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12. Getting Ahead at Work (2)

Taking time to educate and develop yourself If you read my last tip you may have been surprised to find the list of work-related activities that I listed there, as they are not always the things that spring to mind as being most important at work. Building relationships, for example, is not something that appears on many people's 'to do' lists. Similarly, 'reflecting and planning' or 'taking care of yourself'. They are the activities, however, that really add value to your work, both for yourself and the people you work with/for. If you have read tip No. 3: More action, less angst, where I talked about 'rocks', these are some of the 'rocks' that I was talking about. One of these 'rocks' is 'Educating and developing yourself', something that will always take a back seat when you're busy, but which can make a vast difference to the quality of your working life and your effectiveness in it. 'A succession of eye-openers each involving the repudiation of some previously held belief'. George Bernard Shaw on education. I had a rare experience earlier this week. Having come to the end of a big project at work, and having arranged things so that I didn't take on another piece of work immediately, I found myself with time to spare. I knew I would have this time, and I had plans for it. I would read a backlog of journals; not a specific article for a specific reason, but simply a meander through the pages, catch up with news and research and generally flood my brain with different perspectives and new information. To take this time during working hours is something I have not done for a very very long time, in fact I may never have done it before, but one thing I have promised myself in sending out these tips to you is that I will not suggest anything without doing it first myself. So that is what I did on Monday morning, I read the journals, and I can report some interesting results. Firstly I noticed that I felt very guilty. Surely I should be doing something more productive? The guilt was enhanced by the presence of my office mate, who clearly could see what I was doing and, I assumed, thought I was dossing around for the morning. I have no evidence that she was thinking this, incidentally. The second result, despite the guilt, was that I enjoyed myself enormously. I found myself reading articles avidly, with full concentration, and right to the end. I came across a research article that related directly to the piece of work I'd just finished and was able to slot in a reference to it before sending it off. The pieces I read sparked off new ideas, new questions, new interests. At the end of it I felt marvellous! I had more energy, more enthusiasm, more creativity. My head felt completely clear, like crystal, and I felt ready for anything. Yet I still felt guilty. It is a feeling that was first instilled for many of us a very long time ago, probably at primary school, and has been reinforced ever since. The message we received was not only should we fill every waking hour with something useful, but that that 'something' had to be within very clear and narrow parameters, preferably involving tangible evidence of our efforts followed by a good mark from the teacher. Having fun is definitely not useful, no brownie points to be had there. General reading is not sufficiently useful to be done other than in our own time. Talking to people with no set agenda is not useful. Thinking is only useful if it results in an action plan. The setting of homework at school sends another clear message to children - that applying yourself during school hours is not enough; you must do homework and revise for your exams in the evenings and at the weekends. The result of this conditioning means that if we try to set time aside for developing and expanding ourselves at work, however beneficial that may be to the organisation we work for, we feel guilty. Instead we rush around doing visible things that get us the approval we crave, and plan to read and expand ourselves when we get home. But we have other important things to do when we get home. Partners to spend time with, children to take care of, interests to pursue, friends to catch up with, feet to put up and rest to be had. So what happens? Often we simply don't do those things that have the potential to enhance our working lives and enhance the way we do our work. The solution? Get over the guilt. Try this: 1. What, in the way of self-development and education activities, do you know has marked benefits for you and the way you do your work? It may be reading journals, catching up on news in your subject, discussing issues with colleagues, researching a problem you've been grappling with, going to courses, listening to tapes, attending a learning set, or simply taking time to think about a work-related issue. When did you last do these things? 2. Choose one that you can do easily, take your diary, and make a time to do it. 3. Do it, however guilty you feel. Have a good week!