Master These 5 Skills for Rapid Career Success
I wish someone would have told me this four years ago.
It took me 4 years to hit any kind of strides in my career. Along the way, I didn’t realize that I was subtly certain skills that have a compounding effect on what you do.
If you start your career by focusing on these high-level areas, I promise you that you’ll make quick progress. At the root of all this is self-belief. You must believe that you in the driver seat of your career growth.
With that being said, let’s dive into the 5 essential skills you should start developing now.
1. The ability to ask original questions
While many people eventually fall into complacency, you should learn to challenge norms early. One way to do that is by asking questions that no one else has before. Questions that challenge that status quo work well.
Could this be better? Why do we do it this why? Why don’t we?
The more curiosity you can create, the better. Even if you don’t come up with the light bulb answers, there is value in asking the right questions.
Regardless if an answer comes to you, the very act of forming a unique question trains your mind to look for answers. When you ask a question like “could this be better?”, you subconsciously start to look for ways to ‘make this better’’. A question creates alternatives.
I once heard someone say that the only reason we are living in houses today is that a caveman once thought, “Hmm…. I wonder if there is a better way”.
How to develop
As much as possible, practice being thoughtful about what you’re asking. When you form a question, take the time to think about the outcome. A good question gets others to consider problems from a new perspective.
This also means avoiding snarkiness in group settings. Be careful when you start noticing rhetorical questions. These tend to be facetious and not productive.
Here is a good rule of thumb for meetings in general.
Don’t criticize something you’re not willing to fix.
Questions like “Wouldn’t be easier if we just stopped worrying about XYZ” usually aren’t helpful, no matter how fun they are to ask. If the question you ask doesn’t have a possibility of improving processes, it’s not worth asking.
2. The confidence to solve problems
Confidence is a useful skill on its own. Believing in yourself means believing that you are capable of making progress in your own life. This skill is even more invaluable when coming up with new ideas.
Early in our career, it can be intimidating to tackle problems above our pay grade. It took me several years before I realized that I don’t need permission to solve problems.
At the core of this skill is a willingness to own a problem. That means identifying and area to be fixed and seeing it through. If you get stopped due to hierarchy- so be it. At least you saw it through.
The confidence to solve problems comes from actually trying to solve problems. When a new challenge presents itself, your default becomes ‘ok, let’s figure this out.’
How to Develop
The easiest thing to do is to start small and start personal. First, you need to develop the ability to figure out the problems in your own life. Think about where you struggle and work on improving that.
Maybe, you realize that you don’t sleep enough. You’ve determined that this is a problem that you need to address. Next, you come up with a fix to implement. That plan might be a wind-down routine that starts strictly at 10 pm every night. Eventually, you figure out something that works.
Then you look for other ways to improve your processes. The power of small wins can’t be understated. The more wins we accumulate, the more we start to believe the words we say.
You can then look toward other workplace challenges with the belief that you can ‘fix it.’ Simply stated. Soon you start building a resume’ of parts of the businesses that you’ve had an impact on.
3. The courage to have ideas vetted
Sharing is scary. It takes courage to tell others about your concepts. Putting yourself out there as the new guy/new girl is even scarier. However, this is a skill that can be developed. It’s called courage for a reason because it takes some guts.
There will be a day perhaps millions of years into our evolution where we can read minds. Until that day, the only way to create with other humans is to share your ideas.
Why is sharing so scary? It comes from a mix of justifiable feelings. Some self-imposed doubts. You don’t want to look stupid so your brain protects you. Inner dialogue comes rushing through with phrases like:
- Why would anyone hear from me?
- What do I know?
- My ideas aren’t that great.
There is this myth of the lone wolf genius that solves everything by themselves. This isn’t a reality for most success stories. The number one thing you can do to successfully create is to learn how to collaborate.
How to develop
The cliché advise is practice makes perfect. While this is true, other perspectives are worth sharing.
One that has been helpful to me is removing the ego. Let me explain.
There is a desire to show how good you are in meetings and professional group settings. When you open your mouth with ideas, you are secretly hoping that what you say is met with nods. You want that agreement.
No one likes to feel like they are out on an island.
The alternative to this approach is to adopt a conversation starter mindset. Instead of speaking up to hope that your ideas catch fire, lower your expectations. Shoot for words that humbly invite additional conversation.
Maybe, you do have a great idea. How could you courageously share that in a way that isn’t muddied by an overly confident façade?
Work on dropping the polished act and be confident in not knowing. Everyone has their communication style, which also includes individual methods of posturing. Your goal should be to avoid ‘looking good’ and speaking up as authentically as possible. Hey here is an idea, what do you guys think?
4. A focus on execution
In today’s world, there is so much temptation to be distracted. At even the slightest hint of boredom, our minds reach for that phone.
The internet is filled with sites designed to take your attention and keep it. Most of the most popular sites today do a great job at this — professionally designed webpages microdose us with hits of dopamine, filling spaces of boredom.
Deep focus can be grueling when not inflow. While tiny little checks of the phone seem natural, they soon become a habit that is the antithesis of deep focus.
Those that master execution get more out of their days. Instead of 8–9 hours of catching up, you can create time for proactivity. To be efficient means to get more done in a shorter window. To do this well requires intense bursts of focus.
I can not recommend Cal Newport’s Deep Work more highly here. There are just some concepts that can’t be fully appreciated in short blog posts — books, on the other hand, layout pages of info dedicated to one central idea.
The ability to execute is essential because it turns any ideas into reality.
How to Develop
Brendon Burchard has a wonderfully practical productivity tool called the 5x 50 productivity formula. In it, he highlights the power of creating short bursts of intense focus. The power of this comes from the short window, which forces you into efficiency.
The number one productivity tool that I’ve found the most helpful is taking breaks. When you know that you only have 50 minutes to work, you tend to lock-in. Compare that to lazy weekend days when you seemingly have all day to work on your to-do list.
My recommendation is to combine the time interval technique with shortened to-do lists. Let me explain.
You can efficiently tackle a day by breaking up your working blocks into 50-minute intervals. When you start the working window, you write down the 1–3 tasks that you want to get done in this working session. You then look at the tasks and prioritize them in order of importance. Once that is complete — get to work on task one.
What this does is it gives you a focus on execution. You know exactly what is needed to get done and how long you can dedicate to it. You can even break up projects like this by separating which element you’ll be working on during this window.
Regardless of how much flow state you are in, enforce the break when the timer is up. It’s the secret that will keep you going all day. Stay just as disciplined with the breaks as you do for the time blocks. This is how you learn how to focus with more efficiency.
5. Ability to learn from mistakes
When you are new, it’s easy to make mistakes. It doesn’t take long to correct these mistakes and start hitting your stride.
The first year in a new role is one of the most rapid learning experiences. The days are constantly filled with not knowing what to do. This creates a need to ask more questions, leading to an explosion of knowledge about the role.
After we’ve been in a position for a while, we start to get comfortable. Maybe, a bit too comfortable, because we stop asking questions. Quite honestly, the better you are at your job, the harder it is to continue to progress.
Learning comes very naturally at first, then comes the inevitable plateau. We must continue to improve our processes by figuring out how we can do better at this stage. The more time you spend in a role, the deeper you’ll have to evaluate your process to continue improving.
How to Develop
There are two steps to get good at this.
The first is a desire for marginal improvement. That means accepting that you can make tiny changes to improve. Assuming you’re already sufficient at what you do.
The second is to create a regular habit of review. It could be weekly, or daily. It doesn’t matter as long as there is consistency.
One of the easiest ways is to take 5–10 minutes at the beginning of the day to journal. The journal practice is a simple way to write about how the previous day went. You can talk about what was frustrating, what went well, and what mistakes you made. Journaling in itself is therapeutic, but when you apply it in this way, you can gradually improve performance.
This review habit creates visual accountability. You’re not going to keep writing the same mistakes repeatedly without making a change. Failure is a valuable feedback tool. You can’t make adjustments without it.
Final take away
The best way to grow in any profession is continuous improvement. There a many tips, tricks, and hacks that can easily be absorbed in a blog post. But nothing happens unless there is a willingness to grow.
Even with a drive to succeed, you must prepare for the inevitable hard days. Not every day is going to feel great. You aren’t always going to feel motivated, but you will find success if the intention is there.
“Professionals stick to the schedule; amateurs let life get in the way.”― James Clear
This article was originally published on medium.