Professional Resolutions: 2014

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We are just a few weeks into 2014, and it still has that new car smell. However, I’m certain that many of us have already cracked some of those shiny, simple-seeming resolutions. For my part, I deleted my Facebook account and lasted an admirable six days before accessing it, and my resolve to make a visit to the gym on a daily basis has already slipped to “once a week is fiiine.” However there are a few resolutions that I am absolutely determined to hold on to — they are the ones that resonate with my professional life. For me, and hopefully for you too, 2014 is the year of professional advancement and growth — and here is how we can get there:

Resolution #1 – Every day, take at least thirty minutes to read, or at least skim, industry relevant articles. Being an information junkie, I’ve made this into an hour at least, but time is precious and if you manage thirty minutes, I think that’s a fantastic start. What should you read? The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and perhaps the Economist are the very minimum. They give you some broad strokes, but it would be wise to also start reading forecasts and research papers as well (assuming they are relevant to your job). The goal is to put what you do, your company’s function, and its overall operating environment into perspective. You never want to be the one in the room who is confused when colleagues, or your boss, say “Did you see that article in…?”

Resolution #2 – Take another thirty minutes to read the work product of your colleagues and your company. The bottom line is simple: Know what’s going on at your job. Knowledge is power, and essential to successfully navigating finance. What’s going on? Who needs help with what project? What information has the company recently made public? What milestones has it reached? The idea of just keeping your head down is last generation. Stay informed.

Resolution #3 – Stay connected. Attend at least two industry events per month. Finance is constantly churning, and much of the success that you attain will be based upon the strength of your networks, not just your knowledge-base. Plus the fact that you are making an effort outside of work to stay on top of what’s going on just makes you more valuable to your company. Attend some conferences, networking event, happy hours, or talks. Offer to represent the organization at an event and report back.

Resolution #4 – Use your vacation days. Burnt-out anyone? It takes energy (mental, physical, and emotional) to be on top of everything at work, and then you toss in personal stuff, and it becomes nearly impossible. The down-time that you take, when you turn off your cellphone and put up your away message are an integral part of getting ahead, because they help you stay sane and avoid being a zombie in the office.

Resolution #5 – At least thirty minutes of reflection on the weekend. I’m not talking about Zen and “find your center” kind of reflection… although if you have the time, more power to you. I mean use at least a half-hour on the weekend to consider the previous week, what you accomplished, and take stock of the things that you did that will feed into your career aspirations. Ask yourself, “What did I get out of this past week?” “How did attending that networking event serve a purpose?” “What professional benefit did I gain from taking that lunch?” “How did that project work out?” Take a careful accounting of the work you’ve accomplished and how it might have pushed you a further along.

Resolution #6 – You guessed it! Another 15 minutes of contemplating where you want to go. If you followed Resolution #5 and were able to think of concrete accomplishments like “I made $X in sales this week” or completed a project, then consider how those successes can be articulated when it comes time for bonuses, or for justifying a promotion. Also, think of what you want to follow-up on from the previous week—lunch dates you want to book, or contacts you met that you want to reach out to. Put them in the wider context of what you want from the week ahead, and from your career going forward.