5 career planning posts for new information professionals

Navigating a career path and coming up with a flight plan can be difficult for those new to the information professions. There are many possibilities and even more ways to get there. My last couple of blog posts have focused on career planning for newbies. I’m by no means an expert, I only share my own experiences and tips about developing a career statement and my personal professional development plan for the next two years. Both I’ve found to be valuable exercises.

After taking a look at popular posts I’ve written here, three others on this topic may also be useful. I thought I’d bring them together for you.

1. Building a career path with Lego

A career, professional ‘self’ or identity can be put together by connecting ‘Lego’ blocks (knowledge and skills). Over time, a structure or a completed picture forms that is unique to each professional. This is what differentiates one professional to another.

So, take your career statement, then identify possible sectors you could pursue to fulfil your “mission”, then the skills and knowledge you might need. If you have an opportunity to be mentored, awesome. Do it. They can help put your building blocks together by being a sounding board. A mentor can also help guide you through all the ‘cool stuff’ that comes up and filter the ‘nice to knows’ from the ‘I need to focus on this right now’.

2. Audit your Personal Learning Environment

You’ve started your library course or you’re maybe looking to learning more about another sector. What resources and tools will you need for your learning? Perhaps you’ve signed up for Twitter, trying Feedly, signed up for another web-based tool which seemed useful a few months back? It’s time to think about the combination of tools that will be most effective for you. It’s time to tidy up all these things to help streamline your information feeds. I’m due to have a review of my PLE myself. The methodology isn’t perfect, but this post’s key message is to ensure you regularly check your collection of tools so they continue to work for you, not against you. I know my needs and ways of thinking and doing stuff changes over time. This may be true for you.

3. 10 must-reads for PLNs

Among the most valuable things you can do as a new information professional (I’ve found, at least) is to start thinking about your personal learning network (PLN). A PLN is the human component of your PLE. In 2011, I undertook an independent research project looking into the theory of connectivisim and developing a personal learning network. I presented my findings at the 5th New Librarians’ Symposium. My paper is available online, if you’re up for a sticky beak. :)

During this project, I came across some great starting points for developing an understanding of PLNs and how they might contribute to your professional development and establishing connections in the information professions. There are probably more up to date resources available since this post, but these will surely provide the basics, as well as identify some key authors in this space.

I hope these posts about career planning and professional development help those just starting out in the information professions, or indeed anyone seeking for a bit of (re)direction.

PLN, where art thou?

….well, that’ll be the first thought I have if, heaven forbid, Twitter disappeared tomorrow.

Someone asked me the question recently, “If Twitter went kaput, was lost and disappeared, what would you do?”

For a moment, well actually it was a little more than a moment, panic set in. No one had asked me that question before, and it’s a very valid one.

Twitter is a tool I use to connect with my personal learning network. If that connection was lost, what would my PLN look like? How would I communicate?

Firstly, let’s look at my main purposes for Twitter, besides connecting with my PLN. My Twitter network acts like an information filter. I have hundreds of ‘pairs of eyes’ looking out for relevant, thought provoking and important key professional information which feeds into my professional development activities. Twitter is also a channel through which I contribute and share information, ideas and reflections.

Now take Twitter out of that equation.

And I realise a few things: -

  • Connecting with my personal learning network would become….. very……. slow. Circulation (and even generation) of  ideas, issues and trends would seem like forever. A lot more time would have to be spent seeking, sorting and processing information, making careful judgements on what is significant to the profession, what I need to consider and what I can discard. My sounding board would be taken away if Twitter disappeared.
  • I do have other tools for connection, such as this blog, so I would probably put out a ‘message in a bottle’ to see where I could connect with others again. I would really miss my peeps!
  • I’ve survived without Twitter before. And so I could survive again, if I had to. Plus there’s conferences and tweet ups! ….oh wait, you couldn’t call them ‘tweet ups’ without Twitter, ooops.
  • I would heavily rely on my local, face-to-face PLN members to point me in the direction of where others were ‘meeting’.

I recommend really having a think about this. I’ve shared just a few initial thoughts. Seriously, what would you do? Please share!

BAM! Twitter’s gone…..Go!

Planning Sessions – a summary & final thoughts

For my final ‘Planning Sessions’ post, I’d like to share some final thoughts, benefits I’ve experienced and describe how my planning tools come together in the form of the ‘Weekly Review’.

In my first planning session, I identified five tools to use to assist my planning and keeping on track.

  • Diary
  • Task manager
  • Year Planner
  • Quarterly Planner
  • Checklist

At this point, I haven’t completed the quarterly planner, I’m feeling little need to do so. Perhaps I don’t need one? Though I suspect I’ll do a planner for the university semester.
For the other four tools, they’re serving their purpose beautifully. And I’ve been strict with myself to stick to the purpose for each tool. The result is not only minimising clutter, but I also know which tool to go to retrieve information about something. For example, I don’t record my exercise in my diary, it goes on the checklist. When I’d like to know how I’m tracking with my exercise goals, I don’t need to sort through appointments and due dates to find this information. I can view my progress with a glance at the checklist.

Possibly the single most important part of maintaining my capturing and processing system has been the ‘Weekly Review’. Last week I had a brief thought to do away with my ‘weekly review’ because I had other things calling for my attention. My recommendation is to ignore those urges. I kept my ‘weekly review appointment’ and glad I did. The ‘weekly review’ keeps me on top of my commitments and provides me with a clear idea of what I need to do. I’d fall behind and induce feelings of being overwhelmed if I missed a ‘weekly review’. It is a process where all the tools and their functions come together. The general process involves going through each ‘inbox’ and deciding each item’s next action (or inaction). Tasks are input into the task manager. I identify, from my year planner, which projects I’m currently working on and their next action. I then go through each task and assign a due date.

A challenge I’ve faced in developing trust in the system is recording tasks, ideas, etc as soon as possible, when it comes to mind. If something is on my mind, my mind isn’t clear and restricts thinking and ideas. When something is on your mind, before it starts to bug you, write it down, capture it in the system. Even if it’s a scribble on a piece of paper and placed in a physical in-tray. Come to the ‘weekly review’, the item will be dealt with.

By going through the process of planning and setting up a system, I’ve certainly honed my personal learning environment (PLE) tools used for capturing and processing – naturally I’ve stuck with what’s handy and meshes with how I like to record and retrieve things.

So here’s an idea: Record or pay attention to what you grab when writing down an idea or task. Do this for a week or two. Do you always have Evernote open? Do you grab whatever scrap of paper you find? This exercise will help determine which tools work for you and will be handy to incorporate into your processing system.

Final thoughts….

Plans and planning is guided by a direction or goals. I’ve discovered two approaches to planning. One is to plan to prepare for opportunities, the other is to plan towards set goals. So it doesn’t matter if you have set goals or not, planning is useful to everyone.

Planning doesn’t mean to imply being rigid or taking a rigid approach to following plans. Instead, I believe planning is key to being flexible. By knowing what projects are happening, commitments, essentially the big picture, at any one time actually allows for flexibility. Since implementing my planning tools and system I’ve identified an opportunity I’d like to take on. I can refer to my year planner, be reminded of my priorities and focus areas, and perhaps find a way I can work it in. Or I won’t be able to. But by having a planner, I can save myself from, well, myself and re-affirm where my energies are to be directed.

Remember, the only constant in life is change.

Planning Session 4 – the Checklist

There are two more posts in this “planning session” series which has detailed the process and approach I have taken to organising and planning the year ahead – the checklist and a summary, pulling all the planning tools together. I would’ve liked to have shared my thoughts on goal setting, but I’m still trying to work the process out. It’s been tough. After a three hour session, I’d made progress but I need to re-think my approach. Suffice to say, there is no one method, template…..any right or sure way to set goals. I have short to mid term goals, absolutely, however these are yet to make it to a piece of paper or be well defined enough to be able to tackle each element of them.

In this post, I will focus on the development of a ‘checklist’ I now use to tick off regular tasks, including habits I wish to establish.

I may have said this before, but not only am I a visual person, I’m also results driven. I like to see progress being made, as well as seeing when to celebrate successes and little wins. I didn’t want to clog up my task manager, this would be too overwhelming. I didn’t want to set aside a block of time for regular tasks and habits in my diary or calendar, such as exercise. I found last year this didn’t work for me. I became immune to those scheduled time blocks, I ended up booking appointments over the top, studied, etc. Self imposed due dates also became useless to me. I set too many tasks for myself and saw the due dates rush past in a flurry. No wonder I felt swamped, guilty (for not exercising or completing a task), trapped and buried in ‘have to’s’.

Primarily, the idea behind the checklist is habit development. Other uses include regular tasks, such as blog posts, professional readings, and also drawing my focus to the projects I’m currently working on. I initially thought to create a fortnightly checklist, but have now opted for a monthly. I’ve used (Kikki K) A4 monthly planners. A spreadsheet or table would also be effective, they were in my undergrad years. :) The purpose of the checklist is to visually see progress, and also see when it is not made or identify which area (or habit) is falling behind.

I’ve noted my goals on the bottom of the planners. One of them is to do physical exercise four times a week, three times as a minimum. By not ‘booking’ in exercise, I free myself to achieve those three to four workouts at any time during the week. If I don’t feel like exercising one day, no matter, I have the week to complete my quota. Flexibility in my schedule is also realised and achieved this way. I am satisfied when I see the ‘ticks’ at the end of the week and end of the month.

I can say, more than a month in using the systems I have put in place, the plans I have made and the tools I have used, it’s all working for me. I can elaborate more on the benefits of my planning sessions in my summary post. So for now, here are some additional resources for establishing habits.

5 Steps to create a new habit – zenhabits

How to not change a habit: 7 common mistakes – The Positivity Blog

What rituals do you include in your work life? – The Bamboo Project

A compact guide to creating the fitness habit – zenhabits

The two-headed beast of successful habit change – zenhabits

Planning Session 3 – Clear out!

I can’t stand clutter. Organised desk, organised mind, I say. Clutter is almost a reflection of one’s state of mind. It certainly rang true for me last year. At a point of total chaos, my study area reflected much what I was thinking and feeling about the (more than) plateful I had going on.

Well, planning session three, for me, was to attack my study area with utmost brutality. I simply could not begin another year with remnants scattered about the place. I was determined to head into this year with increased clarity and freedom in my mind.

I can tell you it was liberating. I felt the weight of last year’s workload and items I had neglected come off my shoulders. Now I want to spend time in my study. I have set up my area with what I need handy, according to how I like to work.

I’m a big fan of ‘Getting Things Done’ and I highly recommend grabbing a copy of the book, or you can even download a bunch of helpful PDFs from David Allen’s website for free to get you started.

First of all, emptying inboxes had to begin with identifying all inboxes. Where do all the ideas, tasks, filing, readings, etc end up?
My inboxes: -

  • Google Reader (I have Instapaper too, but I’ve created an RSS feed from my ‘Unread’ folder to my Google Reader)
  • Evernote
  • (physical) In-Tray
  • Gmail
  • University (study) email
  • Task manager
  • Twitter favourites

Next, is to go through each of these inboxes and process EVERYTHING.

  1. Determine what the item is.
  2. Decide what needs to happen with it.
  3. If the item requires an action, or a series of actions, either enter into the task manager or write it down. Place a note on a post it and stick on the physical item.

DO NOT place anything back where it was before.

For physical items, such as scanning to do or statements to file, I grouped items into piles of similar tasks. I have a ‘To Action’ folder, a ‘To file’ folder and an ‘Inspiration’ folder on my project files rack for the physical items (courtesy of Kikki K). The key outcome of this process was each item’s next action was determined. When I go to my ‘To Action’ folder now, I don’t need to think about what items are or what needs to be done. I can just DO IT! A similar system can be applied to email inboxes and Evernote. I now ‘clip’ items directly to an ‘Inbox’ notebook and ‘empty’ this notebook on a weekly basis as part of my review. I also now use the task manager ‘Things’ and am finding the tagging function useful to apply contexts to my tasks. If a task doesn’t need to be completed immediately, I enter the task into my inbox in ‘Things’, then apply scheduling and tags, file into a project, at my weekly review. The most important thing here is the task’s entry into the system.

After the initial clear out, getting rid of stuff I didn’t require anymore (I must say a shredder was very helpful!), I then had a look at all the items needing to be actioned. As a general rule, if an action took less than two minutes, it got done right there.

I don’t employ every part of the GTD system, just bits and pieces integrated into my existing system of organising myself. Part of implementing GTD is being able to trust the system. If systems and consistent processes can be put into place, then I believe you can trust items to be captured and dealt with more effectively. When setting up a system, it is important inboxes are handy and easy to process.

Here are some other tips and hints to clearing out and planning: -
Getting Things Done FAQ by zenhabits
Get all inboxes to zero, and have fewer inboxes by zenhabits
5 Ways GTD helps you achieve your goals by zenhabits
7 Steps to achieving your goals by Alexandra Samuel

Planning Session 1 – Get it all out!

I couldn’t wait to plan my fresh start. It was difficult to know where to begin, but with pen, paper and a whole lot of ideas jumping round my head, one way was to just write. Here, I detail my first planning session, kicking off 2012.

Write, list, draw, whatever, all commitments for the year. For example, I have subjects to complete towards my Masters degree, ALIA NewGrads and writing here at Flight Path. Some times I can’t do things (or think) in any coherent order, so I’ve written all over a piece of paper. Whatever came to mind, seemingly random items. Questions which assisted my thought process included: -

  • What did I learn from last year?
  • What worked? What didn’t work?
  • What area/s of life do I want to work on?
  • What area/s of life need working on?
  • What behaviours or habits do I need to look out for?
  • What is stopping me from achieving goals?
  • What projects/events will I have on this year?
  • (for me) What will be my research/exploration focus?

Write down everything. I mean, EVERYTHING.

Guidance may need to be sought during this process. I looked to position descriptions (for jobs I’d like to aim for) and ideas of mid to long term plans and goals. I then highlighted items of particular importance, my focus areas – fitness, writing, well-being – with a bubble. But whatever takes your fancy.

I wrote down everything from what I definitely knew I had on, to what I’d like to do, such as learning Mandarin. As projects and commitments jump onto the page, this process may seem quite overwhelming, and it was. It’s supposed to. For me, it was like some sort of shock therapy to bring some perspective and realise I can’t achieve and do everything that’s landed on the page. Believe me, without established priorities and planning, if I attempted to pursue everything on that piece of paper, I’d most likely end up burnt out again, or on a bathroom floor, literally.

The second activity in this session was to identify what planning tools I’ll need to help me see the year ahead. Planning tools I’ve chosen are: -

  • Diary – for what’s on and due
  • Task manager – to be an inbox for tasks and managing next actions for projects
  • Year planner – to view all projects for the year on a Gantt chart-like spreadsheet
  • Quarterly planner – for a closer look at projects and due dates, particularly for the university semester
  • Checklist – to tick off regular tasks, such as reading, blog posts and exercising.

Each tool will be assigned a function. For example, my checklist is for habit development and repeating tasks. I will not be writing in due dates, events or appointments. This is what my diary is for. And this way my repeating tasks won’t bulk up my task manager.

I also started to think about my personal learning environment, systems and processes I need to have in place. I’m a systematic type of person. I like to plan and set in place whatever I can to free my mind from mundane, day-to-day processes, and time-wasting moments like ‘where did I file away my last bank statement?’ and the hunt that proceeds. Systems and simple processes that become routine and habit can save time and allows for focus on other, more complex tasks. I’ve already proven this to myself.

Some questions to ask are: -

  • Where and what tools serve as in-trays or inboxes?
  • How are day-to-day things processed?
  • Where can efficiency by improved so I can routinely capture the information and tasks I need?

For example, work emails, Gmail, physical in-tray, Evernote and Google Reader are probably most places where I’ll find tasks to action and ideas to organise; inboxes for things ranging from mobile phone invoices to blog post ideas and professional reading. For this first session though, I didn’t think too much about this and I still haven’t. At this point I figured once the projects and goals are set, I’ll have a better picture about what tools and processes I’ll put in place to facilitate them.

At the end of my first session, I had a piece of paper with scribbles, a rough list of planning tools and began to co ordinate regular events, like study, beach volleyball seasons and ALIA NewGrads, into a year planner. Details of said planner will come….however at this point I needed a boost of inspiration, so I spent an afternoon starting on my vision board by painting decorations.

For another example of conducting annual reviews and planning, see post from The Act of Non-Conformity.

 

A Joy of Organising

I love to organise. Depending on what needs to be organised, I’ll organise to the very last detail. I enjoy planning, seeing a project take shape, understand what I need to do to achieve or complete a task. I guess you could say that planning and organising, at least for me, is a way of getting the process of organising and using planning tools, out of my head so I don’t have to stress so much about completing things. I’m also a visual person, and have a need to see progress is being made.

 

This year – oops, allow me to correct that – last year I did away with my usual diary and went completely electronic, with a task manager and iCal on my iPhone to manage every day. Guess what? It took the joy I had out of organising and being organised. Electronic formats did not get me excited about an upcoming event or project completion. My commitments and appointments didn’t seem as real. I side-stepped a lot of my Pilates time and replaced it with work, even though I had blocked out time in my ‘diary’.

 

Towards the end of last year, I bought myself I diary. Yes, I’m going back to a good ‘ol paper diary. I’m bringing back the joy I have in organising. Already I’m loving it.

 

In my new diary I record my exercise, appointments, due dates and, inspired by the Bun-Toting Librarian, I’ve started to write down my mood, succinctly of course. At the beginning of each month I have room to make a list of focus areas and projects, as well as goals and what I’m grateful for. I’ll still use a task manager to manage the finer tasks for projects, but my diary is a small private space for me, away from my work and other commitments on the iPhone.

 

Over the last year however, I have developed a habit of entering appointments into iCal. I have my iPhone with me wherever I go. Like the shift to electronic organising, returning to a paper format will take some adjustment. Say or think what you will. So what if I appear to be going backwards? There are a number of great looking apps in the App Store right now I could download and use. Perhaps my position will change once I have a tablet; maybe I perceive the iPhone as not big enough to comfortably record what I need to. I like trying out new tools to facilitate organising and planning, but nothing beats a paper diary……at least for now.