What you need to know to stay organized and get ahead in the “real world.”
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Life after college can take some adjusting. At first, the freedom is exhilarating—no problem sets, no papers! Yay! Then you realize you're supposed to dress like a robot, suppress your individuality, and submit your will to your corporate overlords. Ah, ha—the joke's on you! Welcome to being an adult.
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Of course, things might not be quite that bad. You may not have a job yet, and be living at home. Fun! But you really will need a real job, so your job right now is to get a job!
Either way, there are some basics you need to get things done in the real world. Learn these tools now, and make using them a habit. Your brain is still flexible and nimble; train it now and these will pay off for your entire career.
Tip #1: Get a Calendar
In the real world, people schedule things. You'll find obsessive, stressed-out people who schedule things down to the minute. You need a calendar so you can make appointments far in advance and note deadlines so you have ample warning. And when you record a deadline in your calendar, at the same time, you can block out time to work on the project so you're sure of meeting the deadline.
My tool of choice is Google Calendar. I sync it with my desktop and my smartphone, so I can add appointments no matter where I am and the appointments show up everywhere.
When you're using your calendar, explore month-at-a-glance and week-at-a-glance to make sure you're balancing out your commitments. If someone asks "are you free for an 8 am meeting Friday?" check the week-at-a-glance view to make sure you aren't coming back from a trip late Thursday. Use your month-at-a-glance view to make sure that your workload and travel schedule are well-balanced over the course of the month.
Tip #2: Get a To-Do List
See that blank space in your schedule? You can use that time to play video games, go shopping with friends, or learn to skin an entire moose using only a paring knife. Just kidding! Your second tool is a to-do list, where you write down projects that don't have a deadline. When you have unscheduled time, you do the tasks on your to-do list and check them off when they're done.
Your to-do list grows forever, like the interest on your credit cards. Your corporate overlords have more to-do items for you than you possibly have time to do. Welcome to the real world. That once-a-week vacuum-the-living-room-for-your-allowance is starting to look pretty good, eh?
You'll soon have a million items on your to-do list. How to choose which to do next? I recommend the Superfocus System by Mark Forster.
Where to keep your to-do list is a surprisingly hard choice. I've tried dozens of to-do apps and always returned to paper and pen. Check out my episode on choosing the perfect tool for more details.
Tip #3: Get an Address Book
You'll meet people in your job. Make a good impression, get their contact details, and put them in your address book. Don't just link to them on Facebook; make sure you have a separate record of them somewhere. Use your address book notes field to jot down where you met, and anything you want to remember, like what they do, their hobbies, and their favorite soup.
[[AdMiddle]I keep both work and personal contacts in one address book, and note which are which in the notes fields. If you are using your employer's address book system, however, keep them separate. Make sure you know how to export your work address book to a format you can import at home. If you leave your job--and you will—you’ll definitely want to be able to take a copy of your address book with you, and you don't want to leave your personal contacts behind for the IT guys to snicker at.
Who you know will be crucial throughout your career. Touch base with people regularly, by phone or in person. Friending on Facebook or connecting on LinkedIn does not grow the kind of relationships where people do big career favors for each other. It's sad that you had to grow up in a world where you didn't learn the importance of in-person relationships, but that's the price you pay for having a cell phone at an age when I wasn't allowed to talk on the phone after 6 p.m.
Start learning to form and deepen in-person relationships now, or prepare to be marginalized 10 years into your career.
Tip #4: Get a Capture Device/App
During the day, things will come up that you need to remember: to-do items, telephone numbers, and so on. You need a way to keep track of these.
Whether you carry a memo pad to jot things down or use an app to key in important details, the main point is that when you get back to your desk, or your cubicle, or your assigned 2'x2' patch of carpet behind the closet, transfer what you jotted down to your to-do list, calendar, or wherever it goes.
My episode on creating one master system to organize your life gives more detail about using a capture device.
Tip #5: Even if You're Not Employed, You Still Need Organization
If your life is an endless stream of XBox and Doritos because you're unemployed, get organized for your job hunt. My episode on staying organized while you look for a job tells you everything you need to set up systems for your job hunt.
Welcome to the real world. Armed with your calendar, your to-do list, your address book, and your memo pad, you'll go far.
Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!
Stever Robbins advises entrepreneurs to help them grow businesses while having a life. He helps untangle hard people issues and communicate value to employees, investors, and customers. If you want to know more, visit SteverRobbins.com.