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Approach your career goals one small step at a time


Each new year starts with so much promise: The chance to learn a new skill, find another job, maybe even switch careers. But often, such long-term goals get pushed aside. By December, we're asking, "Where did the time go?"

Many things conspire against us. Interruptions -- from the co-worker who drops by uninvited to the boss who piles on yet more work -- make it hard to get through each day's "to-do" list. Then come unexpected events, like layoffs. Procrastination plays part: It's easier to do mundane chores than plan major changes.

Seminars and books address the issue of keeping our lives in order. Four years ago, I bought a day planner. It included a calendar, an address book and space to list personal data like insurance numbers, birthdays and doctors' names.

It's three pounds hefty, and has replaced an appointment book stuffed with scribbles on Post-It notes, envelopes and cocktail napkins. Yet I can't say it's changed my working life.

Sure, I've followed some time-management basics, like spending minutes at the end of the day listing the next day's priorities. Other practices that the gurus preach seem far too contrived. There's no way I could bring myself to write a personal mission statement, for instance.

My system is more basic. At the end of every year, I make a list of things I'd like to accomplish in the 12 months ahead. For each goal, I make another list of steps to take along the way. Then, I incorporate those more manageable items into my "to-do" lists.

Let's say you're thinking of starting a business. Your one-year plan might include: Buy a personal computer and learn to use it; come up with a company name; prepare business cards; cultivate clients; and find work space.

Trying to do everything at once could get overwhelming, especially if you're also holding down a day job. But small steps can be accomplished. For example, one month you could take a basic computer course and decide which model to buy. Another month, you might spend time making contacts at business and community events.

My favorite resolution is to master one new ability a year. It's a good idea to jot down the intermediate tasks and gradually add each to your schedule.

Pub Date: 12/22/96

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