There are six methods that you can use on a day-to-day basis to help manage your chemistry career. These are applicable whether you work in a laboratory, management, sales, a non-traditional chemistry career or are self-employed. Practicing the “6 C’s” of career control will enable you to meet deadlines while providing high-quality work that meets your manager’s requirements. By practicing the 6 C’s, you’ll also reduce the stress associated with deadline pressures and increase your productivity. So what are the 6 C’s of control?
Control the clock
Some of us spend our entire careers struggling with time management. Time management is a skill that we are always developing. Even the best of us probably can improve. Some people manage their time well getting through an impressive amount of work in an 8-hour day. My manager in my first industrial research job used to advise me, “Work smarter, not harder.” I was doing the second but it took a while to learn how to do the first. Others work longer hours than necessary to complete an adequate amount of work. If you are a chemical consultant paid by the project, not by the hour, this means earning less than you otherwise would.
Effective time management requires productive work habits. Learn the length of time you can work productively without a break. Then schedule your time to provide for daily blocks of this length during which you work without interruptions. Use other, perhaps shorter time blocks, for checking e-mail, telephoning, reading, and other workplace chores. Also understand what times of day you are most productive. Then schedule your most demanding tasks for this time.
Tracking and scheduling your time helps you manage it more efficiently. I find the simplest methods are the most useful. I record deadlines and times of meetings on a large month-at-a-glance calendar hanging on the wall above my desk. I put my to-do list and appointments on a daily calendar. I’m old fashioned and list my daily tasks and note their completion on a paper planner with a separate page for each day.
Control your interruptions. Interruptions can kill productivity – primarily by disrupting your train of thought. The main culprit is the telephone. So use caller ID to screen phone calls and answer only the truly important ones immediately. Otherwise, schedule time blocks to answer telephone messages and to make calls of your own.
Control your concepts
Make good use of your creative imagination. When I’m exercising or engaged in intellectually undemanding tasks, I think about work projects. This strategy seems particularly useful for short tasks. As a result of my preliminary thinking, I often can write short memos, e-mails and other documents manuscripts quite quickly using short time blocks or unexpected openings in my schedule.
Control your contacts.
Who you know is how you grow. So focus your attention on productive colleagues both within and outside your employer. While you should strive to be helpful to others, your time is too valuable to spend it on people who are overly demanding or ungrateful for your assistance.
By the same token, make your networking contacts value you by providing value to them. This can be by providing advice, helping on projects or just being a sounding board when they want to talk about their problems or frustrations.
Control your communications
Periodically keep your manager, team leader and coworkers apprised of your progress on work projects. If there is a miscommunication regarding one of your assignments, this strategy can help resolve it before you spend too much time working on the wrong things.
Control your commitments
It’s hard to say no to managers and colleagues when they ask you to take on extra work. However, over-commitment can lead to slapdash work and missed deadlines. There is nothing that will destroy a relationship with a manager or team leader faster and more completely than not meeting a deadline or turning in substandard work.
I use a four-step process to meet deadlines:
• Use a month-at-a-glance calendar to track deadlines and your progress in meeting them.
• Set your own deadlines for all your projects. Make these at least a week before your manager’s deadlines. That way, if you fall behind schedule, you can still meet your deadlines.
• Develop intermediate goals (milestones) and deadlines for large projects. Achieving your milestones on schedule helps the entire large project on schedule.
• Negotiate a revised deadline as soon as you can see there will be a problem meeting your manager’s assigned deadline.
Meeting commitments is more than just meeting deadlines. It is also submitting high quality work that needs minimal changes to be acceptable. Doing this helps you win rewarding assignments later. During the course of my own career, I have found that what managers value most in their staff members is completing high-quality work on time.
Control your concerns
Much of our workplace is beyond our control. Frustrating situations are commonplace. One has to focus on productive projects and not dwell on these frustrations – easier said than done.
Controlling your emotions means not venting to a manager or a coworker who might not respect the privacy of your communication. Having trusted colleagues can enable you to vent your frustrations and discuss ways to bounce back from disappointments. This can be very valuable to both your emotional health and your career. You can develop these trusted relationships with a mentor, an occasional coworkers and friends from your academic days. Confiding in family members can also be helpful although if they aren’t chemists they may not understand the nuances of your workplace problems. Getting over these frustrations and moving on will enable you to better direct your energy towards future success.
John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.