The following is a guest post from Cameron Plommer. He’s a sharp guy who’s contributed a lot to this blog’s community so I am excited to get to share with you all some of his on-the-job insights and advice.
After I graduated from college December 2009, I didn’t get a full-time position until October 2010. This is another story, for another time. Instead, I want to share what I’ve learned in the past seven months as a full-time worker.
Working Eight-Hour Days
The biggest thing I had to get used to was having to devote eight (or more) straight hours to work. As opposed to school where you have multiple breaks in a day, work is consistent. Sure you get to do whatever you want when you get home and on the weekend, but it is still a big difference that takes time to get use to.
The Rhythm of The Workplace
Pay attention to how things get done where you work. In my office people where many hats, we all chip in to get things done. The lesson I had to learn was to be proactive. If you aren’t busy, lend a hand to someone else. The bosses will take notice and it will help you down the line.
One way to make sure your manager sees your initiative is to cc them in an email you send offering your help to a fellow coworker.
“Hey [name], I have some free time this [today/week] and noticed you are a bit swamped. I could help you do [task] if you need a hand. Just let me know.”
How could I not talk about productivity?! First off if you work in an office staring at a computer most of the day, make sure to take breaks. Not Facebook breaks. Get away from the computer. Get up out of your chair, go outside and take a walk. Or just stand and think. It’s a simple yet effective way to clear your head. It’s often very easy to work continuously even when you aren’t being effective. Breaks help.
Use the Pomodoro Technique. This is related to taking breaks. Essentially you work for 25 minutes at a time, take a 5 minute break, repeat. That’s one Pomodoro. Sounds stupid yes I know, but it simply works.
As an entry-level employee it’s also crazy-important to be organized. Tools I recommend are Evernote and Teux Deux. I use Evernote for projects and references and Teux Deux for tasks. Having your shit together is a great way to impress the higher-ups and is often the difference between moving up and being past up for promotion.
If you aren’t a bit anxious or slightly paranoid that something won’t work out, you probably aren’t pushing yourself enough as a new professional. Seek out hard work that you don’t quite know how
to do. You want to put yourself in sink or swim situations. Even if you sink (fail), you will have shown initiative and have an experience to learn from when taking on future work.
Last week the senior project manager where I work went on vacation for the week. Up until that time I was helping her project manage, in an assistant-type role. If I didn’t know what to do she would generally take over. But when she left I was tasked with new responsibilities. If I didn’t step up and just figure things out, projects would stall and I wouldn’t be seen as capable.
This was my sink or swim situation. I sunk at times, but mostly swam. Now that she is back, she sees that I’m very capable of handling more complex tasks on my own.
Find Time to Actually Work
This lesson is especially true if you work in a services business or agency of some kind where lots of email and meetings are the norm. Meetings and email take up a big block of my time. As a project manager I probably do more meeting than others, but even you are aren’t a PM expect to have large chunks of your day eaten up by meetings and responding to email.
Both are necessary evils, so figure out how to do work within the day. One tip I have is to try batching meetings and batching email processing. For example, try to set up your meetings in the afternoon and process email in the morning and late afternoon (that’s only if you don’t have frequent urgent emails). The benefit of doing this is that you don’t have to do as much mental switching, compared to having a meeting every other hour. If you get them all done at one time, you can devote large chunks of
time to difficult mental tasks.
Be Okay With Sucking
This is a big one for entry-level workers. The fact is you are new and don’t know much about anything. Sure you may have good soft skills, but learning the hard skills is well, hard. For instance, I
work in market research and have no background in the industry. I’ve had to learn multiple processes such as how focus groups run, how surveys are create/launched and all the other details of the industry.
The only way to learn is by doing and in this doing you will get confused, lost, angry, and frustrated. It’s only natural, you are learning something new. I don’t care if you got a 4.0 in college, you still have much to learn. Role with the punches, ask a lot of questions and just do your best. You will get better.