your activities centered around the things you do well and enjoy doing? This is your zone of genius and you’ll be most successful when you’re operating in it.
  • Timing of activities: You’ll have certain times of day when it feels easier to do thinking and creating work versus more repetitive tasks. How could you optimize your daily schedule to perform at your best?
  • Knowing when to pause and when to act: Taking a break refreshes you and creates better results than when you “power through”. When there’s something you’ve been procrastinating on and that’s been nagging you and draining your energy, taking an action, no matter how small, is the way to move forward.

This brings us to the third area.

How are you creating momentum?

Your activities are either holding you back, building your foundation or generating forward momentum for your career. And when you’re going for the next level, it’s all about what you do to overcome your challenges, invest in your capabilities and relationships, and propel yourself forward.

On a practical basis, this means getting clear on what you need to do more of and less of. As you create those two lists, consider the following:

  • Where is there already momentum in your career? Lean into it and ride it forward. Whether it’s a project that’s going well, a senior manager who’s taken you under their wing or a client deal that’s successfully completed, think about how you can make more of it.
  • Where would you like to create new momentum? Sometimes it’s by dropping a project that’s draining you or spending more time with people who raise you up rather than pull you down. Or getting someone involved who brings a different perspective on the project you’re doing. How can you change things up?
  • What are the 1-2 linchpin changes you could make? You don’t need to make a wholesale change or get a “personality transplant” to propel yourself forward. Often, it’s something simple and basic like creating one new habit or shifting the way you start your day. What could be the linchpin activities for you?

Career Mastery has been a game-changer for me. Wonderful, actionable advice that helps me be better than the day before.”

Carol Vincent

But what if you have no choice on your activities?

When you feel like your workday is dictated to you with no wiggle room, remember that you always have a choice.

It’s sometimes hard to look beyond the “do it or get fired” framing to see all the options you have. That’s when you challenge yourself to look for what I call the “third way”. And it can help to get a friend or colleague you trust to provide fresh perspective on the situation.

Just don’t make the mistake of equating being busy with being productive

Keeping busy with the wrong activities is like splashing around the pool but not getting to the other side. There’s value to giving yourself the time and permission to think and be strategic. And that requires being still, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

Choose your activities wisely

What you do determines your future career success, and what got you here won’t get you there.

So take a moment to consider whether your current activities are setting you up for success or holding you back. And as you assess your activities, remember to look at these three areas:

  • How you spend your time: are your activities building your strengths and skills? Are you adding value to what matters in your organization? And is this in alignment with where you want to head?
  • How you manage your energy: to what extent are you operating in your zone of genius and taking the actions that help you stay energized?
  • How you create momentum: how are you maximizing the momentum you already have and what linchpin activities could propel you further?

Having assessed your activities, the next step is to examine how your thinking affects your ability to progress to the next more senior level of your career.

In the next post, we’ll cover what you need to be thinking about to show you’re ready for the next level, the mindset you need to adopt to get the best results, and the “habits of mind” that will hold you back if you let them.

In the meantime, leave a comment below to let me know…

What change in activities would make the biggest difference to your career if you worked on it now?