We want to give our best 100 percent of the time at work. Realistically, thinking about our career progression too often can be taxing. It can take us out of the present moment, when we could be focused on the more tactical action items we can achieve every day. These are the five key months to give major self-reflection around our careers—and more importantly, our career goals.
January: Set Your Plan
Time to kick off the year! January is an important work reset for all of us. It’s the month to set some ambitious, achievable goals and break them down into measurable, actionable steps. I like to use the method of asking myself, “What by when?”
Let’s say one of the goals you have for this year is to get promoted. Your boss might have made part of that promotion contingent on you on adding some new skills to your toolkit. First, be sure you’re in agreement on what those should be, and next, get specific on a plan! If you’re wanting to learn a new programming language, break out your steps into excruciating detail and give yourself deadlines. Research the most in-demand languages, find training materials, book weekly study dates with yourself, and ultimately, plot a test date or certification milestone.
January career planning becomes more successful when we move from aspirational to incredibly specific and time-oriented. This sets up the year ahead to be an easier process in career progression, navigating a roadmap toward what we want to achieve.
April: Check In On Progress
Ok, we’re 12 weeks into the year—now is a great time to take stock on what we’ve achieved. A few months is a good amount of time to know where you were able to create great work habits. It can also reveal what gets in our way.
First quarters of the year are a really busy time, and it can be easy to look up and have seen the first few months of the year whizzed by! Along the way, make some notes weekly or so for yourself on how you’re moving toward your career goals. Future you that takes on this self-reflection will be really grateful for that data. Did things slip during weeks where you had a lot of personal commitments? Do your goals actually seem to be less aligned with your day-to-day work? What other unexpected opportunities came your way that changed how you allocate your time at work?
These are all questions to take a look at as you start to see how your objectives for the year line up with the reality of our habits at work. Adjusting goals at this point is never failing—it’s about realistically setting objectives that you can achieve.
June: Your Management Barometer
A lot of companies are moving to more frequent feedback. Ironically, that can mean we’re missing out on chances to formally engage with our management about our performance. Don’t let this cultural shift actually deprive you of guidance and face time with your management. It’s important to use dedicated time with your leadership to talk about your goals and progress. Essentially, you should think of a few key points throughout the year where you can be your own best PR person, and also raise any roadblocks that are getting in the way of your progress.
Meet the “Brag Sheet.” Ideally, June should be a time where you round up all the incredible contributions you’ve made over the last six months and march them out to your boss. You also want to take an honest look at where you might need to course correct—this is an important time to do so! We’ve got six months to get a solid track record on the books.
A brag sheet should be compiled of any great things clients or colleagues say about your work, detailed information about any projects or products you’ve contributed to that have had a positive impact, or milestones you’re achieving in your ongoing learning and upskilling. Take any management feedback from this mid-year review and give it a little “January” treatment—turn it into time-linked goals for the rest of the year.
October: Your Final “Plus Ones”
October is often realistically the last stretch where your performance can impact this current year’s review, pay, and bonus decisions. It’s an important time to shine. Your boss is probably making decisions on who is a good candidate for promotion. She may also be getting information on what types of positions could open up next year.
This key inflection point in our “career year “means a couple of things. First, this is the final stretch for many of us to put up numbers. If you’ve got any major achievements to wrap up, this is the time to document and promote those successes! Second, it’s time to start to think about what your next year could entail. Are you ready for promotion? Looking to make a job change? Or hoping to shift your schedule or work hours? Start getting together your clear vision and objectives for the year ahead so that you can go into any final reviews prepared.
December: Wind Down and Reflect
Things start to slow down this time of year. Everyone is generally starting to tuck away for holidays or family time, making it a great time of year to start reflecting and getting to some of those career objectives that tend to fall down the list.
Quiet Fridays can be a great time to drop quick emails to anyone in your professional network. It can be as simple as a check in and to wish them a great year ahead. It’s a thoughtful way to touch base with your network, but doesn’t add extra commitments to an already busy time of year.
This is also the time to look back to January—what did you achieve? How will this next year look different? Getting a head start on gathering your achievements tees you up for any formal annual review process that might be ahead, and gets you ready to start some new goals just weeks away!
What are the key career check in points in your year?