“Swiss-cheesing” professional development

To make progress on any task, we all know that we should break it down to its constituent pieces, and that slow and steady is always the way to go for any big, looming project, but as September draws near and with Fall routines picking up again, it can start to feel impossible to make the time for making progress on big career development goals like career education & exploration, or setting up a side project, or growing your business. This is the time of year where I can start to feel the walls closing in a little bit, and I know this is largely owing to some of the bad habits I cultivated in graduate school around binge writing, such that I feel like the only way I can make progress on anything is to have big open chunks of time on my calendar – whole days, weekends, or even weeks seem like the only way to go. When I can’t see these on the horizon, I start to get stressed!

swiss cheese.jpg

So, my new approach to making the time involves pushing in little bits of work (20 minute increments to be exact), working these in as little holes around everything else that needs to get done during the days, weeks, months as they unfold.  I call this practice “swiss-cheesing it.”

The technique is the Pomodoro, downloadable as an app to your phone, a system of bells and ticks that helps you focus for 20 minutes intervals, but as for what to be working on during any given Pomodoro – this is a practice that I also cultivated as part of my dissertation process – a blended combination of reading, writing, and research (RWR).

Reading, Writing, and Research (RWR)
In professional practice, what this looks like is having made time to have done some writing before you have a networking conversation so that you are more easily able to explain to the person with whom you are talking what it is that you actually do (would like to do, are looking for more opportunities to do).  However, having this networking conversation in the first place requires having done enough research to have found the networking event, or scheduled the informational interview, or to even recognize the opportunity when you are given it to talk about the professional things that you are looking for opportunities to talk about.  Of course, knowing what it is that even you want to talk about in the first place also requires some research (reading and writing) and there will always be a call for more RWR in the follow-up, when the person you have proposed an idea to asks for more information, etc.

annamarie writing.jpgWe can take my current Career Linguist business activities as an example. As I gear up for the upcoming academic year, you can currently find me sending out batches of emails to all the career centers who have linguistics programs across the country (and Canada, and the UK) about a professional development workshop for linguistics students that I am looking to offer this year.  Getting to this point of being able to send these out has recently required RWR in the form of identifying these schools, crafting my pitch, and learning enough about what is currently being offered to know how to craft the pitch. But this has also required a couple years’ worth of RWR to even identify this opportunity, to realize that no one was adopting a linguistic approach to thinking about career, and then deciding on the form in which I wanted to contribute to this gap in literature and practice (a book, a workshop), and then developing all of the pieces of communication that comprise and surround these (my bio, my blog, etc). And there will hopefully be RWR cycles in my immediate future as these folks write back requesting more info in the form of developing more detailed workshop descriptions, blurbs, interviews to publicize it, etc.

So, if you are just starting this practice – try for 3 Pomodoros this week: 1 each for some RWR that helps you make progress on some aspect of professional development that you deem important. You will get better with practice at choosing tasks that can be completed in about 20 minutes, but for now, take note of how these three pieces (RWR) interrelatate and mutually reinforce one another. And if you are really stuck for how to begin, use them by spending an hour this week on LinkedIn.

And let us know how it goes!
“Here’s to what’s next!!”