Key habits of effective people: how to make progress and notice it

There is a great saying “don’t confuse activity with progress” from one of the greatest coaches to have lived, from one of my alma maters UCLA, John Wooden. When asked, he would say this is one of he most important reasons for his success as a coach. He won 10 NCAA National Basketball championships, 7 in a row at UCLA, with players that would literally rotate in and out every 3 years on average. His take was – not the hours you put in, but a well defined, planned out routine that maximizes your efficiency to getting closer to your goals is the key to success.

I can’t agree more. Time is one thing we can‘t control yet, but it can be wasted pretty easily, and you can’t get it back. As with anything in life, you career plan requires that same discipline of making sure you are actively making progress towards goals. And that requires routines, as Coach Wooden suggests, to be most efficient in making progress to your career ambitions.

What does a career routine look like?

It first starts with knowing where are you going. As I have mentioned in a previous blog, you need to have a view of the path in mind, in order to think about next steps in your career. The key is getting routines in place for you to make regular consistent progress in preparing yourself for other big opportunity and creating your own “luck”.

Several studies have shown that on average it takes 66 days for a habit to form – a routine to just become part of what you do. It is easy to get derailed, distracted, or trapped in urgent, but unimportant activities (I really recommend to read Franklin Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Effective People” for more context on efficiency) and not do the actions you need to progress.

Make the time. Protect it. Make some routines that work for you. Have the discipline to make them stick. All of these are a few things I have done.

Check the progress you have made!

Don‘t forget – it is very important to update your resume every six months. Always make sure you are able to add something new to it.

Moreover, you should have goals on what you would really want to look like in the next 3-5 years. What is needed to become the best candidate not only for your next job, but the one after it?

I also suggest that every 5 years or so, you should take the time to completely rewrite your resume. Let’s say you want to be the CFO of a company. Simply google award winning CFO resumes, and you will get several different views of what it looks like. Take one that resonates with you and reformat your resume into this new way of representing yourself. It is eye opening when you describe the same work you have done but from a different angle. Believe me, this really helps you firm up the best representation of your experience on your resume.

Who would recommend you right now?

At some point in the interview process before you get an offer for a job, especially one with significant responsibility, you will need some references. Do you have five people that you could call right now who would give you a glowing reference on what you have done and do today? Could you find better references, with perhaps strong credibility in the market? Find out all anwers to these question, they are crucial.

Keep your network alive and vibrant – there are so many social media tools out there today to help to keep in touch with those key people in your life. Of course, this requires time, discipline, and obviously you need to do a good job as well at work so people can give you a solid reference.

So, let‘s start. Establish a view of what your optimal network would look like. Have some aspirational contacts you would like to make in the coming year.

What is more, pick an annual event that people don’t typically contact someone – don’t be one of the stack of Christmas cards that come at the end of the year, or the 50th wish of a Happy Birthday on Facebook. Come up with something unique, from you, that is a reflection of when you first met, or the common experiences you have. I suggest using multiple communication channels as well. In person catch up’s, phone calls, texts, a message on LinkedIn or Facebook. And always, be generous with your time, try to provide them with something valuable, perhaps an insight in their industry, or a new business lead. Pick the right periodicity for each of your key contacts.

The final advice – track and respond quickly. There is nothing worse than sending a note to someone, they respond with a heartfelt long response, and then you go silent for 6 months. Don’t try to contact everyone, decide who is in that inner circle, and focus on them.

Get to know yourself better – build a routine to be better

Take the time to learn your strengths and weaknesses, your style, how you deal with conflict and how people perceive you. There are a myriad of instruments out there which will allow you to get objective information on you. The more you know yourself, the better you will be at evaluating your next opportunity. The beauty of these instruments, whether it is a Myers Briggs test, Social Styles, Thomas-Kilman Conflict Modes test, or an EQ-I test, there are no wrong answers – simply insights into how you behave.

I would recommend doing a formal 360 feedback about yourself and how you are perceived every 5 years. If that is not available, just ask a regular feedback from your boss, peers, and those who may work for you.

Focus on your strengths and build on them

When I do a performance appraisal of someone that works for me, I ask them in that same discussion: what can I do better? Make it part of your routine to get feedback and be a better team member at work every day. You will be more successful and build trust around you.

Take all this feedback and do something with it: build on your strengths, minimize weaknesses or at least be aware of them so you can surround yourself with processes, people, or tools to offset those weaknesses.

These will be part of your brand – what are you known for. There are two schools of thought – find your weaknesses and fix them OR focus on your strengths and build on them. I am in the second camp: make your strengths stronger that align with that next career move. And when that next opportunity knocks, you are more than prepared, and what do you know, luck is with you (check my earlier blog for some insights of what does it mean to be “lucky”)!

As Woody Allen says “80% of success is showing up”.

I have given you only a few examples of routines you should probably consider in progressing your career and making sure you are making actual progress. So, is your resume better than it was 6 months ago? Is your network deeper, richer, and filled with people ready to recommend you for those next few jobs? Do you know yourself better than you did last year? What do you do to progress your career and measure it?

Keep charging, stay healthy, and today is a new day! Make some career progress!

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