Professional Goals

When asked about my professional goals recently for a new job, I spent about an hour jotting down exactly what I valued about the work I do currently and what I would like to change. It's a simple exercise that's worth revisiting if you haven't done it in a while. 

In my experience, writing goals rather than just thinking about them provides much greater clarity. It forces you to say exactly what you mean, and to double-check whether you really mean it. It also forces you to think about whether and how you are achieving your goals in the present. Are you on track to doing the things you want to do?

I'm surprised how much my goals have changed in just the last five years, too. Five years ago, I was especially focused on increasing my media presence. I wanted to be seen, to be heard, to be read. It makes me roll my eyes at myself now, but I wanted to develop my brand

Now I am much more interested in the quality of my writing and my ideas, and while I still enjoy being seen, heard, and read, it's more important to know that my ideas have real value in the world.

Here's what I wrote:

Long Term
In the long term, my primary goal is to keep writing. That's it. 

I achieve that goal by continuing to write and positioning myself as a writer. What that means is I don't get pigeonholed as an editor (some editors also write, but it's tough), and I don't have any affiliations that would preclude me from being seen as a writer. While writers can certainly have a wealth of life experience, I've seen a few writers get side-tracked into marketing positions and then never recover. Whether a position with [this company] would be considered a "marketing" role is a key concern. 

Short Term
In the short term, I aim to 
  1. write about topics that are interesting to me and 
  2. create content that is valuable, factual, and truthful. 
When writing about productivity, for example, I am especially interested in reading the science seriously and not blowing findings out of proportion. To blow a finding out of proportion gets clicks. To report on it accurately provides value. My [current work] fulfills this goal because everything I write about products comes from hands-on testing. 

Another short-term goal is to continue earning a steady paycheck from writing while also reserving about 10 hours per week to work on my own writing that is not necessarily earning any money yet.

Nice to Have
There are a few things that I enjoy doing related to work and would happily do more, but they are not so important that I strive toward them actively. These include public speaking opportunities, as well as on-air/media opportunities. 

Right now, I only do about one public speaking gig per year. Sometimes it's a presentation, like at a business conference, and sometimes it's just moderating a panel. When I lived in New York, I appeared on video, TV, or radio about twice a month. I also used to make video tutorials to go alongside articles, which I enjoyed, but I didn't have sufficient support and resources to do it as well as I would have liked. I'm a huge fan of podcasting and only experimented with it, but again due to lack of support and resources, it never went anywhere. These are all things I'm excited to pursue in conjunction with writing, but they aren't as important as my writing goals.

Personal Work-Life Goals
In my personal life, I appreciate flexibility in my schedule, the ability to work from nearly anywhere in the world, and working with people who are tech-savvy enough to know that "tech-savvy" really just means "unafraid to look up anything and everything." 

I would like to work with people who can push my writing and my ideas to be better. 

While I never work crazy hours and always take my time-off seriously, I understand the realities and trade-offs of working from a different time zone, such as having to attend a virtual meeting at 6:30 a.m. or 11 p.m. 

I'm usually happiest when I have a friendly relationship with my colleagues, rather than one that's overly formal.

How Can You Miss Something You Never Had?

I use both Android and iOS devices in my daily life, mostly to keep up with both platforms so that I have an informed opinion, which is important as someone who writes about technology for a living. Recently, I switched my SIM card from a OnePlus 2 Android phone to an iPhone 7.

Leaving Android for iOS has been painful.

The notifications on Android are superior, in my opinion. They appear at the top of the screen, much like icons in the Start Menu bar on Mac computers. Plus, on the OnePlus, there's an option to have a different color light softly blink when you receive a new notification, and you can color code the light to various apps. When I see a yellow light, I know I have a SnapChat notification. Blue means I have a text message. Purple is for email. When the phone is plugged into power, the indicator light turns a solid green when the battery is 100 percent full.

If you've never used an Android phone, chances are you don't care. You don't miss any of these features because you never had them. Often when we don't know what we are missing, we don't care.

And that's fine. It's good even! When we feel content with the products and services we use, we should not let companies lure us into buying new products based on what we are theoretically missing. (Although, that's really the crux of advertising, isn't it, the promise of having a better life that, until this moment, you didn't realize you don't have?)

In any event, the job of a technology reviewer, which is in part my profession, is to tell you about these features when they are worth having. Does having this thing that I didn't even know existed until just now bring me greater happiness or satisfaction or ease? It's a reviewer's job to tell you whether the advertising delivers.

I've come to prefer having the color-coded LED notifications, and menubar widgets, and more responsive on-screen keyboard. But if you've never had them, you aren't missing out on much.

Are We Responsible for Our Motivation at Work?

Over on ProductivityReport.org, where I've been writing, I raised the question, "Who is responsible for your motivation?"

I found myself asking this question while reading research about motivation at work. As recently as the 1960s, people believed that if you wanted to change worker motivation, you had to change the job. If workers aren't motivated, it's because the work is tedious or boring, and if it's boring then  workers don't have a strong psychological connection to it. They don't feel responsible for it. They aren't experiencing any personal growth doing it. They don't get much recognition for it.

That sentiment started to shift in the 1970s. Researchers started thinking more about the relationship between the work and the worker. They asked questions about the meaningfulness of work, not just in the work itself but as experienced by the worker.

Today, the general attitude (as opposed to the stance in academic research) as I see it puts all the emphasis on the worker. I suspect this change is in part due to the increase of knowledge work, particularly in the developed world. In any event, the feeling today is that you are responsible for your motivation. It never seems to be the job's fault that you don't feel motivated. Even when a knowledge worker feels disconnected from and bored by her work, the prevailing attitude is that she needs to buck up and motivate herself to care more about the work.

In the knowledge work arena, we may be overdue for a reexamination of when we need to change the work rather than the worker, to increase motivation on the job.