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Shifting Back Into Gear: Coming Back From Something Big

Shifting Back Into Gear: Coming Back From Something Big

    In our lives, we face small problems and big problems. Small problems can be easily dealt with: if you’ve got some sort of productivity system already in place, a minor issue is nothing more than a bump in the road. But what about the big problems? What about the stuff that throws off weeks, rather than days? Or the stuff that takes you away from your system for a month? We’re talking about the major illness, out of the office for a month level of stuff happening.

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    Coming back from just a few days outside of your normal routine is tough. But once you’re measuring the time you’ve been out of things in weeks, it can seem absolutely impossible to get back into gear. I think it may even be worse if you used to have a system like GTD in place. I know that I’ve looked at a month’s worth of mail and paperwork before and wondered how the heck I was going to get all of that processed into tasks I could actually get my head around, especially since now that I was back on the job the boss expected me to get some ‘real’ work done. There are a number of approaches you can take, though:

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    1. Ignore the Entire Pile — For a long time, I was an advocate of ignoring everything that had built up during a long absence. I would file everything in the trash bin, send out word that I’d ‘lost’ everything and ask people to resend items. I could usually get back into the swing of things as things came in at a more regular pace, rather than appearing in a pile on my desk. Just like with email bankruptcy, you might wonder if you’ll miss anything important, but other people are surprisingly diligent about whatever they find important. There are some problems with this system, of course: you might irritate a whole list of people (some of whom may not have previously realized you were gone). And you can run into major problems with anything in that stack that was time sensitive.
    2. Just Get Started — Everyone hates the platitudes along the lines of ‘if you just get started, it will be over before you know it.’ Straightening out your paper mail from a month out of commission certainly feels like it can take forever, let alone thinking about your email and other online accounts and those face-to-face meetings scheduled immediately after your return. Diving in to the pile is awful, but it really can be the fastest way get through the pile. It’s worth picking out a plan of attack, first, though: are you just going to start at the top and work your way downward? Or are you going to go with a ‘first in, first out’ approach? No matter which you choose, set your course and follow through.
    3. Process in Parts — There is a compromise available, of course. Rather than just diving in, you can sort and throw as much away as possible. Then, you handle what actually needs your attention. This solution is probably the most practical of those available. But even with this approach, catching up can take a while and can get frustrating.

    There are a few ways to make playing catch up a little easier, at least on your mental health. They can work with any approach you take — and if you think of any more tips, please add them in the comments.

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    • Get back in your routine as soon as possible — even if you barely remember it. If your routine calls for only 30 minutes of processing email, that’s okay. You can get through your email in 30 minute chunks, and you can always schedule an appointment with your email.
    • Touch base on projects before you get into catching up. There may be something that actually needs to be done before you become immersed in your email — and it may not even be mentioned in your email inbox if no one knows you’re back.
    • Let people know that you’re catching up. Ask them to let you know if there’s something actually urgent in your pile of paperwork.
    • Start with what you think is important. I know I just suggested asking people to let you know what they think is important — but you may not agree with their estimation of the situation.
    • Start with something pleasant, and end with something pleasant as well. It’s pretty likely that somebody got irritated about something in your office. Your mother might need her VCR reprogrammed or a client may be unhappy at your absence. Don’t make that unpleasant stuff the first or last thing you handle in a day — or you might not be up to Day 2.
    • Avoid scheduling anything for your first day back. You may not have control over your own calendar, if anyone’s been waiting to see you, but put people off long enough for you to reorient yourself. Depending on the nature of your return, you may be able to get away with telling people that you’ll be back the day after you’ll really return.
    • Decide what it really means for you to catch up. You probably can get away with not reading every newsletter that made it into you inbox — and there may be a few tasks you can ignore equally easily.

    Remember, it took time to get behind. It’s definitely going to take time to catch back up.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

    How to Find New Growth Opportunities at Work

    Career advancement is an enticement that today’s companies use to lure job candidates. But to truly uncover growth opportunities within a company, it’s up to you to take the initiative to move up.

    You can’t rely on recruiter promises that your company will largely hire from within. Even assurances you heard from your direct supervisor during the interviewing process may not pan out. But if you begin a job knowing that you’re ultimately responsible for getting yourself noticed, you will be starting one step ahead.

    Accomplished entrepreneur and LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman said,

    “If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.”

    It’s important to recognize that taking charge of your own career advancement, and then mapping out the steps you need to succeed, is key to moving forward on your trajectory.

    Make a Point of Positioning Yourself as a Rising Star

    As an employee looking for growth opportunities within your current company, you have many avenues to position yourself as a rising star.

    As an insider, you’re able to glean insights on company strategies and apply your expertise where it’s most needed. Scout out any skills gaps, then make a point to acquire and apply them. And, when you have creative ideas to offer, make it your mission to gain the ear of those in the organization who can put your ideas to the test.

    Valiant shows of commitment and enterprise make managers perk up and take notice, keeping you ahead of both internal and external competitors.

    Employ these other useful tips to let your rising star qualities shine:

    1. Promote Your Successes to Your Higher-Ups

    When your boss casually asks how you’re doing, use this valuable moment to position yourself as indispensable: “I’m floating on clouds because three clients have already commented on how well they like my redesign of the company website.”

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    Tell your supervisors about any and all successes. Securing a new contract or signing a new customer should be a cause for celebration. Be sure to let your bosses know.

    2. Cultivate Excellent Listening Skills

    Listen well, and ask great questions. Realize that people love to talk about themselves.

    But if you’re a superb listener, others will confide in you, and you’ll learn from what they share. You may even find out something valuable about your own prospects in the company.

    If others view you as even-minded and thoughtful, they’ll respect your ideas and, in turn, listen to what you have to say.

    Check out these important listening skills: 13 Powerful Listening Skills to Improve Your Life at Work and at Home

    3. Go to All Office Networking Events

    Never skip the office Christmas party, your coworker’s retirement party, or any office birthday parties, wedding showers, or congratulatory parties for colleagues.

    If others see you as a team player, it will help you rise in your company. These on-site parties will also help you mingle with co-workers whom you might not ordinarily have the chance to see. For special points, help organize one or two of these get-togethers.

    Take the Extra Step to Show Your Value to the Company

    Managers and HR staff know that it can be less risky – and a lot less costly — to promote from within. As internal staff, you likely have a good grasp of the authority structure and talent pool in the company, and know how to best navigate these networks in achieving both the company’s goals and your own.

    The late Nobel-Prize winning economist, Gary Becker, coined the term “firm-specific,” which describes the unique skills required to excel in an individual organization. You, as a current employee, have likely tapped into these specific skills, while external hires may take a year or more to master their nuances.

    Know that your experience within the company already provides value, then find ways to add even more value, using these tips:

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    4. Show Initiative

    Commit yourself to whatever task you’re given, and make a point of going above and beyond.

    Position yourself so that you’re ready to take on any growth opportunities that present themselves. If you believe you have skills that have gone untapped, find a manager who will give you a chance to prove your worth.

    Accept any stretch assignment that showcases your readiness for advancement. Stay late, and arrive early. Half of getting the best assignments is sticking around long enough to receive them.

    5. Set Yourself Apart by Staying up on Everything There Is to Know About Your Company and Its Competitors

    Subscribe to and read the online trade journals. Become an active member in your industry’s network of professionals. Go to industry conferences, and learn your competitors’ strategies.

    Be the on-the-ground eyes and ears for your organization to stay on top of industry trends.

    6. Go to Every Company Meeting Prepared and Ready to Learn

    A lot of workers feel meetings are an utter waste of time. They’re not, though, because they provide face-time with higher-ups and those in a position to give you the growth opportunities you need.

    Go with the intention of absorbing information and using it to your advantage — including the goals and work styles of your superiors. Respect the agenda, listen more than you speak, and never beleaguer a point.

    Accelerate Your Career Growth Opportunities

    A recent study found that the five predictors of employees with executive potential were: the right motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement, and determination. These qualities help you stand out, but it’s also important to establish a track record of success and to not appear to be over-reaching in your drive to move up in your company.

    Try to see yourself from your boss’s position and evaluate your promote-ability.

    Do you display a passion and commitment toward meeting the collective goals of the company? Do you have a motivating influence with team members and show insight and excellence in all your work?

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    These qualities will place you front and center when growth opportunities arise.

    Use these strategic tips to escalate your opportunities for growth:

    7. Find a Mentor

    With mentorship programs fast disappearing, this isn’t always easy. But you need to look for someone in the company who has been promoted several times and who also cares about your progress.

    Maybe it’s the person who recommended you for the job. Or maybe it’s your direct supervisor. It could even be someone across the hall or in a completely different department.

    Talk to her or him about growth opportunities within your company. Maybe she or he can recommend you for a promotion.

    Not sure how to find the right mentor? Here’s How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed.

    8. Map out Your Own Growth Opportunity Chart

    After you’ve worked at the company for a few months, work out a realistic growth chart for your own development. This should be a reasonable, practical chart — not a pie-in-the-sky wish list of demands.

    What’s reasonable? Do you think being promoted within two years is reasonable? What about raises? Try to inform your own growth chart with what you’ve heard about other workers’ raises and promotions.

    Once you’ve rigorously charted a realistic path for your personal development within the company, try to talk to your mentor about it.

    Keep refining your chart until it seems to work with your skills and proven talents. Then, arrange a time to discuss it with your boss.

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    You may want to time the discussion around the time of your performance review. Then your boss can weigh in with what he feels is reasonable, too.

    9. Set Your Professional Bar High

    Research shows that more than two-thirds of workers are just putting in their time. But through your active engagement in the organization and commitment to giving your best, you can provide the contrast against others giving lackluster performances.

    Cultivate the hard skills that keep you on the cutting edge of your profession, while also refining your soft skills. These are the attributes that make you better at embracing diverse perspectives, engendering trust, and harnessing the power of synergy.

    Even if you have an unquestionably left-brain career — a financial analyst or biotechnical engineer, for example — you’re always better off when you can form kind, courteous, quality relationships with colleagues.

    Let integrity be the cornerstone of all your interactions with clients and co-workers.

    The Bottom Line

    Growth opportunities are available for those willing to purposely and adeptly manage their own professional growth. As the old adage says,

    “Half of life is showing up.”

    The other half is sticking around so that when your boss is looking for someone to take on a more significant role, you are among the first who come to mind.

    Remember, your career is your business!

    More About Continuous Growth

    Featured photo credit: Zach Lucero via unsplash.com

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