A few years ago, when I was still in my Executive Director role at Sea Change, I had the opportunity to participate in a strategic planning session with our full team (board and staff). Using multi-color sticky notes, the dozen of us had generated a wall full of incredible ideas for meeting our programmatic mission for the year. The new ideas were exciting, novel and offered critical solutions to the problems we were facing as an organization. Standing back and looking at our work, most of our team was buzzing with energy and satisfaction.

We’d done it!

But I noticed one of our core leadership team was standing off on her own – viewing the set of ideas with a look of concern.

“I’m not trying to be a downer here, but how do we expect to accomplish this list without substantially shifting our current priorities.”

At the time, I remember feeling more than a little irritated. I loved the energy in the room. I loved seeing everyone nodding their heads and excited for the changes a head. I loved the idea of moving on to new and exciting projects. But I also knew that this leader was correct in her assessment of our situation. In fact, by taking a practical view of the moment and our capacity for implementation she was offering our team a gift.

Friends, when it comes to organizational change every team needs this key player.

  • The one who understands the carrying capacity of a team.
  • The one that cares about follow through and meeting current commitments.
  • The one that can predict the late nights, stressed out meetings and shoddy work that results from being overcommitted and understaffed.
  • The one that remembers to pause before rushing forward.

The same is true when it comes to career change.

When we’re in the process of a career change – our whole world can suddenly become a wall of post-it notes full of exciting, novel and critically important solutions to the problems we were facing.

But in the enthusiasm for new visions and goals, we can forget to zoom out. It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and forget we’re already juggling a lot.

But before you start breathing into a paper bag because you realized you obviously don’t have the time or bandwidth to make the changes you know you need, let me introduce to you three key strategies that can help you take action without overwhelm.

Tip #1: Cultivate a Fear of Rushing In – Fear of Rushing In (FORI) is the much needed antidote to Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). Career Changers are particularly vulnerable to a false sense of urgency. When we begin to search for a new role we become the target for a ton of well-intended advice and professional development advertising.

So when we cultivate FORI, we create a valuable pause between thinking and behavior. A pause between the thought, “I definitely need a Project Management certification or I’ll never find a new job,” and clicking “BUY” on an expensive workshop that you don’t have the time to complete.

Some examples of FORI in action:

  • Avoiding impulsive purchases of books & courses, by using the “cart” feature on websites and allowing a 2-3 day cooling off period before taking action.
  • Not taking any new volunteer roles unless you have let go of another equal sized commitment or responsibility.
  • Allowing someone to struggle with a task that you can complete expertly – knowing that “good enough” is “good enough.”

Tip #2 Consciously Deprioritize – When starting a new personal project or initiative we may feel that we need to attack our new tasks immediately. But within a week or so, other responsibilities start to interfere with our ability to get to those project tasks. This is because we introduced a new priority but we didn’t consciously deprioritize any of our old priorities.

Here’s how you can consciously deprioritize:

  • List out your priorities on individual pieces of paper (post-its or 3X5 cards work well). Include anything you are currently giving your attention. (Eg. caring for kids, finding a new job, writing my novel, keeping the house clean, losing weight, doing my current job, planning mom’s birthday party).
  • Line them up on a surface and line them up in your preferred priority order.
  • Select the first five cards as your “priorities” – deprioritize the rest.
  • Use these 5 D’s to help you deprioritize:
    • Downgrade – address anything urgent and then put it on the back burner.
    • Delegate – hand this off to a capable friend, family member, co-worker.
    • Delay- let people know that you will be doing this in a few weeks.
    • De-escalate- ask yourself how urgent this priority really is?
    • Don’t do- some things can just be left undone.

Tip # 3 Work in Sprints – Sprints are shorter chunks of time (usually 2-3 weeks in length) in which you commit to a set of concrete, meaningful, short-term objectives that move you toward your larger goals. Sprints are great for focusing your energy and reflecting as you go. Once you consciously deprioritize a big chunk of your world, you can give more focused attention to the five things that are your actual priorities.

For each of your five priority areas – ask yourself, “What are the most meaningful tasks and activities I can do in this area that will move me toward my goals in the next 2 weeks?”

A few tips to make your Sprint successful:

  • Keep your priorities and tasks visible using a Kanban board or some other task management tool.
  • Share your short term goals with an accountability partner like a partner, coach, colleague or friend.
  • Calendar a mid-point and end-point check-in to assess progress toward your goals.
  • Continue to use the 5 D’s to address unexpected tasks and activities that emerge during the sprint.
  • Review the sprint at the end asking:
    • What held me back?
    • What moved me forward?
    • How could I do things differently?
    • What could I do next?

Interested in learning more about how to Design a Career you Love without getting overwhelmed and without starting over?

Let’s talk!

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About the Author: Kate Cockrill

A little about me... I am a social scientist, facilitator, and professional coach. Through my business: Kate Cockrill Coaching, I support mission driven managers and directors with 1:1 career coaching, leadership coaching, team workshops, and retreat design. My clients include leaders in healthcare, education, research and social innovation.

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