Chances are, you have days where you get to work early, put your head down at the start of the day, answering emails, going to meetings, and writing reports until it is time to go home. And when you look up, you realize that you did many things, but did not get a lot done.
The occasional day like that is fine, of course, but string too many of them together, and that can cause a problem. The management theorist Peter Drucker distinguished between achievements and contributions. Achievements are the specific tasks that you check off your daily agenda. Contributions are the big-picture accomplishments that define your broad goals at work. Your contributions are the things that you can look back on with pride over the course of your career and realize that you have made a difference.
As you start the new year, you may be thinking about changes you want to make in your personal life. It might also be a good time to take a step back and ask whether you are also taking steps to make a contribution at work. Here are five things you can do to help make that happen.
Have you really thought about the contributions you want to make? If not, it can be helpful to imagine that you are looking back on your career when you retire. What do you want to be able to say that you accomplished at this stage of your career? Looking backward from the future can help you to focus on the most important aspects of your job.
Abstract descriptions are great for making sure that you really do have important aims. But, you cannot make your contribution unless you develop a specific plan that will get you there. After you settle on the contribution you want to make this year, be sure to think through the details for how you can achieve your goal.
If you aren’t making satisfactory progress toward your contribution, what is holding you back? Are there resources you need that you don’t have? Do you need to enlist the support of others within the company for projects that are important to you? List the obstacles you face and use them as a planning exercise. What can you do to bring you closer to making your contribution?
What time of day do you work best? Many people find that their most effective thinking time happens when they first get to the office. Yet, if you are like most people, you probably spend that time checking email and responding to a number of requests that could probably wait until later. Find the time when you are most effective, and clear some of that time to work on the important long-term projects. Shut off your email program and let your phone go to voicemail. The time you put into those projects will add up.
At any stage of your career, you know people who are having the kind of career success you want for yourself. Most of them are surprisingly willing to share the secrets of success with you. These potential mentors may work for the same company or they may be other people in the field you have met before. Set up a meeting or buy them a cup of coffee and ask them how they do it.