It’s super easy to think big in your career. I’m going to achieve this ginormous goal. I’ll develop 100 new skills. I’ll reach the top level in my field.
But the problem we face is that reaching those big goals feels impossible from where we stand today.
So, one resolution I’ve made for myself is to think smaller. Not to say I don’t hold myself to high standards, but I’m allowing myself to take easier, more bite-sized steps to get there.
Want to know how? Here are four things I swore to do every day to improve my career this year—and I promise, they’re so simple you’ll be surprised you don’t do them more often.
Before you panic that I’m asking you to dive into a new book every day, don’t. Reading can mean a lot of different things. For me, it sometimes means checking out one in-depth blog post, while other days it means reading five pages of a book before bed.
Smart people know that by keeping up with industry news or downloading the latest professional development book, they’re always one step ahead of the game. They’re constantly learning, and constantly engaging with new ideas, new voices, and new perspectives—and these further shape and support the decisions they make. Plus, the only way you’re going to become a better communicator is by witnessing good written communication first hand.
So, make a vow to read something every day. Maybe you settle for five pages a night like me, then increase that number over time. Or, maybe you subscribe to popular publications in your field and spend your commute reading as much as you can.
This isn’t school, so don’t make it feel like work—rather, engage with material that inspires and motivates you to be and do better.
Chances are you check social media daily, if not more often. What I’ve found, however, is that I don’t spend enough time actually talking to people on these platforms.
You’ve heard the usual career advice, like reach out to a stranger on LinkedIn or email your network to grab coffee. But realistically, we’re not going to do that every day (how exhausting would that be?).
However, there’s something called keeping your networking warm, and it’s just as important—things like commenting when someone changes their job status on LinkedIn, sending a private Facebook to a colleague who just got engaged, or texting an old friend to catch up. While they may not directly impact your career now, they keep the door open for when you may need something later on.
Maybe you’ll need that person to serve as a reference, and since you’ve stayed in close contact you know they’ll speak highly of you. Or, you’ll start a partnership with their company and because you get along so well, you’re able to sell a bigger deal. When that time comes, you won’t regret having spent two minutes a day nurturing that relationship.
I’m an editor, so I don’t normally throw the word “write” around loosely. However, just like reading, I believe it’s so important to practice regularly—in no matter what fashion.
I have a friend who’s been journaling since the sixth grade. I don’t think if you asked her why she continues to do it she’d say because it helps her advance in her career. But I can tell you that this outlet has helped her process her feelings and clear her head better than any form of therapy out there.
It’s also how she keeps track of what she accomplishes. She’s kept every notebook she’s filled since she first started journaling, and as a result she can look back on the past week, month, or year and see how far she’s come (eighth grade crushes excluded).
Maybe you also journal (or want to start). Or maybe you hate it like me, that’s OK. But find ways to express yourself, your thoughts, and your ideas through writing. Start a blog, write a LinkedIn article, take on a freelancing project, track your accomplishments, write for your company’s website, craft clever tweets, post on Facebook, contribute to a discussion group, create an idea journal. Form a paper trail you can be proud of and that’ll also remind you how much you’ve grown and learned.
4. Ask Questions
This is the easiest advice you’ll get all day.
Ask your boss how they got where they are today, ask your colleague what they’re working on, ask a friend to explain a foreign concept to you, ask for help when you need it. Be curious—in meetings, while sitting at your desk, at events, over drinks. Always strive to learn more and understand what you don’t know. There’s truly no such thing as a dumb question (in fact, it’ll only make you look smarter), and if you don’t ask now you’ll only look back later and wish you had.
Seems almost too simple, right? But if you’re someone who tends to get lazy when it comes to your career, these are great places to start. After all, how hard can it be to read, write, connect with, and ask about one thing a day? Try it out and let me know how it goes on Twitter.
Photo of person writing courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Previously an editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She’s written almost 500 articles for The Muse on anything from productivity tips to cover letters to bad bosses to cool career changers, many of which have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer and reader, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author