Career

Thinking of your career creatively (as a journey or as a canvas) can give you insights and motivation.

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Chances are you won’t have the same kind of job that your parents had. Nor the same career path. The nature of jobs and work have changed. In particular, jobs today are shorter-term, and one’s career path is open and likely to change over your lifetime. You will likely find yourself performing different kinds of activities and utilising different skill-sets and different points in your life.

This can present challenges and difficulties, but it also present opportunities. You now have the opportunity to “design your career”. What does this mean?

Well, you can take a look at the jobs you’ve done and the companies you’ve worked at, non-commercial activity you’ve been involved with (such as non-profit work, hobbies, etc), your education, and other factors, and see them as a kind of “portfolio”.

You can start to envisage your career-to-date in various creative ways. You could look at it as a journey, with each different job or project as a step in that journey, which in turn, opens the door to future steps. Or you could look at it as a canvas, where, rather than being sequentially ordered in time, it’s more like a spacious “surface”, in which the jobs or projects are like brush strokes, which each contribute to form an overall picture.

What’s the point of all this “creative thinking”? Well, when you look at the journey or colours of your career, you can get ideas of where to go next.

One principle I have brough to bear here is balance. That is, when I’ve developed my career all the way in one particular direction (let’s just call it “north”), then I try to think of ways to develop it in a different direction (let’s say “south-east”). In my personal case, I had a long history in software development in the private sector. I decided to apply some balance to my profile by seeking more work in government and by studying Interaction Design.

You can find balance in other ways. Perhaps all your work thusfar was in one particular city. You could try to work in a different city for a change. Or perhaps your work was usually long-term, multi-year projects. You could balance it out by doing a few shorter stints.

There’s no right or wrong way here, and you probably want to be selective about where you apply balance.

But by being strategic about your choices of where, how and what work you do, within the constraints of what you have control over (e.g. your employability), you can create a stronger overall portfolio and shape your career to more closely fit your real interests, passions and abilities.

For example, if you’re a film producer with 6 years of experience, you might be appealing to companies who are looking to produce promotional videos. But what if you were a film producer who had also done some work in real estate and taken a short course in marketing? Then you might be extermely appealing to a real estate company who are looking to produce videos to market their properties.

As an alternative to balance, you can also look at complementarity. Different industries can complement eachother (e.g. fashion and design) and different locations can complement eachother (e.g. Australia and China, both being in the Asia-Pacific region).

So go grab a time-machine or a paintbrush, and get designery with your career! Your work history belongs to you. It’s your property in a way. See if you can find ways to craft it to your liking.

Schedule

Does your schedule work for you? Here I present the “modular schedule” – a way of introducing flexibility and adaptability while preserving consistency and regularity.

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Open your calendar. Maybe it’s a physical calendar on your desk. Maybe it’s a virtual calendar on your smartphone, tablet or laptop. Have a look at the grid. You can see days of the week and times of the day. And the calendar tool enables you to easily create appointments and meetings and reminders. And those can easily be made to recur, so that, for example, every Wednesday at the same time, you attend an exercise class, or every Friday night at this time, you meet this person.

Using these tools can help you to structure your time and introduce some consistency and regularity, which helps you to get into productive rhythms, predict your free time and balance various priorities.

However, using such tools may also introduce a fair amount of rigidity. For example, you might have exercise on Wednesday night, but you start to feel very sick on Wednesday afternoon, forcing you to skip exercise. Or you have to miss your regular appointment on Friday night, because you realise you’ll be away on a trip, and won’t be back in time. Or you miss some other appointment because something comes up, e.g. a lengthy tax return.

A calendar with regular events occurring every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
A standard calendar features consistency and regularity, but might it also be rigid and inflexible?

Is there a way to schedule that gives us some structure, but also some flexibility?

Recently I’ve been partially experimenting with what I’ll call a “modular schedule“. Rather than scheduling specific dates and times for an event, I’ll just specify a duration (and optionally, a location) and make the event a moveable “module”.

Say it’s exercise – e.g. weight training. I decide on a place that I’ll do that, the gym. I know where that place is and how long it will take to get there. I know what activities I’ll be doing and what equipment I’ll need. And I can time-box it to, say, 1.5 hours (including travel time). So there is a sense of regularity and expectation in the event.

But because I’m not pinning it down to a time and date, the event can be moved and changed. So if I’m too sick to exercise on Wednesday, that module is still there, and it can be moved to the next day or two days later. I can take a moment on Thursday to pause, and think, “well, I’m feeling well now, and I’ve got 3 hours free, what can I do?”. And then it’s easy to slot in that 1.5-hour module exercise.

Two modules – a 1-hour exercise module and a 15-minute coffee with Jill module
Example of a modular schedule. Two modules – time-boxed, but also moveable.

By using this method, it can become easier to change and adapt your schedule on-the-fly, because you have a small set of recurring activities in mind, along with how long they’ll take (and where you’ll do them), but because you haven’t locked yourself into a time (and perhaps place, if it can be done anywhere), then you can move those activities around. You can cancel, re-order, manipulate, move them around, just like chess pieces on a board.

Another advantage of this technique is that it can enable you to allocate time more strategically. So if there’s a particularly good moment to do something, you can wait until that moment. For example, perhaps its a sunny day and the weather is nice and warm, and you think, “that’s a perfect time to walk the dog”. So you can take move your “walking the dog” module to that time. Or maybe it’s rainy, cold and miserable outside, so now is the perfect time to go to the library or the cafe, open your laptop, and get some work done. You’re making more efficient use of your time, because you’re choosing moments or contexts which will fit the best with the activities you’re performing.

So you won’t find yourself, for example, working hard on your laptop while it’s beautiful and sunny outside and you feel like exercise. Or you won’t find yourself trying to walk the dog when it’s rainy and cold outside.

So that’s the “modular schedule”. Give it a try!

PS. It will be interesting to see if software tools come out in the future, that facilitate more flexible modes of arranging time. But if you internalise this technique, add it to your mental toolbox, it can be pretty easy to start automatically making certain activities more modular, without even needing to refer to a physical or digital calendar.