Don’t make time the enemy of your career.
When pressed, most of us admit that what’s really holding us back in our careers is...us. Not a bad boss, not a conspiratorial co-worker, but good ol’ fashioned getting in our own way.
Of all the ways we sabotage ourselves in our careers, one of the most prevalent is how we think about time.
Too often, we view time as a finite, dwindling resource rather than a tool to help us achieve what we want. We turn time into our adversary rather than our ally.
The way we think about time creates our reality and paves the way for our belief (or not) in our ability to take the necessary steps to succeed.
If we’re not careful, our careers become about making the most money in the shortest amount of time, achieving meaningless goals by arbitrary milestones, and using hours worked as a measure of success.
When we make time the enemy of our career aspirations, everything becomes so much harder than it needs to be.
Let’s explore how to overcome the most common ways time messes with your mind when you’re trying to make mad career moves.
It's Your Clock. You Get To Set It.
We talk about time in money terms: we waste, spend, and save it. We treat time as a physical object to hoard or squander rather than the made-up construct it is.
There are so many English language idioms that suggest we’re locked in a death match with time. (Don’t take too much time! Time is running out!)
This false urgency seeps into your career planning:
"I’m not where I’m supposed to be at this age (...at this stage…by now…)"
"I’m trying to catch up in my career."
"I’m falling behind."
Thinking this way suggests that there is a “correct” path on a linear pre-determined timeline, and it’s your job to find it.
That sounds really freakin' hard.
Your career is not about beating the clock or racing against time.
It's your clock. You get to set it.
Putting pressure on yourself to take steps in your career by an arbitrary deadline forces you into making decisions you might not yet be prepared to make.
You killed yourself to get promoted by 30. You’re still miserable. Now what?
When you confuse time markers with your true objectives, you create tension between time (promotion by age 30) and the real goal you’re trying to achieve (be happy). You erect a meaningless barrier in front of the very thing you want.
Sure, time-bound goals can be an excellent way to focus on what you want to achieve in your career. Just make sure your deadlines are driven by your wants instead of your fears or someone else's shoulds.
Which would you rather: achieving the wrong career milestone "on time" or taking a little longer to reach a goal that makes you happy for the long-term?
Choose Your Own Adventure
Look at the words I’ve used: urgency, catching up, falling behind. They all put you on the back foot with time: reacting to the lack of it rather than deciding how you want to use the abundant time you have.
When we have big future career goals and a demanding current job, it’s easy to fall into the “I don’t have enough time to think about my career” trap. This is classic time-scarcity-mindset.
Shift from “there’s not enough time” to “how do I want to use the time I have?” This puts you squarely in the driver’s seat.
Every time you choose to stay late at work, answer emails after-hours, or spend the weekend worrying about your current job, you’re choosing to give time to the place you don’t want to be.
Instead, consider that there are 24 hours every day, and you decide how to spend them. No, I'm not advocating that you give up sleep, exercise, or time with loved ones. In fact, I'd love to see you choose those first. Then, carve out a few minutes from the job you hate to thoughtfully take steps toward a career you love.
You're in control of time, not the other way around.
How you use time is your choice. Choose your adventure.
It’s Not About Time Spent, It’s About Impact Made
Our final career-time-trap is one I made for the majority of my career: focusing on time spent rather than impact made.
“But I worked so hard on this!” is a telltale danger sign.
A friend spent months trying to fix a broken financial process. He hadn’t taken time off in a year. He worked 12-hour days and weekends. Yet despite spending all that time, his CEO was still unhappy.
If the CEO ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.
The problem? My friend and the CEO had fundamentally different viewpoints about the “right” way to get the CEO what he wanted. The CEO wanted a quick, high-level guestimate and couldn't conceive why it was taking so long. My friend wanted a rigorous, detailed answer backed up by a repeatable methodology...which takes a long time.
In the CEO's eyes, the time spent was meaningless because he didn't get his answer. My friend sacrificed his mental health and time with his family trying to complete an impossible task that the CEO didn't actually value.
Whether you’re working towards a goal at your current job, or looking to change your career trajectory, make sure the time you’re spending is actually bringing you closer to your goal.
Hours worked on any goal is not the right measure. In fact, it's a sign that something is really really wrong.
To maximize your time/impact ratio, look for alignment between what you and others deem most important. If they don't match, don't throw more time after it. Find the alignment, which may mean you take yourself elsewhere.
Unless You Tattoo Your Career on Your Forehead, It’s Not Permanent
(And if this post didn't reach you in time, they have lasers for that sort of thing.)
Perhaps the most debilitating time mind trick of all is believing that your current situation is permanent.
You tell yourself that you’ll never figure this career thing out, you’ll never be happy, and you’re doomed to a lifetime of unsatisfying work.
You fear these things, so you project your current situation into your future.
It's just not true.
You do have to start taking action. When you do, you quite literally cannot be in the same place in the future.
Your current situation is only permanent if you allow it to be. Don't stay put and allow time to pass you by.
Remember, time is on your side, so give yourself the gift of time to create a career that's worthy of your time.
How have you made time your worst enemy? How have you made peace with time?
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