1. Figure out your long-term career and life vision, then plan the steps you need to get there.
Do you want to be CEO of your own business, a partner in a top law firm, or volunteer of the year at your kids’ school? Every path requires different skills and knowledge base, so it’s up to you to figure out what you need to learn and do to be the type of person you desire.
2. Practice habit stacking – or multitasking.
If you’ve been meaning to read more but can’t seem to find the time, take the 10 minutes while your coffee brews in the morning to read. Don’t reach for your phone; grab your book instead. This commitment is much easier because it’s not a lot of time and you’re already spending that time waiting for your coffee. Another example is to floss right after brushing your teeth. You’re already in the bathroom so flossing is the next logical habit to develop.
3. Incorporate the 5-minute rule to improve your career and life.
Instead of committing to networking on LinkedIn for 30 minutes every day, commit to 5 minutes. If you need to finish an online training program to help you improve your career growth, but can’t find the 90 minutes to watch the video, just commit to yourself that you will watch 5 minutes each day, no matter how busy you are. It’s much easier to do something for 5 minutes than it is to carve out a longer period of time, and once you get started watching that video, you may be surprised to find time passing more quickly than you thought.
4. Set boundaries and learn to say NO.
Don’t over-commit. Every time you say YES to something, you’re saying NO to something else. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do and squeeze more “me” time into your schedule. Boundaries are necessary to keep us sane in both our personal and lives.
5. Identify as the person you want to be.
Use some adjectives to describe the type of person you want to be. Are you “someone who doesn’t eat junk food” or are you “someone who’s constantly tempted by snacks”? Are you “trying to quit smoking” or are you “a non-smoker”? The same is true in your professional life. If you run your own business, you’re a CEO, no matter how you slice it. Turning your description of yourself into a positive voice – and dropping the word “trying” – really impacts your mindset.
6. If you slip, get back on the wagon immediately.
All is not lost if you make a mistake. If you overeat at dinner time, don’t eat any more snacks and plan a healthy breakfast. If you get caught up in the business of a day and skip the 10 minutes you routinely spend planning your day each morning in your pursuit to improve your career, there’s always tomorrow. You’ve worked hard to develop this habit so don’t allow all your hard work to go to waste because you made one simple mistake. It’s far easier to start the habit immediately than it is to start all over again months down the road.
7. Set a concrete goal for a certain number of days and don’t break the chain.
Tracking the small changes you are trying to make gives you a visual reminder of all the progress you’re making. But, do make sure your goal is attainable. For instance, if you want to improve your writing skills and speed, consider a goal of writing 500 words per day for 30 days. At the end of 30 days, consider tracking for another 30 days. Setting a goal that’s too large – such as writing 10,000 words per day – is overwhelming and can lead to giving up. Seeing your progress will give you increased energy and motivation to keep moving forward.
8. Choose specific goals instead of abstractions.
“Getting healthy” or “landing a new job” are not specific goals; they are too abstract and they don’t lead to forming healthy habits. Instead, choose to do 5-10 push-ups a day. If you are job searching, set a goal of reaching out to one new networking contact each day and applying for two job openings for which you are a good fit. You’ll still reach your goals by doing these things over time but the initial time investment is nominal. At some point it will become second nature – a new habit – at which point you can add another tiny habit to the mix.
9. Break bad habits by putting up obstacles.
Use web browser blockers during work hours so you have no choice but to focus on work instead of playing games or aimlessly scrolling social media. Put your alarm in the bathroom instead of by your bed so you can’t hit snooze.
10. Reward yourself.
If you want to stop biting your nails, schedule a manicure or a day at the spa after 6-8 weeks as a reward, provided you stayed true and avoided biting those nails. Reward yourself for sticking to your job search goals by treating yourself to dinner out and that new movie you’ve been dying to see. Choose realistic, simple rewards that fit your budget.
11. Line up an accountability partner.
Do you have a friend who enjoys fitness who can help monitor your success? Do you have a colleague or job search coach who you help turn your career struggles around? Or do you feel comfortable posting certain struggles or challenges on social media so your followers then become your accountability partners? Keeping your struggles and goals to yourself often makes it easier to cheat; however, if you tell other people what you’re trying to accomplish, then you’ll focus more on the new behavior, which eventually will overtake the bad behavior.
12. Find your community.
Associating with like-minded people will influence who you become. Once you identify who you want to be, join groups with similar people who can be good influences. If you’re surrounded by people who want to procrastinate and gossip instead of advancing their careers, then chances are high you’ll goof off, too, without reaching your career goals. Whereas joining a job search club with other highly-driven professionals also engaged in a job search will help give you inspiration to reach your goals and you’ll likely learn some new strategies, too.