Book review: ‘Mind Flip’

As you may know I’m a feature writer for HR Zone, and doing this on a regular basis means that I don’t usually share a link to what I’ve written on here; instead, I have a link to a list of my articles on my ‘Publications’ page.

But, I’ve recently written a book a review for HR Zone which I think readers of The Avid Doer (like you!) would find interesting. The book is called Mind Flip, written by Zena Everett, and is a great resource for people looking to develop their professional persona, as well as for those who are looking for the next step in their career.

I’ve given the book 4.5/5 but I’ll let my review do the talking!

Check out the review here!

Clarifying your career’s direction through volunteering

I get frustrated with the tired advice of ‘what could you do for free?’, given to those who are seeking clarity on their career’s direction or specialism. With a lack of focus on money-making skills, and more attention on unrealistic daydreaming, this exercise can sometimes provide very few practical solutions.

Applying for a volunteering role takes this exercise a step or two further, and it’s interesting to see how this commitment can really help you be specific about the skills you want to offer.

Careers blog The Muse talks about how:

“[…]volunteering helps you find clarity about the things you love (or don’t) in your career[…] Long story short, the more experiences you give yourself, the better chance you have of learning about the type of work you love doing and the types of environments you excel in.”

This, to me, makes sense. When making your application to volunteer, you’re committing yourself to take on roles for free. You will be accountable to do those all…for free.

As such, you’ll put yourself forward for only the things you can do (your existing skills and experience), the things you will like to develop (a good understanding but having a desire to develop a skill) and within the environment you’re most comfortable (your preferred place of work).

So I’ve given this ago myself for my local CIPD branch – with absolute commitment – and was surprised to see the selected skills that made it through to the final cut in my pitch email.

Give it a go! Are you surprised by the skills that make it through to the final cut? Are there fewer/more than expected?

Agile concepts for avid doers

Agile. It’s a term that’s being used quite a lot recently as industries, other than software programming from where it began, are beginning to adopt its methodologies. 

For those who are quite new to the concept, Agile is a methodology that was first created formally in software programming in the early noughties. From my passive understanding of it, it’s essentially an incremental delivery of a product that evolves as a living thing that can be adapted, revised and improved on, so to be produced on time and on budget.

Rather than wait for the T’s to be crossed and the I’s to be dotted, getting something workable out there on time and on budget means that work can continue on a manifested product and much more collaboratively.

This has many benefits, too many to go into, but I wanted to focus in on my particular favourites:

  1. There is a product produced on time. As someone incredibly impatient and more of a big thinker rather than a detail-delver, I like to just get things out there. No dillying. No dallying. No faffing with minute details that, in the grand scheme of things, aren’t worth delaying a project for. Where things are produced that aren’t polished, the end users are of course made aware of this. Which leads me to my next favourite benefit…
  2. When the product isn’t polished, there’s room for improvement and collaboration. An idea looks great on paper but when it comes to life, you spot new flaws and gaps that couldn’t have otherwise been picked up. So if the end result was delayed drastically for the irrelevant finishing touches, it becomes absolutely superfluous if it’s not fit for purpose or the end user notices something that needs sorting. Having it out there means it is a live demonstration, one that can be adapted, amended and revised. It also means it can evolve in its natural habitat, ensuring it’s fit for purpose. The time spent on dallying can instead be spent on improving.

This can be seen as a sort of beta test, trying out an unfinished product to identify flaws and receive feedback.

The agile concept was formalised in the early noughties, as I’ve mentioned, but I’ve found a reference to the particular elements listed above many years before this.

In the book “Training needs analysis and evaluation” by Frances and Roland Bee (1994, Institute of Personnel and Development), there is a delightful analogy that demonstrates an agile approach to addressing an issue. This isn’t word for word but goes a little something like this:

The Town Planner

A town planner was given the task to place a park in the middle of the town that had a pathway and flowers. Previous designs involved paths being in pretty symmetrical patterns or where the skilled planners felt most appropriate. The problem with previous attempts though was that pesky walkers would ignore these carefully thought out paths and walk over the grass and flowers, creating their own shortcuts.

This town planner felt a bit rebellious though and tried a different approach. They placed the park in the centre of the town, as agreed, and then opened the park to the public. No flowers and no paths. 

With a bit of scepticism, they were left to it and after a couple of months the town planner returned to their park.

They discovered the walkers and town folk had worn down their own paths that they felt were the best way to get from A to B.

The town planner then proceeded to put down paths based on the town folk’s worn down paths.

This is a great example of getting something out there and seeing how it goes when producing something is far more important if not more beneficial than having it polished first.

It’s not a cop out; it needs to be sensible and able to improve itself by being ‘alive’ and out there. Off of paper and into the real world in order to learn the practicalities from living its purpose and evolve.

So what does this mean for you in the workplace?

I anticipate more organisations jumping onto the Agile bandwagon; it’s practical, it keeps momentum, and it contributes to delivering results.

If you were to start practising this methodology in the work that you do, you should be able to demonstrate the benefits it has to your team and your organisation if they haven’t already adopted it.

Figuring out when to apply the approach though is something you will need to assess per project or task. Weigh the positive and negative impact on producing what can be seen as a half-finished product on time, with producing a finished product out of time.

Sometimes it’s necessary to polish things off before producing it and the extra time that needs to be negotiated will make sense and be more beneficial.

However, make sure this isn’t an anti-Agile mindset. For those who like to take a disproportionately long time faffing with small details won’t like this new approach so you will need to pick the right tasks to demonstrate the benefits of Agile.

Start with baby steps and with products with minimal impact that are ‘semi completed’. It may be a new concept for you too so make sure you get comfortable with it and record the positive impact and benefits it has before spreading it wider.

Career management

You can also apply this mindset to your career planning and management. You might not necessarily know the specifics of your end goal (ideal career choice, the niche for your own business, progressing your career, leaving a job) but you can begin to take steps in the right direction.

A squeaky polished career plan can be edited, revamped or even completely trashed as you progress through it, and decide to change your end goal or your efforts, as I’ve written about before. This is usually as a result of having taken those first baby steps into the plan, bringing it to life from just a sensible-sounding idea on paper.

Yes, you might change direction, but the skills and the things you have learnt during those initial stages not only set you up to the correct path (even as a process of elimination!) but they’re also transferrable to the correct path.

It’s essential to begin this evolution process. This can only begin with a half-finished product that has room to grow and developments without the restrictions of a polished final product.

Whether this is a project at work that seems to be stuck or your career plans that are putting your actions on hold, begin with the first few steps and see how they evolve to the final product.

 

Professional development: Books or courses?

Professional development outside of work can come in many forms; some free, some not so free. Under the latter group falls books and courses, and sometimes most people aren’t aware of the subtle differences between the two, or the subtle similarities. Odds are, books are cheaper than courses but is this the only reason to choose them over courses? Or are courses more beneficial because they cost more?

Beyond the factor of cost, it’s important to weigh up the differences and similarities between these two popular options for furthering your career and professional development so that decisions aren’t made in haste or by assumptions.

Before going through these questions on books and courses, it helps if you have a topic or subject in mind, rather than a general enquiry; for example if you’re thinking of learning more about NLP.

Getting the most out of books for professional development

Books are awesome. I read a lot of them on my commute to and from work, or at home on a rainy Sunday.

It’s usually an equal mix of crime thrillers and career development books, and although I’d really enjoy telling you about the most recent whodunit I’ve just read (it was one of victims all along), I want to talk about how to figure out if an industry- or career-related book can sometimes be more beneficial than some courses.

Firstly, you need to really understand the key concepts of getting the best out of your potential book purchase:

  • What does the book promise to do? If this is not clear instantly, then it has no value to anyone
  • Will this provide me the knowledge that I’m looking for? Does this knowledge actually mean something to me, that I can use either now or in the future, or does it just explain what I might already know?
  • Will this level of knowledge suffice? For example, am I happy with the amount of information I’ll get out of it, realising it isn’t enough to warrant a qualification like I would get from a course?
  • Is the reading style to my liking? Grab a random page and read a bit. Is it too serious or does it make too many jokes? Is it poorly paced? Is the typeface too small to comfortably read on a commute for example?
  • Is the price proportionate to the advice I will get from it? It might be a useful book but does it provide £49.99 worth of solid advice, for example?
  • What do the book reviews say?
  • Will the book be handy to use for later referencing, and add to my own personal library? A good book adds meat to your knowledge toolkit (a.k.a. home library) for years to come.
  • Could I get this information from a blog for free? Usually a comprehensive subject or skill is better from a book; a quick bit of advice or ‘how to’ is best from a blog post

Now the last point might seem a low-blow to be written on a blog post but it is something that needs to be considered.

I like books as much as I like looking for information on the internet and sometimes it just makes more sense to read something up on a blog post, for example leading a brainstorming session (ahem, plug), than reading it in a book which I would use for understanding a concept or comprehensive skill, like brainstorming as a general topic but more in depth.

Getting the most out of courses for professional development

Signing up for a course is a big commitment; the benefits it can provide in terms of professional credibility (take a look at this post I wrote about the advantages of paying for your own training) need to be proportionate to the cost (in time, money and mental stamina).

Answering the questions below will help you begin to get an understanding of what the course can offer:

  • What will I be able to do when completing the course? Is this something I will need in furthering my career? Or is it something I only assume I need but isn’t necessary, ie experience is more essential than a qualification?
  • Are the course outcomes aligned to my career aspirations?
  • Is there a chance to test-drive a course – some training providers allow you to see an example of the training material. This gives you a chance to see if the material is any good or matches your expectations in terms of quality and difficulty.
  • Is the course certified ie will there be a recognised qualification at the end of it? Make sure you check that the awarding body is recognised by an awarding standards body like Ofqual or Edexel.
  • If there is a qualification, will this aid me in my career progression and take me to the next step? Or is it not really necessary?
  • Can I afford it? Am I in the position to commit to a finance/instalment plan? Is the price proportionate to the outcomes, and as expected?
  • How long will the course last? Is this a 2 or 3 month commitment or will I still be doing this for the next 2 years?
  • Will I get post-nominals as a result, or once I’ve gained membership to the relevant professional body?

Just to follow on the final point: it’s easy to be attracted to sparkly post-nominals so make sure you’re getting them for the right reasons. The biggest benefit of post-nominals, in my opinion, is that they’re an instant hook for recruiters.

Even if they only see your name in a sea of job applications, they get to see your post-nominals which immediately demonstrate your dedication and level of experience before even looking at the details of your CV.

Make sure that the post-nominals you’re going after will be able to do this, and that they’re relevant. Sparkly post-nominals are great ‘n’ all but not if they don’t contribute to your goals. Refrain from letting your ego make the decision.

MOOCs

It’s also important to explore shorter, free courses – or Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These are mostly free online courses from a range of universities, colleges and vocational training providers.

I’ve used FutureLearn before and really enjoyed working through a couple of their courses so I suggest popping over there and having a look.

So, books or courses?

Once you have worked your way through the questions for both a book and a course, you should have the answers to compare the two together and begin to look at the crucial differences.

Usually as a rule of thumb if the course provides qualifications that you absolutely need then no amount of books can provide you with this. Books provide knowledge but not credentials. Which of the two is more important and aligned to your goals?

The added benefit of courses is that where there’s a course, there’s also tutor support. Books cannot provide further information or elaboration than what’s already provided. Courses on the other hand have tutor support at the end of phone or email.

They can also have an online student community to share ideas, thoughts and questions. The use and standard of these vary considerably and rely on the provider to encourage participation and engagement so don’t be thinking you’ll be making any new bezzie mates if the community isn’t strong.

If the qualification isn’t a necessity and something you don’t particularly fancy, try to not feel compelled to enrol. If you’re looking to expand your knowledge to better aid your decision making or improve your understanding of a particular topic, then the right books can provide a wealth of knowledge quite suitably.

No financial commitment beyond the initial purchase, no lengthy essays, no multiple choice questions. Books are great if you need to expand your know-how, and forking out a huge amount of money on a course isn’t entirely necessary if you aren’t looking to use those qualifications or if they don’t actually contribute to your progression.

Essentially whether you choose a course or a book, the goal is to develop and bring this back into the workplace and this can absolutely be accomplished through books.

And of course, if you’re not a book worm, course-alternatives can expand into podcasts, videos, shorter MOOCs, and other media that can provide you with just as much information.

Whichever route you choose, be aware of your motives and the level of knowledge you need. Not only will this help you make the right choice, it also means the amount of effort you put into developing your professional knowledge is proportionate to the outcome.

 

 

The job litmus paper test

In the first post of this 5 part series, I shared my thoughts on there not being a perfect career for everyone. So if there isn’t a perfect career out there for you, and therefore any job can be a step into a fulfilling career, how do you structure an approach that at least decreases the risks of falling into the wrong job, and increases the odds of finding a right one?

Although you don’t know which job or career will give you job satisfaction yet, you know that the end goal is job satisfaction itself; however the bridge that gets you there is still indistinguishable.

Job litmus paper test

Do you remember litmus paper tests back at school? That slip of paper the teacher dipped in random solutions to test its pH scale – if it turned pink, it was acidic; if it turned blue, is was alkaline. A job litmus paper test does the same sort of thing when it comes to testing out a potential job or career.

In essence the components that make the job litmus paper test are:

Coincidentally* I wrote about these 3 elements individually in the previous 3 posts. This concept is nothing new and I’m not claiming this to be the one best way. I am however suggesting that the job litmus paper test helps you decide your steps before you take them in an unconventional way compared to other advice out there.

You see, when you don’t know what you want to do but you want to build momentum towards job satisfaction, this job litmus paper test acts as a decision maker against unknown and indefinite variables increasing your chances to job satisfaction. It may not help in determining the right job for you but it will certain determine if a job is right for you.

Career Venn diagram

A sucker for a graph, I suggest using something like a Venn diagram, the idea being that a specific overlap of your unique formula, preferred working culture and professional motivation will bring to light a good career choice. There have been a number of theories that correlate to this concept but the issue I personally found with these is that they suggest the diagram is a sure way to pinpoint a career for you…

What happens if you aren’t aware of a specific career is in existence? If becoming a thermal fluid dynamicist is a perfect career for you, would you have been able to identify such an obscure and potentially unknown job from using the diagram?

Like a lot of people, my early working life consisted of being incredibly frustrated with the question ‘what career is for me!?’. It was only after I saw my current role advertised that I was able to compare it to my diagram; a combination here, and a combination there and lo and behold I saw a winning combo.

But, in my first post in this series, I poo-pooed the concept of the Venn diagram. What gives? Well, two things about the Venn diagram concept are:

  1. It only works in retrospect – it’s easy to fit specific skills, culture and goals (while conveniently disregarding the rest) into a fulfilling job;
  2. It only works when you stumble upon a job that meets the majority of the strongest elements within your diagram, and you can place these into the requirements of the role.

I could only see that my job was the manifestation of specific elements from my Venn diagram after I had seen the job description. I don’t think I could have easily concocted my job using the Venn diagram before I had seen it advertised.

Don’t get me wrong; when constructing your Venn diagram, you may well see a blatant career in front of you. By all means roll with it! That’s fantastic news! But this may be just one out of a few possible careers, some you’re not aware of or familiar with.

And this is why it helps those who haven’t any ideas on what they would like to do.

How to use the test

The biggest use of the job litmus test before finding a good career is that, although it might not highlight your choices, it will certainly narrow down your choices. For example if you want to work in a progressive field that allows some sort of movability across specialisms to do with numbers, all within a corporate environment, it would be safe to narrow your search towards banking, finance, accountancy or risk management, for example.

If you like to help people, to train and motivate them but in a relaxed environment and be seen as someone who independently chooses their career’s direction, you can narrow your choices to learning and development, freelance training (be it fitness, business, etc.), management consultancy or further education.

When you get to see a number of patterns of fields that take your fancy, you can then begin to make some enquiries. Begin to scope the fields you want to explore, to really get an understanding of what they entail. You can do this by:

  • Talking to people you know who are in similar fields
  • Reaching out to people you don’t know in similar fields via Twitter, LinkedIn or blogs
  • Researching job profiles through career websites like National Careers Service , Prospects, Target Jobs, Total Jobs, and My World of Work to name a few
  • Researching job profiles through good old fashioned books like The Book of Jobs, The A to Z of Careers and Jobs, Careers 2018 Directory and What Color is your Parachute. These aren’t affiliates, just hearty recommendations.
  • Watching video interviews of people who work in a number of sectors – a simple online search will bring up loads of these!
  • Contacting professional bodies and institutes that oversee their respective sectors to see what it entails and if they can get you in contact with their members
  • Searching courses related to potentially interesting sectors and understanding the module breakdown of topics
  • Contacting HR departments, specifically the recruitment teams, of companies that interest you or are related to potentially interesting roles. Making yourself known to these will also get you on their radar should any positions come up
  • Contacting recruitment agencies who can tell you more about specific roles and companies that pique your interest. Again, you’ll end up under their radar
  • Looking at job descriptions and what skills and attributes they are looking for
  • If you get the opportunity, job shadowing or taking up secondments to test out interesting jobs.

This step can and will seem tedious but it is worth the effort and time investment. When it becomes exciting and interesting, you know you’re onto something good.

Perseverance is key at this important stage and you might become obsessive if you don’t get any instant results. Just keep referring back to your diagram and make sure your efforts are in line with what you want.

When you do become more confident in the direction you want to go or specialising in a particular sector or way of working, begin your job search. The whole point of this concept though is always look back on your litmus paper test, really check to see if the job or career you’re looking at fits with your formula, preferred culture and professional motivation.

It is likely that although you might not be instantly ready to take up a perfect job or career when you see it, it will be the spark of inspiration you need to start developing the required skills and attributes, and if necessary the relevant qualifications. This process itself will eventually make your search more focussed on elements that haven’t been eliminated from previous litmus tests and you may end up, by process of elimination, getting a Eureka! moment on which sector you would fit well into.

Do keep in mind throughout the process that if you have an idea of what you want to do, and you know you’ll be really good at it, explore the option of a side-hustle or setting up your own business. They’re topics worthy enough of posts of their own, which I will be writing soon, but in the meantime spend some time on looking into the really interesting world of entrepreneurship.

I sincerely hope that the idea (and it is only that) of testing interesting roles, careers and sectors against your job litmus paper test has inspired you to realise there is another way of getting closer to finding job satisfaction. I also hope it has quashed any deflation after another idea that there isn’t a perfect career for everyone, but instead a spectrum of possibilities based on varying combinations of your Venn diagram.

This is the last of a 5 part series of posts on discovering how to find job satisfaction. If you missed the first four, you can find them here: A secret about finding your perfect career; Too many interests to choose a career; 6 signs of toxic and healthy work cultures; and Professional motivation.

 

* Not coincidentally

 

Professional motivation

To determine your end goal when you don’t know what career or job to go for, you need to think about the sort of life you want at your career peak, or when you consider you’ve achieved what you have wanted with your career. The beauty of this exercise is that this can be done regardless of the sector, so you not knowing what sector you want to work in doesn’t need to play a part in this. Instead, you can assess what is your professional motivation.

This peak need not be retirement, nor the point at which you haven’t anything further to add. It is your own version of having really made it.

In the previous two posts, I talked about finding your own unique formula and how to spot the signs of a toxic and healthy work culture so that you can begin to understand the skills and experience you want to utilise and the working environment in which to use these. In my opinion, the third and final element of reaching job satisfaction is knowing your professional motivation.

What is professional motivation?

Professional motivation is the success you want to achieve in your career – no one can tell you what it is or what it should be, as it’s personal to you.

To one person, it might be having their own office (regardless of status, so either CEO or running a business from home for example).

To another it might be to do the best they can at work without jeopardising family life.

To another, it might be to be seen as thought leader.

To another it might be earning a substantial amount of money so he or she can retire early or work less hours.

To another it might be to get the right balance between work and home life by working flexible or part-time hours so they can regularly sing at weddings.

To another it might be to work across a number of interesting sectors over time, not specialising in anything in particular but satisfying his or her multiple interests.

It’s personal to you, it’s what you want out of your career, not what is ‘expected’ of you. Multiple promotions to more senior positions isn’t a success for a hobbyist boat modeller if he or she doesn’t have the time to make model boats if their career zaps all their time and money. As I mentioned in a post about the importance of having multiple interests, indulging in hobbies, the things you find enjoyable regardless of profit/loss, I believe plays a big part in professional motivation. These skills and extracurricular activities all contribute to your specific set of skills that you can bring to your whole life, including your career.

A very good book ‘Understanding Emotional Intelligence’ by Neilson Kite and Frances Kay defines motivation eloquently:

Motivation can be defined as an internal condition that triggers behaviour and gives it direction. It energises and directs goal-oriented behaviour.

This can be applied to all manners of motivation, whether it’s quitting a bad habit, starting to write a book, or working towards job satisfaction. Knowing what motivates you will help you align your actions and behaviours to what you really want.

How to find your professional motivation

Understanding other people’s successes will give you a first-hand perspective of what success feels like to them. This doesn’t mean you will feel the same, but learning what it took to get them where they are, the hurdles they had to jump, the very significant (but not at the time) small wins throughout their career, should begin to inspire you. I delve more into this in my next post, but for now, it’s important to ask yourself the right sort of questions to find out what stokes your fires, how do you want to be remembered, and what will make you satisfied with your career come the time you retire.

The questions below should begin to get the cogs moving:

  • Do you want to have helped people?
  • Do you want to have inspired people?
  • Do you want to be a thought leader? If so, why?
  • Do you want to be an expert in your industry?
  • Do you want to have made a big professional and/or interpersonal impact in every place you worked?
  • Do want to have membership to a professional body? If so, why?
  • Do you want to have improved how people work?
  • Do you want to have improved how the organisations you worked for carry out their work?
  • Do you want to have contributed your thoughts, opinions and skills to projects, or be part of the team that implemented the projects?
  • Do you want to have managed people? If so, why?
  • Do you want to have led or be given direction and serve?
  • Do you want to have included your work in your personal life for example enjoy activities outside of work that relates to your industry, or do you want to have a strict separation?
  • Do you want to have a stronger emphasis on your home life?
  • Do you want to have a stronger emphasis on your career’s sector? If so, why?
  • Do you want to have a stronger emphasis on flexibility in terms of work pattern or types of organisations? If so, why?
  • Do you want to have a stronger emphasis on your extracurricular activities and hobbies? If so, why?
  • Do you want to have a stronger emphasis on the social aspect with your career, be it with customers and/or colleagues? If so, why?
  • Do you want to earn a lot of money? If so, why?
  • Do you want to have autonomy or work under clear instructions? Why?
  • Is status really important to you? If so, why? If not, why?

Make sure to really pay attention to this exercise and think hard yet instinctively to the questions, and any follow up questions you might ask yourself. The exercise only works if you answer truthfully, not in a way that you think you should answer, or if your answers are driven by your ego.

Do you break out into a cold sweat at the thought of responsibility but think you should be pushing yourself? That’s completely fine, responsibility isn’t your thang. Are you really motivated by making tonnes of money, even though you consider it greedy? Who cares, you’d like to financially secure while having the finer things in life.

There are no right or wrong answers…..well, the only wrong answer would be one that is based on something you think you ought to answer, not how you really want to answer.

Be sure to also do this exercise when you’re in a good mood and not thinking too negatively about work; negativity will skew your perception and a lot of the answers might end up being somewhere along the lines of ‘I don’t care as long as I get out of that hell hole!’.

Take your time and really dig deep into the depths of your true motivation. Having as much clarity on this, alongside your unique formula and preferred work culture, will give you everything you need to help direct you to job satisfaction.

And I will reveal how to go about this in my next post #Cliffhanger

This is the fourth of a 5 part series of posts on discovering how to find job satisfaction. Next week, I’ll be talking about how to use the three elements (interests, culture, and motivation) in an unconventional way to reaching job satisfaction.

 

When work won’t pay for training

As avid doers, we love a good course: a structured and linear progression towards a shiny new qualification (and even a shinier post-nominal) which gives us more competence and confidence in a particular topic, and which will lead to promotions, your own executive office and world domination.

Just one snag – work won’t pay for it. It might be development that you can bring back into your job (even at a push, I’m sure the principles behind crochet can be applied to the corporate world) but for one reason or another, work are unable to fund it.

Perfect. By the way, if there was a grammatical way to type a word that doesn’t sound sarcastic, I could have done with it there. It really is a blessing in disguise that work won’t pay for training or a course, or in other words, that you have to fund it yourself. If you have your heart set for a particular course, and a particular topic you want to develop, then you would be doing it one way or another anyway (if you’re as stubborn as me).

You see, funding your own course has so many benefits:

  • you get to choose how you want to take the course (online, classroom, weekends, evening)
  • you get to choose the course to complete. The topic doesn’t therefore necessarily need to relate directly (or at all) to you current role
  • you get to choose the provider. If the topic is offered from a number of course providers, you can choose the one that suits your needs, budget, membership benefits and general preference.
  • you have no obligation to finish the course if it’s a load of pants (I’d strongly recommend you finish it anyway but you won’t feel obliged to do it because work are paying for it)
  • the sense of accomplishment when you complete the course feels so much stronger knowing that it was on your own steam than if you did it as part of work
  • you have no strings attached to your employer. You could leave your company the day after you completed the course without any guilt (or debt if your company has a clause that repayment needs to be made within a certain time after the course if you leave)
  • but the best benefit of funding your own training is that it shows absolute professional determination and initiative to your current, and future employers

Professional determination and initiative 

I cannot begin to tell you how good this will look to your current and future employers as it really illustrates your determination and perseverance. In interviews you get to also explain why you funded it yourself – not “oh, them there wouldn’t pay for it! Grr!” – but that you assessed your own skills and abilities, you understood what was required of you in this, and any future role, and you proactively sought to bridge that gap by taking the course by any means necessary.

It’s also important to remember that taking a course or enrolling on any sort of training doesn’t always have to improve your career prospects. This might initially sound contradicting to the whole ethos of The Avid Doer ie career progression and getting where you want to be professionally. To me though, I believe you can progress and develop yourself without necessarily having better career prospects as an end goal (new job, promotion etc.), but instead so you can progress and develop in your own role. These additional skills help boost your productivity, performance, efficiency and confidence in your current role, and really make it your own.

Unrelated qualifications

This approach also explains to employers why you underwent seemingly unrelated qualifications to the current role as it was appropriate at the time to learn that particular skill even though it wouldn’t have led to better prospects.

For example, if someone wanting to work their way up in accountancy but has a qualification in marketing, it’s still worth mentioning why they decided to train in that, which clears up any doubt of in their dedication to the field but also recognises a qualification they would have still worked hard for.

Of course you will have to be selective in which ones you decide to include, but you need to identify which skills you picked up during, and as a result of, completing the unrelated qualification are transferable to your current or prospective role.

But when it comes to your existing employer not paying for the unrelated qualification, you can still follow this process of identifying the transferable skills and how they will play a part in your existing role.

“But courses are expensive” 

I hear that. Funding your own training does, obviously and non-figuratively come at a cost. It also relies heavily on your personal and financial circumstances.

Luckily, training online, or “distance learning” keeps costs down, and most even allow students to pay for the course in installments. And most will even qualify you to be an actual student ie student card discounts!

Other qualifications also allow people to just sit the exams; the Certified Insurance Institute for example have exam areas around the UK for people to complete their tests. Before this, those sitting the exam would have just needed to buy the relevant books and studied that way, rather than just enrolling in a course. So the total cost would just be the books and the exam fee. However if you’re the sort that needs a tutor to talk you through the content or to motivate you into completing chapters etc. this self-learning approach might not suit you.

I am a huge fan of learning and development (“L&D” in the bizz) and also of distance learning, so much so that it’s worthy of its own post which I will be publishing soon. I’ll be writing about picking the right course, finding the right way of doing it, making the time and tips on self-discipline.

In the meantime look at what’s available out there; I think you’ll find they’re a lot more affordable than you realise. Of course before you commit to any financial commitment like an installment plan, you should always do your sums and seek professional financial advice if appropriate. You should also assess the amount of return on investment ie will the benefits of gaining this qualification outweigh the cost and time it will take to complete it.

If it is an expensive course, the benefits really need to be tangible to your existing role (or your career aspirations) and speaking with your manager will help eliminate the possibility that the course isn’t necessary for your existing role (which might have been the reason why they decided not to fund your course).

So that’s why all is not lost if work decide they’re not footing the bill for your course. Dare I say it’s better they’re not paying for it as by funding it yourself, you add so much weight to the qualification, demonstrating to your current and future employers that you have the get-up-and-go to learn what you need and want to learn come what may. It also demonstrates you’re not one for giving up at the first sign of resistance and instead find other ways to develop yourself.

 

15 productive things to do on your commute

Getting the most out of your commute is something we could all get to grips with, considering that the UK’s average commute is 58 minutes according to City AM. And if you live in London, that commute is increased to 81 minutes to and from work. Most commuters dread this part of their working life, especially in the winter when the heater’s broken, the seats are wet from coats and umbrellas, and everybody seems to have a cold that seemingly prevents them from covering their mouths when they sneeze.

Most have also developed a number of coping mechanisms to include their commute time to their daily productivity. Commutes can be a nice way to separate work from home, a transition period, a defined punctuation of time that helps shift our mindset.

Today I am going to share 15 ways to make the most out of your commute and maximise its productivity potential. These are listed in a way that assumes most commutes are driving, cycling, walking, and catching public transport, and I note which way of commute is most appropriate to each activity using D, C, W and PT respectively (in case you assume knitting is perfectly acceptable while driving, which, just to note, IT IS NOT).

Now I’m hooked on making them, I’ve put these into an infographic at the end of the post.

  1. Listen to podcasts (D/C/W/PT)

I am a recent convert to podcasts and, quite frankly, I cannot get enough of them. Using the commute time to absorb information is not only a great way to pass the time, or to learn more about a particular topic, or catch up with the latest episode of a serial drama, but it’s also a very passive and relaxing way to absorb the information. If you haven’t given them a go, please try them out! There’s a podcast for nearly every subject from business to confidence, cooking to music, comedy sketches to serial dramas.

  1. Listen to music (D/C/W/PT)

With a multitude of pocket-sized devices, I don’t need to remind you that anyone can listen to music on the go now. Using your commute to pump yourself up before work, or deflate after a day of work (music styles should vary, unless you like relaxing to Metallica) is another passive activity that fills the time, but also can have huge mental health benefits.

  1. Listen to…nothing (D/C/W/PT)

Precisely that. Nothing. Listen to, or do, nothing. Much like listening to music, when you just sit in silence, either being present in the moment or shutting out all external noises, it helps massively to prepare you for the day ahead, or deflates you after a stressful day. This is particularly good for days which are information-heavy, or, as other introverts can relate, very people-y.

  1. Learn a new language (D/C/W/PT)

Strictly speaking, you could do this as a driver, cyclist or walker, however it’s probably easier if you learn a new language with the writing in front of you. But fitting this often overlooked skill into your commute will really broaden your general linguistic skills, open you to new culture, and look fancy amongst those around you.

  1. Socialise (D/C/W/PT)

With work and daily life taking up a lot of our time, we are all guilty of not socialising as much as we used to. Using this dead time between work and home gives you the opportunity to call a friend, start a group chat or FaceTime a family member, without it encroaching on your time at home. You could even socialise in person (a novel idea!) by car-pooling, walking with a friend or catching a train home with a colleague. I know someone who has even developed a ‘train family’ who celebrate birthdays and Christmas together by throwing catered and decorated parties…on the train. Mix it up a bit. If you’re an introvert, you’re time at home is not only precious, but essential to recuperate from peopling at work and sometimes visiting friends immediately after work might be mentally exhausting.

  1. Organise your day ahead (D/W/PT)

Having a dedicated time to your day to make sure future deadlines and appointments are sorted really helps in the long run to avoid time management related stress. Even drivers can organise their diaries by speaking to Siri, or the like. You can do this going home from work too and organise tomorrow’s appointments, especially if you’re one to dwell on upcoming meetings in the evenings.

  1. Listening to a mindfulness app (W/PT)

Mindfulness apps are forever becoming more and more popular as people begin to realise there’s more to them than airy fairy flute music but proper backed-up science that proves the benefits of mindfulness. Again, this is just another way to ease yourself to and from a day of work, and something to try out that you might not feel compelled to do when you’re at home with distractions. I haven’t included drivers in this activity, as although most exercises can be done with your eyes open, it’s probably not the safest to zone out while driving.

  1. Exercise (C/W/PT)

Who doesn’t love a bit of exercise? Only a selected few unfortunately. For those who can’t seem to find time to fit exercise into their day (or actively find ways of not fitting it in…), incorporating it into your commute is a great start. As your commute is a necessary evil and there is no way of avoiding it, making exercise as part of your commute makes it routine and more easy to commit. The type of exercise is limited to walking, cycling (either the whole or part of the commute), power-walking and jogging but it can be really enjoyable…on a dry day. Even if you catch a train or bus, getting off a stop or two (or more) earlier and walking the rest of the way, it still counts.

  1. Read a blog (PT)

Catching up on your favourite blog (like this one!), or blogs, is another great way to absorb information. If you like to read anyway, then you find this way of absorbing information is just as easy and passive as listening to a podcast. Be it a blog on a personal interest of yours or something related to work, anything goes.

  1. Write a blog (PT)

Nothing out there doing it for you? Write a blog that you feel the blogosphere is missing. Heck, it doesn’t even need to be missing it; if writing a blog is something you already do, or something you think you will enjoy doing, then using your commute as a time to write for it is a perfect time. It also encourages a daily habit of it, one of the most important aspect to a successful blog. About 75% of my posts are written on the train going to and from work – I type it out on my phones notepad and paste it into an email to myself, so you don’t even need to drag your laptop around.

  1. Read a book (PT)

Similar to number 7, only in book format. Again, it can be your favourite genre (I like a grisly whodunit), something to do with work, or something entirely new.

  1. Write a book (PT)

Similar to number 8. Replace ‘blog’ with ‘book’, ‘blogosphere’ with ‘book shops’ and ‘posts’ with ‘pages’.

  1. Work on a side hustle (PT)

If you have a yearning to start your own business or have one on the side as a side hustle, using your commute to work on this adds to the input while not eating into work time and home time. Obviously there are certain things you might not be able to do on a train, for example if you’re a blacksmith, but the related admin tasks can easily be done using a phone, tablet, or good old fashioned notepad. There are some side hustles people might feel they could do on a train for example knitting, graphic design or social media marketing.

  1. Study a course (PT)

The power that is online or distance learning enables you to learn new skills from the comfort of your own home…or your commute. Most people who take online courses feel as though they struggle to commit to a schedule or find a time to do it; making this a part of your commute ensures you can commit to a regular schedule and find the time to do it. If you look after a home and family, doing this means you get to get stuck into your course without distractions or feeling obligated to do things around the house.

  1. Work (PT)

Although this goes against the whole concept of switching off after work, some people find that they can get more done on the way to and from work as it’s mostly distraction-free. They see themselves as not officially at work yet and therefore unavailable to take calls or respond to emails. The trick is to get the right balance – working during your commute should be able to help manage your time better or put any worries at ease. Go too far though, where you just need to do more work to meet a deadline, can lead to either poor time management (relying on unpaid hours to get your work done) or over loading, both of which needs addressing with your manager. When it reaches this stage, you will find it harder and harder to separate home life from work life.

Now, I could have listed a whole bunch of other ideas, for example binge watching a series or aimlessly scrolling through social media accounts, but I really wanted to focus on what productive things us avid doers can do to add to our day, not inconvenience it.

Personally, I’m glad I have a commute. When I’m not working from home, I travel to work by train for an hour each way and it’s an unavoidable part of my day where I have no other option but to find things to do. It’s a time of day that is forced upon us and therefore is a great excuse to do the things we want to that might otherwise seem unproductive if you were at home with a sink full of dishes.

 

Thigstodoonyourcommute

Planning your career in 2018

So 2017 is behind us. Where did it go? Did you manage to accomplish everything you wanted to do, or did one thing or another get out of hand and time just simply slipped away? It’s OK, it can happen. Life gets in the way and sometimes certain commitments overtake others.

So, as 2018 kicks off, here are 3 really easy steps on how you can take more control of your career planning in the new year, whether you fell behind in 2017 or not.

Step one: look at what you did (and didn’t do) in 2017

Before making a start on what you want your career to look like in 2018, you will need to evaluate what was and wasn’t done this year. This isn’t an exercise to give you a hard time or dwell on mistakes; it’s about making a simple bullet point list of each the things you accomplished and things that got side-tracked. The list of accomplishments provides you the self-reflection every professional needs time to do, while also laying down the ground work for next year, for example, you might have completed a level 3 course, so 2018 might involve looking at level 4. But for now, focus on what was done.

Then you can focus on what you didn’t do, and determine what got in the way. For example, you might have wanted to be promoted this year but didn’t; why was this? Lack of skills? Lack of insight to what is required for a promotion? Your company doesn’t really offer promotion opportunities? Write, or keep note of your answer to this.

Step two: look at what you want to realistically accomplish in 2018

The key word here is ‘realistically’. You need to keep your eagerness to be a highflier by tomorrow in check and keep timescales realistic. This helps give you accurate deadlines that can actually be met, rather than thinking you have failed somehow by not meeting a deadline you set that was improbable in the first place. This will be put you in a place of defeat and potentially stop you in your tracks when you could have made steady progress to your goals in a controlled pace.

You will want to begin by understanding the direction you generally want to go in. This can be in 1, 5, 10 years etc., from now, but where is the focus? The master plan? For example, if you are an insurance professional and one day you want to be a manager. It might not be in 2018, but that’s where you want to head for now. It also might not be the actual end goal and for now it seems that far away, it’s not a clear picture as of yet. That’s fine, for now you can focus on what will get you closer to being an insurance manager that will be accomplish-able in 2018?

Begin your list with the areas you might want to explore on the things you had accomplished in 2017. As avid doers, we don’t rest on our laurels when we’ve completed something, we want to see where the next step is, where can this take us, how can we get even better? It might not necessarily be closely related to it, but can feed an idea as a starting point to your list. For example, you might have been promoted in 2017. Well done! Now what? You might want to explore how you can understand the new position fully by doing a particular thing, or upping your game by patching over some skill gaps you’ve only just discovered now that you’ve started the new role.

You can then move onto the things you didn’t do while being mindful of the reasons why you didn’t do them. To eliminate any out of date stuff, determine if there are any objectives you didn’t meet because they no longer relevant to your role, or what you want to do. If they’re not important, don’t include them in your 2018 plan. Then, anything left over, you can decide to bring forward into 2018 as they will still be relevant and play a part in your development and progress. Feel free to tweak them in certain ways so that they make sense.

Then the final consideration for step two is to include any new areas you want to cover in 2018, any new objectives, that aren’t covered by the lists above. Anything new that would help you in your master plan.

Step three: bridging the ‘now’ to the ‘then’

Now you need to bridge between where you are now, and where you want to be by the end of 2018. To do this, you need to understand what is needed to get you there and detail this into a particular objective. For example ‘getting good at maths’ is a good start if you have recently been put in charge of handling budgets, but it’s not really quantifiable. It’s not giving you any recipe to make sure that is completed. You know you need to ‘get good at maths’ but how are you going to do this? Make it easy for yourself by laying out the steps you need to do to get good, for example ask sign up to a course, buy a book (a popular genre is along the lines of ‘finance for non-financial managers’), understand financial terminology (a glossary from a search engine should do the trick), or simply make a conscious effort to ask more questions from those who have more experience than you when you don’t understand a particular concept.

If you know where you want to be by the end of 2018 but you’re not entirely sure how to get there then make it your mission to understand that. Make that as one of your objectives. You can then break it down into a step-by-step recipe, as above, for example research on the internet, online resources about particular careers, look up courses, find information in books, or simply ask people face-to-face.

You could start with your line manager, as you should already be having conversations about your career anyway – if not, make sure you do. Take control by setting a meeting up yourself with your manager so you can talk about where you want to be and what they can do to help you understand what needs to be done.

Of course, you might not be in the position to ask around too conspicuously if, for example one of your objects is to find another job, or start your own business. If this is the case, speak to those already in the career or company you want to swap to, talk to those who are already running their businesses. This will really help you get tried-and-tested steps to implement into your objectives for 2018.

What if you don’t know what to do?

I hear that. Like so many others, I have been there myself. You know you want to put your energy into a career, you feel as though you’re a wind-up toy that’s ready to be put down and speed off to success if you just knew in which direction to be dropped.

This is a whole topic in itself, and one I will cover over a number of posts in the future as I believe it’s a common problem, not to mention one that is so incredibly frustrating for those who have the avid doer attitude without an outlet to apply it (Update: I’ve now written a post on a secret to finding your perfect career here). For now though, you can still follow these steps to help you on the track of discovering what it is you want to do. That can be your end goal, or at least your master plan (ie you might not know by the end of 2018, but you can have objectives in place to help you discover). What did you do in 2017 to help you find out what you want to do? If you did nothing, why is that (note: ‘waiting for a eureka moment’ is not an acceptable answer I’m afraid)? What will you now do in 2018 to get a step closer to discovering what you want to do? One of the objectives is to certainly stay tuned to The Avid Doer as it will be covered in the not-too-distant future.

Whichever your situation, make sure 2018 has a feasible roadmap that consists of sequential steps and progressive events. And then stick to them. Your 2018 plan can of course change and be updated – it’s a living thing, and not something that’s written in concrete. But it is important it is written in one form or another, to remind you what you promised you will do in 2018.

By the time 2019 is here, you would have accomplished your list which will set you up nicely for accomplishing more amazing things in the new year, and so on.

 

Job title or duties: which is more important?

I am at a crossroads. In one direction, I’ve been offered a job that I know I can do and looks to be interesting, and although it’s in a new tangent to my chosen career that I’m happy to explore, the title of the role is quite generic and sounds entry-level. In the other direction, I can stick in my current role that really isn’t interesting at all, but it’s in my chosen career with an associated and profession-specific title that could help me progress later up the ladder, but it’s not guaranteed. I’m not sure what I should do.”

All is not lost. By stepping back and weighing up your options in a deeper level than you have described, you can make an informed decision that you won’t later regret. Although you can more than likely recover from a potential wrong decision, this causes delays in your career which nobody likes.

At face value, it’s easy to conclude that what you do on a day-to-day basis at work is crucial to your health and wellbeing. As such, it’s correct to assume that by choosing a job that looks really interesting means you’re less likely to go into work dreading each day. Being unhappy at work really does take a toll in one way or another, so wherever there’s an opportunity to be happy, take it. You would need to make sure though that you’re not jumping ship purely to get out of this job, or that you’re viewing this seemingly interesting job through rose-tinted glasses. This could potentially only solve your problem short-term where after a while you find the job does nothing for you and you’re back to where you started.

Your ‘chosen’ career

I can’t help but notice, however, that you say that you are in your ‘chosen’ career. I can understand why this then throws a spanner in the works and can cloud your judgement. By being in your career of choice suggests you have made it through the gory steps of deciding what you want to do with your work life and/or have some sort of vocational or higher educational qualifications to match. This might have all been for nothing if you choose the first option, where you are exploring a new profession.

Or will it? You would have probably explored the new profession in terms of the job satisfaction it offers, is there a clear route for progression, does the money meet your desired income etc. but have you brought these findings back to your chosen career? By this I mean are there any skills you will learn and develop by taking this new tangent that you can then, at a later date, bring back to your chosen career?

These are termed as transferable skills, and I’m all for them. Taking a side step – or even a back step if needs be and you can afford to do so – into a new tangent means you get the chance to build up experience and new skills that you might have otherwise missed out on, especially if they are skills that aren’t expected of you in your chosen career. These skills, however, can be the very thing that separates you from the rest out there. Not only can you consider yourself still a ‘member’ of your chosen profession while you take that side step (carry on with keeping on top of your industry news, professional membership, qualifications), and therefore keep you in that professional frame of mind, you can bring so much more to the table from taking that bold move when you return to it.

And don’t be afraid to explain why you took this bold move to new potential employers during your interview, or as part of your career bio. They should admire you for recognising the skills that you needed to develop outside of your profession but still transfer them back to it when you were ready to progress. The generic title shouldn’t factor into their decision-making if they understand what they require from a candidate. They’re after what you can do, not your job title.

A brand new direction?

There is also the possibility that this could be a serendipity moment where you discover this new role becomes your new chosen career. By experiencing the new role first hand, you might really enjoy it and wish to progress in this field instead. When asking people how they got into their chosen career, you’d be surprised at how many of them say that they stumbled into it after making an unexpected or unintentional career change. I’m one of them! You will just need to make sure you won’t miss the things that attracted you to your current career in the first place, or find ways of incorporating these attractive qualities into the new tangent.

If the new tangent is so far off-piste that it seems you can’t transfer any skills back (you always can by the way which I will write about in another article, but for now let’s pretend you can’t) and you feel you need to stick it out in your current role, don’t do it solely for the title. They mean a lot less than you’re giving them credit for, especially in the age of made up titles. Do it because you believe this is a stepping stone to the place you really want to be and that the slog between now and then will be worth it.

If you decide to stay, you need to consider how long you intend to stay there and when the next progression opportunity is likely to happen. This should give you your ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ so you can focus on riding it out and getting through it with a target date in sight. Then while working through this time, look for ways that you can make it count by working on extra qualifications, extra research, develop new and existing skills, or even just clocking up the career miles – anything that keeps you occupied and helps you through it.

Moving on

If you think the time is too long to manage, or there is little proof to suggest there’s scope for progression any time soon, then you might have to use the situation as a wake-up call to start looking for somewhere else. As you will know, job searching can be stressful, ditto for moving into the great unknown, so don’t take this option too lightly. But you need to figure out if job searching is much less stressful than your current role because no one should stay put in a role that makes them unhappy. You should also determine if the problem will remain with your employer, and that it’s not the role itself, as doing what you do but elsewhere might put you back into the position you’re in now.

Whichever option you choose, make sure it’s for the right reasons, that they have a long-term positive effect and that you look beyond what a recruiting manager decided to call the collection of things you do at work. You need to really think what would be the best direction to take that will really help your career in the future so that you don’t regret anything later for the sake of a quick fix.