Developing Simple and Effective Career Plans

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I recently wrote a blog about why people experience “career stall.” I wanted to delve a bit more into how to make career planning thoughtful, and simple to execute and update.

I’ve had a rolling 10 year plan since I was in elementary school. Yeah.. I was THAT kid. I’ve always thought about my future and the steps that I needed to get there. I find it relaxing…and a little fun to document it. Okay, so right now, you’re probably not really relating to me because this is sounding like anything but “simple.” That’s okay, but stay with me.  Where you might be feeling me is how career (or even life) planning differs once you are mid-career. You know more about “you,” life starts to happen, and you have more options and choices. If you’ve never had a career plan or haven’t updated one in a while, it can be easy to over-complicate it, but with the right framing, it can be quick, easy, and painless.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time… and that’s how you should go about your career plan. I know I started off by sharing that I personally have a 10 year plan –but I would never recommend that to anyone. Focus on a plan that is in the 24 – 36 months range (in some cases, I might even recommend 18 months to 5 years) — anything shorter can be hard to plan AND act on and many things beyond 3 -5 years can get fuzzy with so many things that could change. Plans that focus on the next 2-3 years, with 2-4 goals, are not only simple, but remain relevant, easy to measure progress on, and most importantly, keep you engaged.

Speaking of engagement — this isn’t something that you can ‘set and forget.’ You need to revisit it. Set 2 or 3 dates a year when you revisit your career plan. For longer term goals and annual check up might be good enough to see your progress and make adjustments or new considerations. This may sound like a performance review — and it is, of sorts. But don’t confuse the two. Taking the engagement piece one step further — find ways to make it fun and something you want to do. For me personally, that means getting a new journal to track my progress in or sharing the process with a friend. I’ll pick a friend and in the December or January timeframe we meet and write down our career goals for the year. Then we set up meetings with each other to discuss our progress towards those goals over the year. We’d meet over dinner, or go work out, walk our dogs at the park, or maybe even get a pedicure. The idea is to tie it to something fun so that you don’t dread the exercise, and consider involving a friend, mentor, or colleague which also adds a level of accountability.

Your career and where you want to go is closely tied to where you are personally. Don’t discount that. Give yourself room to make changes and to allow for life to do its thing. Your career plan isn’t just about where you want to go and how you plan to get there — its also your guide post and measuring stick when new opportunities or challenges come up. Your plan might tell you “how you could respond,” “how you should respond,” and likely even the “what’s important and why.”  Your plan should be concrete enough to make progress, but you should be flexible in how you approach and use your plan – welcome the changes and the opportunities that will come your way.  Inflexible plans are a turn off, can lead to frustration, and eventually get shelved.

My final thought on simple and effective career plans —  if this isn’t your thing, then its not your thing.  Own it and move on. An effective plan isn’t one that you pencil-whip, do because someone made you do it, or that you dread doing — it has to be something that you want to do and find valuable.  How you spend your time is important — so instead of creating and maintaining a plan, if you’re in this bucket, put your efforts towards another set of tools/skills to help manage your career and prevent career stall. Don’t get down or ashamed –just focus on what works for you.

What are some of your thoughts on maintaining effective career plans?

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