Regardless of your age, capacity for remembering important details, or improvisational skills, there are cardinal rules for career plan organization and management. They are:
1. Your written and detailed strategic career plan must have at least two homes: a digital home (on your hard drive, with back ups, a cd, a zip drive, or an online venue of your choice) and a paper version, in a binder or organizer file. You will need access at times when you are not plugged in, I promise you. You can ask someone whose name you can’t quite connect to the right opportunity or company to wait while you reach for the binder and turn to the right page, but you cannot ask someone to wait while your Office 2007 fires up and runs the antivirus software you have set to automatic.
2. Date and time stamp everything you do. I mean that figuratively, of course, but you can do it with electronic and digital media and you should do it with the notes you write by hand while on the phone or in a meeting. Write the date and time on everything, or attach something with the date and time on it if you don’t want to violate or make a mark on an original document.
3. Do not play with your computer or other digital or electronic stuff while talking to anyone about anything. It’s tempting to take notes while interviewing or networking. It’s fine to write them longhand. But tapping on your keyboard, while it may seem efficient to you, is very different from an open pad and pencil or pen on the table. For one thing, your guest can’t reach for it and say, here, let me write down a few names and phone numbers for you, or let me sketch that out, or here’s the map. Second, it’s not clear what you are doing and it has an unpleasantly isolating effect. If you are both tapping, it’s just weird.
4. Just like you pay your bills on the same day of the month, or review your budget, or call your family, or go to yoga class, you have to make time for your goals and to do lists. You can’t do the audit checklist once and walk away. Even if you don’t have time to revise, even if you just want time to think through a passing encounter with an ambiguity or anomaly you just thought of, you have to go there. Make a note.
5. You must have an organized workspace in your home. If your home is 300 square feet and you share it, you still have to have a few square feet—it might do double duty—where you store, review, and update your plan, and ponder the possibilities. Place is a powerful and important trigger for ideas, thoughts, and feelings.
6. Don’t bring your career plan to work. I’m pretty sure this requires no explanation or elaboration, but here it is anyhow. Sharply separate, physically and administratively, your present circumstances and your future prospects, simply because it is the right thing to do. But, you say, the recruiter (my friend, my mentor, the names sourcer, the president of the company I really want to work for) called me (or emailed me) at work. No—you happened to be at work when they called you. You may now say, “What is a good time for us to reschedule this conversation?” It is never ever appropriate to take yourself and your cell phone or Blackberry outside and return the call from the sidewalk. Please. The same principle applies to texting or emailing from work or a work-related activity. It is not done that way.
7. Do not fib or lie, about anything. It is not worth it. It sticks to you and makes you feel bad. Then, it makes you look stupid, which is almost as bad.
8. Thank people a lot, much, much more than you think is enough.
9. Remember things. Especially little things about other people. That’s why we write them down.
10. Take time off from thinking about and acting on your career. Go away from it, take your focus elsewhere for a time—scheduled by you, for as long as you feel you need. But write a goal on that subject and schedule your timely return, and resume your progress.
Remember–whatever it is, it isn’t real unless it is written somewhere. The things that live their whole lives in your head are just dreams.