An interview with Julie Morgenstern, a professional organizer, productivity consultant, speaker, author, and media personality.
The key to becoming a most valued player in any job is to know how to dance close to the revenue line. In other words, know what you are paid to produce and how it supports the mission of the company.
What is your advice for professionals to advance their careers?
It’s also essential to know what your boss’s priorities are, and how that ties to the company’s mission. Use that knowledge to decide where your time goes each and every day.
Organize your work and tackle the most important activities first. You need to be fast and capture everything that comes at you. The order of attack is critical to maximize your energy and brainpower.
Avoid multi-tasking. If you just act on everything as it comes at you in no particular order, you’ll become so fragmented that your efficiency will plummet. Studies have shown that we can’t easily switch back and forth between different types of thinking—for example, one minute strategic, the next minute tactical. Your brain can’t toggle back and forth.
Become a student of your company. Consider all the people in it as your clients — with respect and an eye toward service. People will get to know you as someone who “gets” it, which can help you move throughout the organization.
What goes into building a personal brand?
Build a personal network within your organization and communicate what you’re doing. Don’t assume that people know what you’re doing every day.
You’re most likely working in a team environment, with limited resources. Everybody on the team is touching different parts of the same project. Communicating helps your teammates to prioritize their work and spotlights your skills and accomplishments.
Communicating up and out is vital to being a real contributor to a team and the company and in establishing your personal brand.
What if you have a bad boss holding you back?
Bosses come and go. Remember, your relationship is with your company first, your boss second. If you have a bad boss, then widen your view of your inter-relationships within the whole company.
Engage with a wider group of people, including your boss’s boss. Come prepared to team meetings and ask intelligent questions. Speak up and market yourself. Get acknowledged and recognized outside of your department.
If you find another another group doing interesting work, develop a relationship over there. Have lunch with the department head or a colleague and learn about potential opportunities. Develop other advocates and mentors in positions of authority who can speak on your behalf.
You may have to maneuver to another department to get away from the cork – your boss — that is stopping you from advancing.
How do you overcome obstacles to get ahead?
Recognize the good news and the bad news. The bad news is bureaucracy and politics. The good news is that in a larger company there are lots of different pathways. If you recognize that you should never really get stuck.
In a tiny business it’s hard to overcome the obstacle of a bad relationship with a boss, but in a big company you can work around a bad boss.
Time is another obstacle. You may feel overwhelmed by time constraints but carving out time to network, build relationships, and learn new skills are the things that make you indispensible.
You need time for the “legato” work – deep, concentrated, thinking work. We all need a quiet time every day to focus on problem solving on a deep level and to develop strategic plans for creative work.
Going back to setting priorities, don’t do the little things. Figure out your highest brainpower time for the critical and essential things to do. For some people it’s the morning; others are more productive later in the day.
Organize your time to get things done promptly, efficiently and of high quality. Organize and sequence the work in a flow that maximizes your energy and brainpower and minimizes time spent on work.
How do you manage to have a personal life – when everyone seems to be working 24/7 these days?
The peak performers in every industry, at every single level of an organization, are the people who put as much time into their off days as their work days.
Critical to being a key performer is planning for time off. Don’t think that sacrificing your personal life with 50 to 60 hour workweeks is a way to get ahead in your company.
Having time off relaxes and recharges your mind and body. Don’t check email all night long. In most circumstances, you don’t impress people when you respond to an email at midnight. You’ll build resentment if you expect an immediate response.
You’re better off working out and being with friends than working till midnight every night. Give your mind a rest. Turn off thinking and engage deeply in something else.
You must have an impeccable system to organize your time. If you feel everything is important and not humanly possible to do, ask for guidance on which activity you should do first. Most bosses are reasonable and can easily provide guidance if they’re asked in a simple and positive way.
Avoid the common mistake of prioritizing based on what you are in the mood to do. When overwhelmed with conflicting priorities, stop and ask yourself: What is my revenue line? Why is the company investing in me? What am I being paid to produce and how does that connect to the company’s mission?
Take the time to get organized. Tackle the tasks that take the least amount of time with the highest return on investment first. Then you can get to the little annoying things.
Developing a framework for organizing your tasks and prioritizing your workload is a key factor in building a successful career.
Julie Morgenstern has shared her expertise on countless TV and radio outlets, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and National Public Radio. She is quoted in publications such as The New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, O Magazine, Cosmopolitan, and Men’s Health. Julie is the author of the classic tomes ORGANIZING FROM THE INSIDE OUT and TIME MANAGEMENT FROM THE INSIDE OUT, both of which have been developed into popular specials for PBS.