Daily life is a series of decisions: how we spend our time, how we spend our money, how we focus our energy. Time, money and energy are our key resources. Yet, we may not realize how our daily decisions squander these precious resources little by little. To get control over these daily decisions, it is helpful to audit how these resources are spent:
TIME AUDIT. For at least a week (and longer is ideal), write down what you spend each half hour doing. Don’t censor yourself; if you find yourself logging in many hours of television, don’t omit these to look good. It is this insight that will help you manage your time better for the future. After logging your activities, identify time-wasters and make a list of what else you’d rather be doing. When you next find yourself tempted by one of the time-wasting activities, substitute an activity from your priority list instead.
MONEY AUDIT. Some credit card companies provide an annual purchase summary, and you can see how much you spend in a variety of categories. If you don’t get this summary, calculate it yourself for a few months’ worth of credit card statements. Review past checks and categorize these expenses. Spend a week logging in all cash purchases and categorize these expenses. This will give you a picture of how you spend. As with time, identify money drains and alternative priorities. Before you buy anything again, ask yourself if it is a priority.
ENERGY AUDIT. Using your time audit, assign each activity to the priority in your life that it supports. For example, taking the kids to school would be a family activity. Paying bills would be a finance activity. Laundry would be a household activity. After you categorize these activities, calculate how much time you’re spending on each priority. Are your energies placed on the things that really matter?
Once you complete this personal audit, you will see how much power you have over your time, money and energy, and you will make conscious decisions that align these resources with what you really want.
You see a sweater. You look at the price. It’s less than you expected, or at least you can afford it. So, you buy it. We all use price as a factor in our decision-making. We use it in our career decision-making as well: should I hire a career coach (how much does she charge); should I join that professional organization (how much is the membership); etc. Price is an important factor because it is one way to quantify what something is worth. However, we also need to consider the cost and the value of our choices, and these may not be the same as the price.
That sweater may be priced at $100, but it costs you however many hours it takes to earn that $100. It also costs you whatever you had to forego to buy it. That sweater may have sentimental value (if it reminds you of a favorite relative), cosmetic value (if it adds to your wardrobe), or career value (if you’re an actor and need it for an audition). A career coach may charge a price of $100 per session. The costs include the hours it takes to earn $100 plus the hours you spend before, during and after the session. The value is in the motivation you get, the direction and advice you receive, and any savings you get from not spinning your wheels on your own.
If you think you want something (to buy, to do), think:
Do I have the money to pay the price?
Do I have the time to bear the cost? What am I foregoing to buy/ do this?
What value am I getting from this? What am I giving up?
When you make a decision, think price, cost and value. Ideally, the price is affordable, the cost is bearable and the value exceeds the cost.
You may want to emulate what a successful person does, so that the same success comes to you. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since you want to learn from successful people and not reinvent the wheel. However, one person’s success formula may not apply to your specific circumstances. Furthermore, if everyone follows the formula, it becomes average, and true success requires something beyond average
For example, when I tried to lose my post-pregnancy weight, I diligently followed the fitness magazines. These tips worked, up to a point. Then, I hit a plateau, and the things I was doing before that successfully dropped the pounds were no longer working. A trainer at my gym noticed that I hadn’t changed my routine and advised me to mix it up. I ended up following a completely different approach, but it worked for the remaining pounds. Now, after following that approach for some time, I realize that I need to mix it up again.
Success is self-correcting. Even though something works, it won’t work all the time. Not only do you need to find a success formula that works for you and your specific goal, but you need the flexibility to ditch the formula and try something new. If you think you’re doing the right things but not getting the result you want, mix it up. A success philosophy is only right for you when it gives you the results you want.
The phrase, “life-changing experience,” conjures up images of extreme joy or of undue hardship. Therefore, the act of changing your life implies momentous decisions involving career transition, financial risk, and emotional upheaval. Actually, changing your life can be a series of small actions that together lead to big change. These small actions require no resignation letter, no lien on the house, and no melodrama. However, changing your life even in small steps does require an open mind and a willingness to start today.
You need an open mind to put yourself first and to not feel selfish about doing so. Your boss, partner, kids and friends will be thrilled because you will be so much more fun to be around. Small actions that put yourself first:
book that doctor’s appointment for whatever has been ailing you and, if nothing ails you, get a physical;
finally book that eye checkup;
see a live show or sporting event and savor the rush of the crowd around you;
rent that movie, read that book, or visit that museum on your I’ve-always-wanted-to list;
eat your favorite food slowly;
put an object of beauty (e.g., flowers, painting) in your workspace;
reserve a three-day weekend with no plans;
take care of a nuisance on your I-must-attend-to-that list (e.g., tailor those pants, frame that photo);
open a retirement account or stick an extra $50 in your existing one;
write a thank you letter to your partner/kid/best friend (yes, even this one’s for you b/c it will remind you how lucky you are);
enter appointments in next year’s planner for next year’s dates with yourself.
You need to start today because change feeds on momentum. Lack of change feeds on inertia. If you get moving now, whatever baby step you choose, you put the process in place. Plan one small action each day. In a week, you’ll feel energized. In a month, you’ll be renewed. In a year, you will have 365 rich experiences that you made happen, and you will recognize your power to change your life in the direction you choose.
The phrase, “I’ve changed my mind”, is so common that it sounds easy to do. In fact, our opinions and beliefs are so deeply embedded that changing our minds is rather difficult. That’s not necessarily bad, since you might not want to be fickle about big choices in life — your significant other, your career, your life goals. Or do you? When you review the big choices you’ve made, do they still make sense?
What are your life goals right now? Goals change. In college, these might be self-exploration and intellectual challenge. Later, these might be work/ family balance and financial security. Motivations change. In college, the environment is goal-oriented – towards graduation, towards that first job. Later, there is less external motivation. You may be so involved in day-to-day living that longer-term goals are ignored. Motivation must come internally.
What is your career plan right now? A career is not a random series of jobs, but rather a planned series of professional achievements. If you have a job right now, what is your current job contributing to your career? If it’s x, then focus on x. If it’s nothing, then change your job or change jobs. If you don’t have a job right now, how do you plan to forward your career? The focus is not the next job, but rather the next stage in your career, whether that be a job, an entrepreneurial venture, or some time off.
Who shares your joy with you? Whether it is family or friends, life is not just about achieving goals and career progress, but also about sharing joy. Write a love letter to your spouse. See those old friends. Out of habit, your mind might take your loved ones for granted. So, change your mind, and actively express your affection.
There are six steps to the effective job search:
Define what you want;
Create your marketing campaign;
Research your targets;
Network your way into your targets;
Keep motivated and organized; and
Close the offer.
These steps are sequential but also concurrent, and this is not a contradiction.
If you don’t know what you want, you can’t create relevant materials (i.e., resume, cover letter, and other business communication). If you don’t have your materials ready, you risk researching and networking your way into someone actually showing interest in you, only to have no materials to present. If you don’t research your targets, you can’t effectively network into them. If you don’t network (i.e., get out there among potential employers), you won’t need to stay motivated and organized. If you don’t stay motivated and organized, you risk blowing the offer.
However, the job search is not a linear process. Opportunities arise unexpectedly, or circumstances change. You may get to the offer stage, only to realize that you don’t want this particular job (maybe the competitive office environment made you realize you’d prefer a friendlier place). Therefore, closing the offer (step six) actually helps you define what you want (step one). Similarly, in the course of research and networking, you might realize that your resume is not as targeted as it can be. Steps three and four help you refine step two.
You need to observe the sequence of an effective job search because you need to be as prepared as you can be. However, you also may need to do the steps concurrently or even out of sequence because you want to be flexible and opportunistic and in tune to how your individual search progresses. In any case, by minding the above steps, you will be well-positioned for any job search.
Now that the economy is improving, we might be more confident in our career prospects. Confidence is always good up to a point:
I saw a Junior Miss pageant, where there was a clear frontrunner in Miss Texas. She had the highest scores from the preliminaries, the semifinals, and most of the finals. But in the last competition, the evening gowns, she slipped down the stairs, and ended up fourth runner-up. Miss Texas exemplifies what happens to a lot of candidates, who master the job search basics, but forget how beauty pageants, I mean jobs, are actually won. You need to pass the preliminaries (the resume screen) to get to the semifinals (the general interviews) to get to the finals (the subsequent interviews). And, you need to win each round on its merits. A superior resume won’t compensate for blowing the interview. High initial scores won’t compensate for careening down the stairs. As in beauty pageants, your scores get wiped out with each subsequent round.
Thus, nailing the job means that you must always be at your best. The proper steps to a job search are sequential because one prepares you for the next. But each has its unique significance and challenges, and you must master them all. You must have good strategy, powerful marketing, thorough research, polished interviewing skills, organized follow-up, and the ability to close the deal. You must have all these skills all the time because you will frequently be at different stages with each target company in your job search. Effective job search basics rely on effective juggling basics: focus, concentration, and discipline. You cannot get sloppy.
You might overhear from the CEO’s assistant that you’re the one! You might be wined and dined at company-paid meals. You might be negotiating salary. Until you are through the door on the first day of your new job, you are Miss Texas. Watch your step.
The all-time strikeout leader in baseball is Reggie Jackson, followed by Babe Ruth. Neither player is remembered as a strikeout leader. Still, people hear stories of great success coming only after great struggle, and this is not enough to encourage them to go after their dreams. The potential downside of failure often greatly outweighs the potential upside from success. Here are some tips to focus on the upside, so you do go for your dreams:
Confront the downside. What are the specific consequences of failure to meet this goal? How much money will you lose? How much time will you have invested? How much notoriety will this bring? Really visualize for yourself the worst possible downside, and make specific plans on how to mitigate the consequences.
Confront the upside. What are the tangible effects of success at this goal? Express it in pictures that you hang on your wall. Write it down in a journal that you read regularly. Tell friends what it means to you. Keep your upside in your sight, your mind, and your words, and it will seem more reachable.
Replace one fear with another. At some point, we need to just take our shot. You may never get over your fear of failure, but you could replace it with a greater fear of never knowing. Think about what it would mean for you to never know what happened if you tried. The prospect of living with a what-if is not very appealing. Focus on the regret, remorse, disappointment, shame, sadness, etc. of not even trying, and you may find these feelings worse than any downside from failure.
Reggie Jackson wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer, baseball icon, and candy bar, without also being the strikeout leader. Putting himself in the game meant downside, but also great upside. If you never take your shot, nothing will change. Is the life you have now exactly the way that you want it to be? If not, take aim.
There is a spring in our step when we walk with enthusiasm, excitement and energy. Much of spring cleaning is de-cluttering, planting new flowers, out with the old and in with the new. It is about refreshing our environment and putting the spring back into our homes. In our jobs, we should also take a refreshed look at what we do. The monotony of many jobs makes it easy to get into a rut. As the seasons change, identify ways to put the spring back into your job.
BRING SOMETHING NEW TO YOUR PHYSICAL WORKSPACE. Move the furniture, hang a new poster, or use a different mug. These visual cues can be an inspiration and a reminder that we can change things.
PLANT THE SEEDS FOR FUTURE GROWTH. Take advantage of your company’s training offerings. Read career development and business books. Pursue subjects outside your work that support your whole life – personal finance, fitness, arts.
ADJUST YOUR ATTITUDE. Sometimes, we get our spring from waking up on the right side of the bed or buying a winning raffle ticket. Ideally, we consciously decide to focus on the positive and attract good fortune. The energy that puts a spring in our step also puts a spring in our jobs. We all like to work with people who are energetic and excited to be there.
Spring cleaning gets its namesake, not just from the time of year it occurs, but also from the result we want. In our jobs, that spring could mean the difference between loving our work and tolerating it. It could mean the difference between moving forward and staying put. Putting the spring back into our jobs could mean a season of change, growth and renewal.