An important part of career progression is goal-setting, or creating a list of milestones that you want to accomplish in the next weeks, months, and over the course of a year. Setting goals helps you organize your career thoughts and focus your work on the direction you want for your future. But goals set without the added effort of actually tracking your progress towards them end up becoming useless and forgotten.
Here are five major career goals you should set for yourself and how to measure your progress in achieving them.
1. Expanding your leadership skills
Upward mobility in the working world can only take you so far if you never want to move into leadership and management. So if you want to keep climbing up the career ladder, you’ll eventually come to a point where the next logical step in your field is management. That transition will become a whole lot easier if you already have leadership experience under your belt, so set a goal to actually get that done as early as possible in your career.
This goal doesn’t mean you should suddenly start looking for jobs that throw you right into management. It does, however, mean that you should take every leadership opportunity you can get. At work, ask to take point on a project or set of tasks. Outside of work, consider leading a team of your friends as volunteers at a local charity. In either of these cases, the end product will be a marketable leadership skill.
At the end of each month, take stock of all the tasks and projects you worked on. Tick off the ones you took the lead on and add a few notes on what you did, how it went, and what you learned. Mark the ones you could have done more with and make a game plan to increase your output next month. And if you’re not in the position to get leadership experience, start small if you have to by asking your manager to run the next team meeting, or by getting more involved in your community.
2. Growing your professional network
Every piece of advice on networking harps on how important it is for your career and future job search, but few tell you how to actually make your networking efforts count. Proper and effective networking requires that you set a goal for yourself each month and work towards it with various networking-related activities.
Your end goal can be general or highly specific, though specific goals tend to be more effective and more easily measurable. A specific goal would be “Make X new and valuable professional connections this month.” Work towards that goal by attending networking events, being active in LinkedIn groups for your field, and even just talking to colleagues you’ve never met before.
When the month wraps up, go back to your overall goal of X new connections and list out the things you did to work toward it. From there, figure out exactly where your effort was most effective. Found that after-work happy hours were extremely efficient ways to meet new people? Did your emails to catch up with your old connections lead to great conversations? And was LinkedIn networking a complete bust? You now have a clear idea of what worked and what didn’t. This will help you iterate on your efforts for next month and keep growing your list of contacts.
3. Get praise from colleagues and your manager
Praise from your colleagues and your manager has two important impacts on your career. First, it helps add to your motivation and keeps you feeling productive and valuable. Second, it’s something you can write down in your own confidential list of “Things People Say About Me.” This list is critical for when you need to write your next resume or talk about yourself in an interview.
How you get praise from others at work is a bit more complicated, but it starts with thinking beyond just your own work. If you have free time and see a colleague is stressing out, offer your help. Even a quick brainstorm over coffee helps. Are you a great salesperson and your colleague needs to make a big sale? Offer to tag along on a meeting and help close the deal. Taking the lead on a project? Put your best work forward and bring your team together to succeed.
These and other efforts won’t guarantee you get praise, but they certainly increase the chances that you do. And when you do get praise, write it down as soon as you can. Send a note to the person who said kind things about you and your work thanking them. Keep track of the things you did that got you recognition and try to do more of them each month. And be open with your own praise in return. It helps build lasting work relationships.
4. Learn and help your team learn
Being part of a successful team is difficult if people don’t learn from each other. But often professionals get so wrapped up in their own work that they tend to ignore the help they can give to and get from their colleagues. Break out of this self-absorption by leading an effort to help people learn from each other.
Have a teammate who’s an Excel wizard? Ask them to do a quick lunch-and-learn sometime in the coming week to teach you and interested others how pivot tables work. Are you a social media marketing pro? Offer an after-work study session where you teach social media best practices. Try to do one or two of these events a week. If you run out of things you can teach, go online and learn something new yourself.
At the end of the month, track your learning and education efforts. How many learning sessions did you host? What did you learn from your teammates? What did you help your teammates to learn? Which newly developing skills helped you the most in your work? Which ones did your teammates say were most useful to them? Use this insight to develop a plan for the coming month for what you want to learn and what you want to teach others. You’ll find that collaborative learning with colleagues leads to some awesome, quick results.
5. Keep clean and organized
A big part of being an effective employee can come down to how well-organized you are. Research shows that visual clutter, or the presence of too many visible stimuli, actually negatively impacts your attention on the task at hand. But this doesn’t just apply to what’s on your desk. What you see in your email inbox, where you keep your files and documents, and how well you keep your digital workspace organized can make a big difference in your productivity.
Whether you’re already pretty organized or you’ve got 10,000 unread emails in your inbox, make it a career goal to become and stay organized. This goal is easy to accomplish with a bit of mindless effort at the end of each workday. Spend 15 minutes going through your inbox, or whatever part of your work life is most disorganized, clearing it up and responding appropriately. Create a system to keep yourself organized, from labels to folders and easily searchable names and contact lists.
As you do this, keep yourself accountable each month. Take stock of your organizational chaos in the last few days of the month - around the time when you tend to forget about being organized in favor of just doing your work - and get yourself back on track. As you go along, take note of how disorganized you got and how far you fell off the organizational wagon. If you find things getting worse each month, make the necessary adjustments to improve. If things are trending positively, keep it up. At some point, you’ll build a great habit of staying organized, and all you’ll have to track is how strong your habit is at the end of each month.
How well you stick to your career goals with actual progress towards attaining them can result in some great benefits for your career and your future work. And an easy, low-effort way to keep on track is to put numbers, lists, and record-keeping to work for your goals. Track each goal you set on metrics that are logical for that goal, make adjustments where necessary to speed up your path to the goal, and adapt your approach based on what works and what doesn’t. Finally, as you achieve your goals, make sure to set new ones or adjust your current ones to reflect your new ambitions.