A new year is dawning, full of hope and possibility . . . and, probably, lots of things to catch up on now that the holiday break is behind you. But don't despair! This way lies inspiration and innovation, thanks to a trio of new books that offer fresh approaches to work. Whether you want to rethink your goals, improve your focus or forge a new path, these titles offer strategies, perspective and encouragement.
WORK OUTSIDE THE BOX
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the path to career success is dotted with promotions. Rick Whitted wants us to consider: Why is this a universal truth? Does this approach actually work? The author, a small-business-banking veteran, posits that our emphasis on getting promoted leads to tunnel-vision, and we're missing opportunities along the way. In Outgrow Your Space at Work, he notes that we're so focused on moving forward that "we become restless, less confident, and discontent—even if the status quo is actually good." Instead of pushing for promotions and jumping ship if we don't get them, he argues, we should really think about what interests and excites us about work.
Often, there's opportunity in an existing role: for mastery, deepening of skills and outgrowing your space by viewing a promotion as "a result, not a strategy." The Four Ps of Promotion section explores common motivations: Position, Pay, Personal Security and Personal Satisfaction (his careerwhitt.com site offers a deeper dive). Then, it's time to tackle Nine Steps to Outgrowing Your Space at Work. For example, in Master the Basics, the author advises using the company playbook, "a process, model, or manual they use to operate the business," to make sure your work is in line with what's valued and rewarded (vs. diligently focusing on the wrong things). This thought-provoking, hope-inspiring book is perfect for workers who want more than to eternally chase the next new gig. After all: "growth, not a promotion, is the key to having a successful career that will endure the span of your work life."
FOCUS ON FOCUS
We're all distracted, aren't we? Thanks to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and the endless loop of constant connection, there are lots of ways to easily distract ourselves from pretty much anything we set out to do. But it doesn't have to be that way! In Part I of Deep Work Cal Newport, five-time author and Georgetown University assistant professor, deftly and thoroughly extols the virtues of "Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit." Science backs it up: We must plan for focused time and "batch" smaller tasks, because brain processes vital to learning can only be achieved via intense focus. (If we switch between tasks, "a residue of your attention remains stuck thinking about the original task.")
Still, Newport writes, technology isn’t all bad: "If you can create something useful, its reachable audience . . . is essentially limitless—which greatly magnifies your reward." How to create that useful stuff? Some take a week or month to focus on a single project, while others use hour-long segments. Newport makes an excellent case for doing the hard work now to reap the benefits for years to come, and his profiles of people who've embraced deep work are illuminating and encouraging. That includes the author himself: His first year of deep work, he started his job as a professor and published four papers. In his third year, he wrote a book, co-parented an active toddler and published nine papers. What should readers' first step be? That's easy: Do the deep work of immersing yourself in Deep Work.
Despite the variations on "It's not your father's career!" flying around lately, today's increasingly peripatetic career paths are a lot like Farai Chideya's own mother's work experience: She was first a journalist, then a medical technologist, a teacher and is now a certified master gardener. As the author notes in her fifth book, The Episodic Career, "We live in a globalized economy where not just jobs but also entire career tracks are created and destroyed in front of our eyes." We've got to be open to the idea that we may not end up using our skills and experience in ways that are continuous or predictable. It's daunting and exciting, but it also means we need to pay close attention to how “today's decisions will affect . . . tomorrow's earnings and savings."
How are people handling several careers in sequence, or perhaps a couple at the same time? Numerous interesting stories about people in a wide range of careers (tech writer, park ranger, fundraiser, welder, sex therapist, CEO) are woven through this well-written book, which has at its center a Myers-Briggs-esque Work/Life Matrix that Chideya says will help you "Know yourself, set your goals, play by your own rules." Readers can answer four key questions (about risk, social impact, innovation vs. execution and decision-making); examine 16 archetypes and relevant job profiles; and use what they discover to "steer away from long-term dissatisfaction with work, and plot new paths." Chideya's research on the changes in America's work culture and economy provides context, and there are plenty of role models via the book's wealth of stories about people who took risks, bounced back and found unexpected satisfaction in the unanticipated.