The Avid Doer Revamp

I have often written about how important it is to assess your progress towards a professional goal in order to make sure you’re on track, or ascertain if the goal has developed into something new.

I’ve also written about how beneficial extracurricular activities can help you develop professionally, and how these help you learn in an environment outside of work, as well as proving your dedication to the field.

I’ve been assessing where I’m at with The Avid Doer for quite a while now, and how it’s helping me reach my professional goals. Doing this in my free time as an extracurricular activity means that time spent on it has to be the most efficient.

As such I’m excited to let you that the site is going to have a revamp.

The look, the content, the layout – all updated and refreshed.

I’m chuffed to bits with how far this has come and how it’s built a strong worldwide readership.

I just need to tweak the core message slightly in order to help those who visit the site, as well as help me learn and develop as an HR/L&D professional.

When the curtains have been lifted to reveal the revamp, I’ll tell you more about what its new aims are but rest assured it will still focus on skills, learning, development and career management.

Time wise, I’m not too sure how long it will take but there will be a slight pause for a bit with my weekly articles, just so I can get it right.

I’ll still be over on LinkedIn and Twitter in the meantime so hop on over there if you want to say hi.

Stay tuned and I’ll see you in a couple of weeks!

 

Gracefully disruptive

Disruption is essential in the workplace when it comes to challenging the status quo (for the right reasons of course). Practices and methods become engrained into the team, into the organisation, and over time these are met with reluctance to change.

‘This is how it’s always been done’, you’re told. ‘It’s worked fine without anyone sticking their nose in’.

‘Don’t fix what ain’t broke’…and all that carry on.

In order to progress – whether it’s professionally, entrepreneurially, or at work – there needs to be disruption. I deliberately use the word ‘progress’ too, as opposed to ‘get ahead’.

Many people can get ahead without disruption. Indeed they use the status quo to their advantage by seemingly playing the safe route to get ahead.

However, by choosing this option, they miss out on the opportunities to broaden their mind, develop existing skills, and be open to new learning experiences.

Where’s the problem-solving? Where’s the creative thinking? Where’s the approach that’s right for you?

This route is too narrow, having been formed probably years ago, and one that once worked either appropriately to the time or the individual (or both).

By being disruptive, you ensure that unexplored territory is identified, examined, assessed and tried out. And with such big risks may come big rewards.

So what do I mean by disruption?

Being disruptive is not about talking the loudest or stamping your feet the hardest. It’s about applying curiosity and inquisitiveness into questioning already-mapped-out procedures, career paths, processes, ways of working, even thought processes, and seeing if there’s a better way.

‘Rocking the boat’ sounds almost destructive, and we’re not rocking it to be awkward. Where a boat rocks comes ripples that could have a detrimental impact to the ecology and banks of the river for example. Without forward thinking, this could ruin any sort of credibility to going against the status quo again.

The term I much prefer is gracefully disruptive. It’s challenging status quo with grace, with forethought and thorough consideration.

So how do you become more gracefully disruptive?

Firstly, you need to understand why you want to be disruptive, and understand when you shouldn’t be disruptive.

The latter is probably the best starting by process of elimination. When you shouldn’t be disruptive is where emotion plays a heavy part in the decision making.

Using emotion to steer your disruption won’t be graceful. Of course emotion can be the foundation of the decision-making, the stimulus that urges you to react for a greater cause or better way to do things, but you mustn’t let it rule your actions.

Emotions, most times, are temporary. Your actions can be permanent. Tread carefully – or better yet let your head determine your actions.

Having decided to take a more emotionally intelligent approach, you can move on to why you should be disruptive.

Why bother?

The very act of being gracefully disruptive itself will provide you with strong leadership capabilities.

This isn’t necessarily leadership over people (although it can be); it can be leadership over processes, your career, your fate, your confidence – anything that is within your control that you have found, over time, slowly but surely, has been consumed by the status quo, or by other people’s assumptions that their way is best.

‘You need a degree for a good job’, they say, ‘that’s the way it’s always been done if you want a decent job.’

Not true at all; you can be successful without one (while also not drowning in tens of thousands worth of debt).

‘You need to do this particular process in this particular way because that’s how it’s done.’

Not necessarily; when was the last time this process was questioned? Is there a better way we can be doing this? Isn’t it time that this process is assessed for efficiency? If new ways haven’t been explored before, isn’t it narrow minded and dismissive to insist that this one way is the way?

‘You have to stick with one job with one interest in order to do well for yourself, nobody likes a job-hopper.’

Not the case; portfolio careers have proven successful for many professionals now and indeed may help them stand out from the crowd. New learning and new experiences have led these to the point where they have a unique set of skills that play off of each other and open up new, more effective ways of doing things.

Avid Doers v The Naysayers

This is where we avid doers can do so well in. We refuse to accept that one way of doing things is the way of doing things.

We have the stubbornness and can-do attitude to make things happen, and adopting a gracefully disruptive approach to our endeavours can only lead us to things quicker, more efficiently and more effectively.

Unfortunately there will be (and are) naysayers who like things mainstream and consistent with solid, trustworthy practices, and see avid doers as being awkward or sometimes even clueless. They don’t ‘avidly do’, they passively do, and therefore dismiss any sort of alternative ways of thinking.

Let’s question how things are done. Let’s disprove that the one way is the only way.

Let’s explore new ways of doing things that are right for us and our career and developmental needs.

Think of the learning and development opportunities that would go amiss if we didn’t question what is already in front of us and instead decide what is right for us by being gracefully disruptive.

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.

 

 

Finding time for CPD

By continuing your professional development, you’re not only maintaining your CPD requirements for a professional body (if you’re a member of one of course) but you’re also keeping your skills and expertise fresh. Continually expanding your breadth of knowledge, skills and abilities brings so much to your career, increases your chances to progress, and helps you learn and develop as a professional. 

But it can also be hard to factor it into your tight schedule. With work, commuting and generally having a life at home, CPD tends to fall by the wayside, something that can be picked up ‘when you get the time’. Trouble is, we all know that unless you proactively change something, that time will never come. Even when you get the time, will you remember to work on your CPD? Will you even be prepared to do it and have something in the pipeline, ready to be picked up at a moment’s notice?

I’m sure we can all relate to this, even muggin’s, someone who is passionate about learning and development. With time though, I have got to a stage where I am confidently on top of CPD, and then some. This isn’t to brag (honest), this is to demonstrate the success of the one thing I changed with my schedule to make sure I got my game on when it comes to CPD.

This change is habit.

Each one of us has a different degree of habitual nature, that is some people can pick up a habit quite quickly and get comfort out of this (if it’s a healthy habit of course), while some people need more time than others to build up a habit. Understanding which category (or where along the imaginary habitual spectrum) you consider yourself to be in will really help manage your own expectations of the time it takes you to develop a new habit, including the habit of making CPD a part of your life.

This sounds a little drastic – I’m not suggesting CPD should be the be all and end all of your life. I am suggesting though that making some sort of regular recurrence of your CPD activities means it’ll always have a place in your schedule. This has worked very well for me and have incorporated into two aspects of my life: in work and outside of work.

Habitual CPD in work

The more obvious exposures to CPD are activities at work. You can be as creative or direct as you like when it comes to making CPD a habit at work (or a bit of both). Actively finding stretch pieces of work in addition to your usual duties can be easily done if it coincides with any particular performance objectives you might have, or if there are new areas of work you would like to get involved in. The stretch work expands your knowledge, develops new and existing skills, and grows your network at work. If you’re someone who is particularly interested in developing your social capital, this is a healthy perk of keeping on top of your CPD.

With a CPD mind set, and depending on how adventurous are willing to be, setting yourself with CPD activities that deliberately get you outside of your comfort zone will help build your confidence as well as skills. Signing yourself up to, for example, public speaking opportunities or coaching someone, will really pay off in the long run. Making this a habit then means they’re no longer scary to do, they’re no longer ‘that one time you did that scary thing and have never done again’. An unexpected payoff for habitual CPD!

Before explaining how to ensure this is done to a point of forming a habit, I’ll expand on habitual CPD outside of work.

Habitual CPD outside of work 

The CIPD website has heaps of information on the different types of CPD you can do outside of work so there isn’t any point in me regurgitating their information.

You can however use this information to inspire you to think differently in terms of your overall professional goals. Understanding your professional motivation provides you a sort of compass that lets you know if a type of activity you want to habitually take up is going to lead to that goal.

This is going to be a recurring item in your schedule; you need it to be worth it in the long run. It’s outside of work and therefore in your own time so it needs to be something you really want and need to do.

For example, have you considered developing your social media presence in a professional capacity? According to Time to Log Off, in March 2017 the average time spent online in the UK per person was 83 hours; more than three quarters of this was on smartphones alone. Wouldn’t it be great if we could harness that time to something more productive than aimless scrolling? It’s already a habit you have formed but redirecting your focus on a professional capacity means that this time is spent on CPD.

It’s spent on following thought leaders, understanding hot topics in the world of HR that everyone’s talking about, taking part in debates and conversations, voicing your own opinions and thoughts so that other professionals will want to follow you. These are all fantastic CPD opportunities that lead onto MORE CPD opportunities- podcasts, books, videos, Ted Talks!

The point is that regardless of what you do (this isn’t a post that lists the types of CPD out there), you need to ensure it becomes a habit.

Making it a habit

Once you’ve established the sort of existing habits you have that can be refocused to CPD, like surfing the internet, you need to ensure the other activities you do form a habit.

Logically CPD is recorded in some sort of format. This logs all of your activities and is usually associated with being evidence to CIPD or other professional bodies that you have clocked up your CPD.

Getting the most out of this log however is part of making your CPD a habit.

Firstly, you can use the CPD log as a list of things you would like to do with completion dates.

Secondly, you can use these completion dates as entries in your work or home calendars (or both!), as well as time slots in between to remind you to work on them, so that there is a concrete commitment and reminder that this needs to be done. The additional benefit of this is that you begin associating activities as being CPD-eligible. Half the time, we forget what actually constitutes as a CPD activity, for example reading a topical article in a magazine. It all counts.

Then thirdly, you use the same log as a reflective log.

Reflective log

Please do not underestimate the benefit of reflection, and in turn a reflection log. Whether an activity taught you loads, or was complete and utter rubbish, going through the motions of recording your reflection makes you reflect on it – you need to come up with an entry after all. Putting pen to paper makes you start thinking how you intend to use what you have learned into the workplace or professional life, the very point of CPD.

How you structure this log is up to you – I split a spreadsheet in two sections. One on the left to record upcoming, past and ongoing CPD, explaining the reasons why I want to do these; and then one on the right as a reflection of the activity once completed.

Again though, this needs to be updated and worked on habitually, and like including completion dates in your calendar, having a infinitely recurring entry to ‘update CPD log’ means it becomes part of your schedule.

As mentioned, depending on where you sit on the habitual spectrum, it may take time for this to become a habit. Keep with it. Incorporate it into your schedule ensuring that CPD is an ongoing developmental aid, and not just something you need to produce evidence off at the last minute when requested to do so. It’s for you, after all; not them.

 

Establishing professional credibility

I’m lucky enough to be part of a tribe of fellow avid doers – HR professionals. We tend to be just as enthusiastic about practising as we are preaching, as well as having a professional drive to lead, manage and develop our careers in confidence. I see an HR professional as a person, regardless of their role, and not a person who has an HR role.

A lot of this is down to having professional credibility. For those who are striving to get into the HR industry, have just started, or need a boost to the next level, they need to establish this professional credibility.

Professional credibility sits at the core of any person, in any profession, and acts as your career’s reputation. This can be easy to establish for those who have years of experience and contacts, with a wall full of framed qualifications to match.

But for those who have little or no experience, proving your professional credibility is that little bit harder. Sometimes this can be down to:

  • age (due to less years of experience rather than an ageist assumption that younger workers are less professionally credible) – years of experience can only come with age, but only if we’re looking at it quantitively; those who have to wait for Father Time can rest assured knowing that the best experience, like a lot of things, relies on quality;
  • lack of confidence – lack of confidence correlates with lack of knowledge. We lose confidence when we’re unsure of things: the direction of a conversation; the specifics of a particular topic; the reactions of others;
  • lack of drive – sometimes it can be a result of just not having the get-up-and-go needed to develop credibility, having an expectancy of it rather than working at it.

So if you do have the get-up-and-go, and you want to work on the first two points, two steps to establish professional credibility are:

  1. Immersion
  2. Application

Immersion

Breaking into a new profession, finding your feet with it, or looking for ways to progress within it is no easy feat. Immersion is one really good way of making this a lot easier.

So what do I mean by immersion? Immersion looks at immersing yourself into the industry, any industry, by being a human sponge. Absorb everything and anything about it to the point of obsession by researching into everything about it. Books, magazines, social media conversations, blogs, contacts, short courses, long courses, podcasts, videos – anything you can get your teeth into.

A lot of industries have become saturated with the internet making it easy for everyone to have a platform (even simple dorks like me!). While some people might think this is a bad thing, I like to see it in a more positive light.

You see, when starting out, or building on your professional credibility, you feel like you need to know more than you currently do. But with anyone being able to talk about any old gobbledygook, who do you listen to?

I say: ‘everyone’. While you have a blank (or more blank than you would like) canvas, there is no telling who to listen to or who to ignore. By absorbing everything and immersing yourself into that world, you begin to form opinions of your own, to link multiple ideas together, to spot discrepancies in arguments. In time, you’ll then have all the information to hone in on the methodologies and ideas that make sense to you and that you believe in; you’re not excluding the left over bits, you’re actually using them to establish the grounding of your understanding of the topic.

You’re gathering everything you need to know to a point where you can start to reject and question findings based on your own knowledge you have suddenly developed and not on other people’s thought patterns.

And to think, if you had decided to ask someone else for their opinion on who to listen to and ignore, you would’ve only been given their ideas, their opinions, thus losing out on all the other information and the opportunity to form an opinion and way of thinking that’s uniquely you.

Having worked in a number of industries and made a go at a number of careers, I have always immersed myself in these (…well the interesting ones anyway) with this method. Accounting, holistic therapy, and health and safety? Courses, research, qualifications and industry-related media for all the above. And ditto for HR where the immersion exercise grabbed me, enthralled me and adopted me. Which takes me to the second step.

Application

After immersing yourself in the profession and you feel like you have a good understanding, even at a foundation level, so much so to form opinions, acceptance and rejections, all this knowledge you have needs to be used to establish your credibility.

By applying this knowledge, you’re demonstrating everything you have discovered; most of the time this can be done passively – you’ve immersed yourself so much into the field, it is second nature and can be applied by discretionary effort.

Being more active about it involves some creative thinking and understanding your intentions and goals so that these actions are aligned to them. Actively establishing your professional credibility takes a lot of effort and mental energy so you need to be aware of the direction your efforts are taking you and that they’re lined up to what you want in your career (have a look at this post on professional motivation if you need a hand with this).

Applying your new-found knowledge is essentially putting your understanding to practice, putting it out into the world in real life scenarios which in time gives a grounding to your credibility.

There are a vast array of ideas to apply your knowledge:

  • contribute your own opinions and findings to work conversations, debates and meetings (thereby proving that you are someone who knows their stuff and can contribute your own unique perspective to work matters)
  • putting yourself forward to lead projects, talks and meetings (thereby building your confidence in taking your knowledge a step further to ‘leader’ rather than just ‘thinker’)
  • allowing your own skills and knowledge to shine through your daily work, as well as supporting other teams and projects that may not necessarily fall under your remit (thereby demonstrating you can apply your professional know-how to your role, developing it into your own, as well as applying it in unfamiliar territory and other specialisms)
  • contribute to blog posts, articles and profession-related online forums (thereby developing a network and contributing your opinions and voice to a wider audience, outside of work)
  • finding your voice through a number of extracurricular activities outside of work, for example starting your own blog, actively managing your online presence and putting yourself forward to write, speak and facilitate on areas of interest (thereby establishing yourself as a professional dedicated to their specialism, strengthening your reputation, and forever developing your own skills, knowledge and confidence)

These are just a few examples of establishing your professional credibility both inside and outside of work. It’s a good idea to ensure you put yourself out there beyond your place of employment, even if you intend to stay there for the foreseeable future, as not only is it a great way to network, you get to learn from so many people who think differently to your organisation. And if you are thinking of leaving in the foreseeable future, this is a great way to progress in your career in your chosen area.

Building integrity

Applying your knowledge to establish your professional credibility can only work when you are trusted and have integrity. Establishing credibility and trust are logically synonymous but sometimes forgotten. If you are seen as someone who lacks integrity and trust, your knowledge, regardless of its ground-breaking qualities, will fall on deaf ears. People will just not believe you and not take the time to listen to what you have to say. As a side note, if for whatever reason you need to establish yourself as a trustworthy professional, work on this first before applying your knowledge.

Establishing your professional credibility can be good fun. Indeed, I’m having immense fun establishing my own professional credibility; writing this blog is just one way I’m doing this. It takes time and the end result is barely measurable but having patience, and trusting the process, the steps your making day by day to put yourself out there as a professional dedicated to the profession, will inevitably pay off.

 

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

Moving from a call-centre environment

This post is the first of a series that advises on moving from one working environment to another.

“I currently work in a call-centre providing quotes to customers with a bit of cross selling but I’m ready to move onto another type of role. I want to work in an office that doesn’t involve non-stop phone calls, for example administration, but due to my lack of experience I’m worried I won’t ever get away from call centres. Any suggestions?” – Bob B.

Moving from one area of work to another, regardless of the nature of each, can sometimes seem too out of reach and hard to accomplish. Working in call centres can sometimes restrict the amount of duties you have in your day-to-day role so there may seem few examples of other work for you to demonstrate to recruiters.

The first thing I would suggest is determine how long you intend staying in your current role. Having an end date in mind not only helps you focus on a deadline but it also allows you to explore what you can do between now and when you leave.

Unless you’re in a desperate situation where you need to abandon ship right now, you might need to ask yourself if you can delay your plans to move on for up to another 6 months. This is so that you can start exploring everything your current employer has to offer to you now, that you can demonstrate to your new employer, and not deny yourself on what’s on hand to you in your current role.

Existing development opportunities

For example, you might want to ask for extra responsibilities that take you away from the phones. Sitting down with your manager and explaining what you would like to try out would be a good starting point as they may be aware of any secondment opportunities, any additional tasks they can send your way or offer to set you up with some job shadowing. Be sure to remind them of the sort of extra duties you would prefer; you mention you want to move to a more administrative role, so the extra stuff you’re given needs to match any future roles. Being able to relate these extra opportunities back to your existing role, and how they can complement it will increase your chances of your manager being on board.

However, spending time off the phones in a call centre will require a pretty hefty and convincing business case and you might be fighting a losing battle. In this case, I would suggest looking to see if there are any skills you can brush up on outside of working hours that you will need in an administrative role.

Depending on the type of admin role you’re going for, you wouldn’t normally require too many academic or vocational qualifications (however, if these are likely to be required if you were looking to progress once you have the admin role, you need to let them know you’re keen to gain these at a later date if you haven’t already got them, and then follow through on your promise). You may find you will only need Microsoft Office skills which can be picked up with practice alongside a book for beginners.

A quicker option

There is another, quicker way. In a previous article, I talked about transferable skills, where you can bring your existing skills developed from your current and previous roles to a new employer or position. Figuring out what you can already do, and portraying this in the best light (without lying) to prospective employers will save you from spending more time in a role that has nothing further to offer in terms of development or satisfaction. I took these steps myself when I worked in a call centre, my first full time job as a ‘grown up’ when I was 17.

One of the first things you need to do with this approach is sit down and go over everything you do on a day-to-day basis. Then look at each of these listed duties and determine which specific set of skills they require – these are the skills you can transfer to a new role outside of a call-centre environment. You’ll be surprised at how many you have.

You really need to dissect each task you do and pull out all the skills that each individual task requires. These skills will then become the building blocks of a set of (seemingly) new abilities that can be presented in a more universal way.

Phone skills

Let me give you an example. Working in a call centre, you may list your first task as ‘answering phone calls’. So what skills do you need to answer phone calls and make sure you do it correctly, compliantly and to the satisfaction of the customer and your line manager?

Digging deep into this task, you could list a number of skills: customer service; understanding the needs of your customer by actively listening and asking the right questions; dissemination (feel free to pinch that word, it’s a good’n) of verbal information; dissemination of data should you refer to any databases to help you inform the customer of the quote; referring to and updating databases; provide solutions specific to customers’ needs; demonstrating composure and professionalism when there is a back log of calls; working timely and efficiently; able to use a number of systems simultaneously while the customer is on the phone; ensuring you are up to date with the product and keeping abreast of changes and updates.

And this is just one task that you might have thought you couldn’t relate to an admin role. This is the depth you need to go into. After you’ve listed a number of tasks you do, you would have built a number of skills that could be completely removed from a call-centre environment and placed somewhere else.

Beyond your immediate role

You will also need to include any relevant skills beyond your role. This can be a little harder to think of as they’re not so obvious. For example any relatable volunteering you do or any previous projects you’ve worked on in and out of work. As mentioned above, you can easily work on ‘extracurricular’ activities outside of work if your employer can’t offer you something you want to learn and develop.

Another range of skills beyond your immediate role which are transferable to anywhere you go is how you manage your performance. This can include: the targets you are given and how you make sure you meet them; how you keep on top of your professional development; how you help your immediate colleagues out and wider teams; how you take and use feedback.

With these components, you can go on to rebuild your CV aimed at your desired role with your re-branded set of skills. Keep your eye out for a series of articles that I will be writing on how I transferred obscure skills into the corporate world, as well as tips on writing a CV.