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Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 93 – What is in your skills suitcase?

In this issue we will look at:
•    Your Skills Suitcase
•    Planning and preparing the next phase
1. What are you doing?
2. Why are you doing it?
3. What should you be doing?
4. What should you be doing next

Your Skills Suitcase
In the last edition of 2010, we asked you to consider your list of achievements to date, especially over the last 12 months. What plans do you have for the next 12 months to improve your skills base? Maybe you feel you don’t need to, maybe you feel you have done everything there is to be done and you don’t need to work quite as hard now. I would of course like to challenge that assumption.

Why?

Because the market has shifted, technology has evolved and client and candidate expectations have risen.

And if you haven’t changed or updated your skills base recently then you won’t have the right skills set should you want / need to move on. Think about it, the skills and tactics that got you here today won’t be good enough to take you very much further.

A friend in the UK was made redundant after 35 years of working for the same organisation. He had updated his skills on a regular basis, but even he is wondering if he did enough in the lead up to the end.

How about you? If you were “asked to leave” today would you have the right skills in your suitcase to show to a potential new employer?

Planning and preparing the next phase:
Are you unsure about how to plan the next phase of your professional life / career? We have provided you with 4 questions as a starting point. These 4 questions also take away any doubt as to what you should be doing on a daily basis. As we constantly remind you, it is all very well being busy – the question is – what are you busy doing? So – the 4 questions to ask yourself every day, and as you go about your day-to-day tasks are:

1.    What are you doing?
2.    Why are you doing it?
3.    What should you be doing?
4.    What should you be doing next?

1. What are you doing?
We can all be guilty of wasting time or taking too long to do the simple things. Sometimes it may be to delay starting those tasks we know we should be doing but don’t want to start (see point 3 for more on “structured procrastination”), or maybe it’s for a far simpler reason – we are doing it because we “want to”. But asking yourself this first question is essential if you want to get more out of your day.

Some of you may read this and say, but I am quite happy doing what I am doing at the speed I am doing it. I get my stuff done, the pay cheques keep coming, why should I do more?

Go back to our first section – what is in your skills suitcase? If you are happy where you are, doing the same things in the same way and will never be made redundant or sacked, then please by all means, stop reading and carry on doing what you were doing before I interrupted you. But if you would like to consider yourself as suitable for promotion, better jobs or starting / running your own business, then this first question is vital.

What would happen if you had to charge out for your time – how much could you honestly charge your clients for your “day’s” work?

Imagine you were running your own business. Is what you are doing now going to bring you in enough money to pay your bills / overheads / wages? Looking at it in this way does tend to focus the mind a little more don’t you think. Well if you are employed by someone, you can guarantee they are looking at that question – multiplied by each person who is working for them. Who are the ones bringing in the most money? Who are the ones paving the way for others to bring in the money? Who are the drains on resources?

Assuming you would like to know how you spend your time and for arguments sake, how much could be classed as “billable” hours – the best way to find this out – is to write it down. This simple time and task list can prove invaluable. Write down when you started a task and when you finished it. Include the times you walked to the kitchen, went to the loo, checked your email, spoke to your colleagues – you would be amazed at how much time you can “waste” on things like this. Am I saying you can’t go to the kitchen, the loo or talk to your colleagues – of course not, it’s just an awareness tool.

And by the way I have got a copy of a time log – let me know if you would like a copy.

2. Why are you doing it?
The second question is WHY are you doing that particular task as opposed to another one. Notwithstanding being asked by a senior member of your organisation to take on a task, most people I know have some autonomy with their day to day tasks and activities.

Lets go back to the assumption you own your own business – the “why” may be – well I am on facebook and twitter to promote my business and to connect with people. But why do you have to spend ALL day doing it? What about those marketing articles you were going to write, or that business proposal that might actually bring in some money.

But this question brings us nicely to –

3. What should you be doing?

OK this is not such an idle statement. I’m sure we can all be guilty of doing those tasks and things we like to do, rather than those things that really need to be done. I’m sure if you got our your task list right now and looked at it, I would be surprised if you started with the item sitting at numbers 1 or even 2 for that matter. These tend to be important, but not necessarily urgent. Where did we start working on the items on our task list? If I were to hazard a guess, somewhere near the middle, telling ourselves we will get round to those items at the top in just a minute.

As you can imagine this kind of structured procrastination is extremely common. We may think we don’t have all the answers to tackle those items, so we leave them until such time as we do. We may think we don’t have time, or we are just putting them off because we really, really, really don’t want to pick up the telephone and call someone back. You’ll wait until lunch time and hope they’re not at their desk – you can cross it off your list safe in the knowledge they are going to do the same thing to you tomorrow.

What you should be doing of course is getting rid of these “hanging over the head” tasks so you can then free up some time to tackle the important but not urgent tasks down the list.  BTW I knew of one person who had “eat chocolate” on each task list she wrote, reasoning – at least there was one thing she could cross off each day.

The other thing about structured procrastination is this:

We will quite happily do those tasks we have been putting off all week once something more urgent / important but you don’t want to do take over the top spots. To get out of doing those things, you pretend you are catching up on the other tasks…

4. What should you be doing next?
Assuming you are still reading this and haven’t hit the delete button yet, this question is an important one if you want to become more valuable to yourself and to your current employer.

Value – I would like to think we would all like to be considered to be a valuable member of our society and our workplace.  How do you prove value? I feel it is by doing your job well and, in most cases, going above and beyond your current level of activity. How can you be considered for promotion if you have never proven you can handle more responsibility? Another great way is to offer solutions not problems.

If you are currently looking for work, what “value” can you offer to your new employer? How can you help them do better? What skills have you been able to use in the past that could benefit them? How are you keeping up to date with the changes that are happening in our industry so you can be a valuable member of the team when you start work?

This may have seemed like a simplistic subject to tackle as the first one of the year – but it does form the foundation stone for what we say we want to achieve, the actions we are then willing to take which will make up our “significant achievements for 2011”.

Work these questions into your day to day tasks as well as your “goals” list for the year and believe me you will be able to achieve so much more.

With many thoughts

Lorraine