Do you want to make a career change but struggle to find the time?
From the minute you roll out of bed in the morning until you set your alarm before going to sleep at night, your day is full. Work and family commitments are all-consuming.
And yet, on a Sunday night as the week stretches ahead, in the middle of another unproductive meeting, or as you slump on the sofa at the end of the day, you wish for something different.
Whether the change you want to make is within your existing role or entirely new, you want to enjoy greater satisfaction, success and confidence in your work.
You may be busy but it’s time for a change.
Let’s take a look at how you can do that even when you’ve a million and one other things to do.
Keep it simple: where do you want to be in a year’s time (or less, it’s up to you but be realistic about what you can achieve)
What’s your goal?
Setting a goal increases your chances of success. Snatch an hour while the kids are at school or plan to take some time in the evening when you know you’ll be uninterrupted: the main thing is that you’re giving yourself the time and space to think about what you want.
Keep it simple: where do you want to be in a year’s time (or less, it’s up to you but be realistic about what you can achieve). Career change takes time and it’s time worth taking so that you can figure out what you really want and avoid ending up in a similar situation.
Working out your values and strengths can go a long way towards greater career satisfaction.
Your short-term goal might simply be to get a sense of direction. Or maybe you want to understand yourself at this stage of your life: you’re likely not the same person now as you were when you started your current position, perhaps as long as 10 to 15 years ago.
Working out your values and strengths can go a long way towards greater career satisfaction.
Whether or not you know what you want, take your goal and brainstorm every possible thing that you think you’ll need to do in order to achieve it. Grab a piece of paper and do a brain dump. It’s probably going to seem like a lot but don’t worry, we’ll tackle that.
Take it one small step at a time
I am a huge fan of keeping things simple. Sometimes career change can seem like such a big undertaking we get overwhelmed and don’t make a start. How about creating a super simple career plan, using one question to help you move forward? (Busy people don’t have time for complicated plans!)
What will move you closer toward your goal? Gary Keller and Jay Papasan’s “Focusing Question” can be useful in this regard: “What’s the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
“Extraordinary results are rarely happenstance. They come from the choices we make and the actions we take. The Focusing Question always aims you at the absolute best of both by forcing you to do what is essential to success—make a decision. But not just any decision—it drives you to make the best decision. It ignores what is doable and drills down to what is necessary, to what matters.” (Keller & Papasan, 2013)
When making a decision about how to spend your time, use the Focusing Question to take you in the direction of whatever it is you want to achieve in your career.
In your mind’s eye, fast forward five years. What are you doing? Are you sitting at the same desk, working with the same people and doing the same thing?
Make it a priority
You have your goal. You have a super simple plan. Now you have to make it a priority.
Laura Vanderkam, time management guru and mother of four, has studied how successful people spend their time and she has discovered that the key to mastering your time is prioritising what matters. In her Ted Talk, she makes a compelling argument that time is a choice. If you say you don’t have time for something, it means it isn’t really a priority.
How much does changing your career matter to you? Let’s do a simple exercise. In your mind’s eye, fast forward five years. What are you doing? Are you sitting at the same desk, working with the same people and doing the same thing – more or less – as you are now? How does that make you feel?
Consider as well the impact of your career on other areas of your life, including your health and wellbeing. Don’t wait until you’re feeling burned out. Career is only one part of your life but it affects everything else.
Prioritise your career change by scheduling regular time in your calendar to work on it.
Create a schedule
Prioritise your career change by scheduling regular time in your calendar to work on it. This may mean getting up a little earlier or skipping some TV time or getting help with some of your usual tasks. (Women spend around twice as long doing the housework as men, for example. Depending on the reason, there might be room for manoeuvre here!)
Set a reminder on your phone and/or identify the best time for you to get this work done. For example, first thing after breakfast on a Friday or once the kids are in bed every weekday. What would work for you? It’s easier to remember to do something this way and means it’s more likely to become a habit.
If you really struggle to find a time, I’d suggest keeping a time diary for at least one week using either a spreadsheet or a tool like Toggl to see where your time goes. This exercise can be very revealing and you may well find that there are things you could be doing differently that will make it easier to pinpoint a time to do this work.
Come up with a hypothesis about what you would like to do and then test it. It may or may not work out but you’ll have learned something along the way.
The promise of a career change can seem far away and vague. It’s easy to get discouraged. To stay motivated, start to incorporate elements of what you’d like your future working life to look like into your current situation, even if it’s a scaled down version.
For example, perhaps your career change involves going back to school or college. In the meantime, why not lose yourself in the relevant section of a bookshop, renew your library membership, do a free MOOC (massive open online course; e.g. check out coursera.org), or even a night course. Even a busy person can listen to a podcast in the car!
Don’t forget to reward yourself when you make progress. This is an important part of goal setting. We often rush from one task to the next without ever stopping to celebrate what we’ve achieved, focusing instead on how much else we have to do.
Career change can be overwhelming – I want to take a career break but how will I pay the mortgage?!
Career change can be overwhelming. We get an idea and feel excited and then there’s a rush of “buts”. I want to go for that promotion but am I really qualified? I want to take a career break but how will I pay the mortgage? I want to start my own business but I’ve no idea where to start!
Remember your focusing question. Your “one thing” doesn’t have to be big. You want to update your LinkedIn profile? Start with the headline. You want to connect with someone doing a job you think you’d like? Send them a message and ask to meet up. You want a fresh take on your strengths? Have a coffee with a good friend and ask them!
Try to see every step you take – no matter how big or small – as a step in the right direction. See yourself as a scientist, coming up with a hypothesis about what you would like to do and then testing that hypothesis by experimenting. It may or may not work out but you’ll have learned something along the way.
If you find yourself procrastinating, try setting a timer and promising yourself that you’ll do 15 minutes. Everyone can do 15 minutes, right?
Make creating a better quality of working life a priority so that it becomes a reality rather than something you dream about but never actually action.
Little and often
My final tip for busy, would-be career changers is to do little and often. Keep your career change project going by using the in-between times: on the bus, in a queue, or while you’re making the dinner.
Be mindful and take note of what is and isn’t working in your current situation, what you do and don’t like, and any flashes of inspiration.
Make creating a better quality of working life a priority so that it becomes a reality rather than something you dream about but never actually action. Career change is within your grasp, even if you’re busy.
Point yourself in the right direction, set a goal, break it down into smaller tasks, and fit them in around your existing schedule.
As Laura Vanderkam says, “Even if we are busy, we have time for what matters. And when we focus on what matters, we can build the lives we want in the time we’ve got.”
Are you going to give this a try? Let me know in the comments below or get in touch: I’d be delighted to help you make progress.
More great advice from Nicola:
About the Author
Nicola Porter, PhD, is a mid-career coach for smart, capable professionals who are struggling to take stock of their career and figure out their next step.
Nicola combines everything she knows and loves about psychology with highly effective coaching tools and techniques to help you create a better quality of working life so that you can enjoy more success, confidence and satisfaction in your work – in a totally doable way.
Having masterminded her own mid-career change to create a more satisfying and flexible working life, Nicola is keen to share what works to help you do the same.
Meet Nicola and take your first step towards creating a more meaningful, enjoyable career at www.coachd.ie.