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11. Getting Ahead at Work

How do you spend your time at work? 'Being busy does not always mean real work.' Thomas Edison Whether you are young and setting out on a working life, or have been around for a time and have perhaps have achieved a degree of success in your career, there is something we all like to have at work and that is to do well. It's human nature to want to feel that you are doing the best you can and that people value you. Jobs in which you feel either inadequate to do the job, or unappreciated when you do it are the worst kind of jobs. It's probable that you are pretty good at your job. It is also probable that you could do the job even better than you are now. You may groan at that and think that I'm going to suggest that you work even harder than you already are and, God, you're already working your socks off. But before you close the email let me assure you that I have quite the opposite in mind. The next few tips are going to be about slowing down and creating time for the things that really make a difference to your enjoyment and effectiveness at work. 'It's necessary to be slightly underemployed if you are to do something significant.' James D. Watson I feel sorry for young people these days. It used to be that getting good A level results was enough to get you to a good university and make a reasonable start on the ladder of your chosen career. These days you have to have work experience before you can even apply for some courses, many jobs are closed to you unless you've worked for nothing for a few months in a similar role, and to be among the front runners for any of these you need, at a minimum, to have won an international debating trophy, climbed Mount Kilamanjaro and spent your gap year saving coral reefs in South America. Ironically, once you get into a job it's not uncommon to find that your employers don't want you to have a life at all. So great is the pressure to do more and more in less and less time that many of us hardly have time to scratch our heads at work let alone expand our horizons. We spend all our time running to keep up with impossible deadlines, heroically handling enormous workloads and generally reacting to anything that is tossed in our direction. The result is that taking time to reflect, plan, create and all the other things that make us better at doing our jobs, have become activities that have to be slotted into brief moments when we have nothing else to do, like when the train is delayed or we're stuck in traffic. We are probably poorer as a society for that, and we're certainly poorer as individuals, because we are cutting out the parts of our work that both bring us our best results and are most life-enhancing. The first step to taking control of your work, instead of always reacting, is to take a little time now to reflect on what you do at work and how satisfied you are with how you're doing it. If you haven't the time to do this exercise, then the chances are that work is running you, rather than you running it. Try this: Draw a wheel with 8 spokes, and on each spoke write one of the following: 1. Doing the main job 2. Using your talents (doing the things you do best) 3. Reflecting, creating and planning 4. Organising and administrating 5. Building relationships 6. Developing yourself (study, research, training) 7. Leading others (whether from above or below) 8. Taking care of yourself (mental, emotional and physical care and support) Now consider your working life. How much time do you spend on each of these activities, and how satisfied are you with that area of your working life? For each one, give yourself a score out of ten, where 10 is highly satisfied and 0 is not at all satisfied. If the centre of the wheel is 0 and the outside edge is 10, place a mark on each spoke at the appropriate point. Then join all the points into a (probably) misshapen circle. Next, ask yourself what you would ideally like to score for each one, and again make a mark on the wheel for each, and join the dots. Looking at your wheel, ask yourself: What do these results mean to me? What do I see in this overview of my working life, in terms of satisfaction and balance? In which area am I doing the most? The least? Where are the greatest gaps between where I am now, and where I would like to be? What do I need or want to change first? Imagine you had a performance rating of 10 for every role, how would you be acting/behaving? What results would you see? What would be different? Finally, if you were to choose one area to work on that would make the most difference to your working life, which would it be? What three actions would you like to take in that area? 1. 2. 3. Send yourself an email to your work address with a note of those three actions. In Part Two I'll be looking at ways you can create more time at work to do these things. Have a good week!