15 Simple Moves That Will Change Your Career

Illustrated by SYDNEY HASS.
"Work-life balance" is like the flossing of life skills. Everyone talks about how incredibly important it is, but pretty much nobody's doing it. But, like good oral hygiene, it really comes down to a few simple changes that absolutely anyone can make. Want to crush your procrastination habit, get ahead at work, and get home early? Of course you do, and so did we. So, we brought in the master to teach us all.
Julie Morgenstern has been called "the queen of putting people's lives together," and, after speaking with her, we think we may indeed have found the magic formula. Morgenstern broke down the biggest stumbling blocks and mistakes we all make, giving us a list of totally reasonable tips to get ahead and get out on time (or sooner). No more late nights slumped over the keyboard, or sluggish mornings where there just isn't enough coffee in the known universe to get us moving.
Here, we broke down Julie's magic formula into 15 changes you can make starting today. Work-life balance is not a myth, guys. We've found the promised land, and we're never, ever leaving. Join us, won't you?
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Illustrated by SYDNEY HASS.
1. Get specific about your goals and keep them visible.

Julie got into the business after realizing how chaotic her own life was. "It was chaos. I always lost things, and I lived out of piles — it was just a mess." But, when her daughter was born, she realized, "'I can do this to myself, but I can’t do it to another human being.'" That's the crux of her No. 1 tip: Always keep your goal in mind.

"There is never organizing for organization’s sake. You organize to achieve a higher goal. Maybe you want to be a better worker, or be a better friend." You figure out the larger payoff, then design a system that helps you achieve it.

Write down what you want to achieve and keep it somewhere visible, so you'll always be reminded of what you're really working toward. It can be a phrase or a symbol or a Post-It on your computer. Doesn't matter what the goal is, as long as it matters to you.
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Illustrated by SYDNEY HASS.
2. Check your email a certain number of times per day and give it your full attention.

We know: You see this on every list of productivity tips, and it seems absolutely impossible — like flossing three times a day. But, there's a reason career gurus stress the importance of blocking off email time. First, it helps to keep your day on schedule, and second, it forces you to focus.

"Email is the world’s most insidious, convenient procrastination device," says Julie, noting that, of course, it's also mandatory. "But, what happens is people get very overwhelmed with their to-do list or a tough project or a hard phone call and they think, 'Let me go online or check my email.'"

Furthermore, when email is the constant background noise in your day, things can easily slip through the cracks. (How many times have you flagged something to respond to later, then forgotten it for a week?) When you process email, says Julie, "Give it your full focus."
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Illustrated by SYDNEY HASS.
3. Block off time for social media.

Look, everyone's going on Facebook at work. As with email, social media has become a vital tool in many of our workplaces — not to mention personal lives. There's no avoiding it, so don't! But, do be sure to set up a safety net so you don't fall down the rabbit hole.

"You've got to control your computer habits," Julie emphasizes. "That’s the first thing that will help you reclaim control and time in your day."

Social media platforms are powerful tools. "Almost everyone needs to master them," she says. But, the key is not to default to your Twitter feed for some mindless clicking. Set aside a few minutes, half an hour, or whatever is appropriate for your workday, and "give it your full attention."

Building social media into your day reframes the experience in your mind, and effectively neutralizes it as a distraction.
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Illustrated by SYDNEY HASS.
4. Negotiate changes with your superiors — in win-win terms.

In all likelihood, one of those work goals (the ones you're keeping clear and visible) involves a raise or a promotion. So, it's vital to keep your superiors in the loop about any of these changes.

"Time management," Julie explains, "often happens in a community." Maybe you work in an office where everyone routinely stays late and answers emails after midnight. That doesn't mean you can't break from that routine. "But, if you are working with people who are used to instant responses, you have to talk to them about your change."

It may be difficult to broach something like this, but it's actually a great way to highlight yourself as a responsible, engaged employee. "Have a conversation and explain what you are trying to achieve as a team," and how these changes will help you do your part. Be clear and confident, and above all, "always put it in terms of the win-win."
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Illustrated by SYDNEY HASS.
5. Plan tomorrow, plus two.

Julie calls this "the three-day horizon," and it's one of the most powerful tools in her arsenal. "Mentally preparing keeps you more on track, and prevents you from getting caught up in unnecessary urgencies."

At the end of the day, plan tomorrow and the following two days. This way, "You always have enough time, objectivity and perspective." You're able to see what you realistically have time to accomplish, when you should schedule meetings, etc. "If you do it the morning-of, it's too late."

Julie stresses that the three-day horizon isn't rigid. Surprises and interruptions come up all the time at work, "which is why it’s so important to have that three-day arc at all times. That way, when sudden, new tasks or crises fall in your lap, or when something takes longer than you planned, you have perspective as to how this unexpected thing fits into your day."

Think of the horizon as driving directions for your work week. At the end of each day, look at the ground you've covered and plan out the route for the next three days. Metaphorical road closures and diversions may still arise, but they're a lot easier to navigate when you have a map in your hand.
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Illustrated by SYDNEY HASS.
6. Figure out your "peak conditions."

"Time management is really about mastering your own energy and brain power," says Julie. "So, you have to become a student of yourself."

Are you incapable of forming a sentence before 1.5 cups of coffee? Do you need quiet to focus? What time of day do you feel the most productive?

If you want to be your most effective self then you must take the time to assess yourself and identify your peak conditions for concentration. "There are so many more predictable elements in a work environment than people realize," Julie points out. Use that predictability to your advantage.

And, on the flip side...
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Illustrated by SYDNEY HASS.
7. Identify what (and who) are your stumbling blocks.

You know that "4 p.m. feeling" everyone talks about? For you, it might be 2 p.m. or noon or 5:30-ish. Either way, you probably have a burn-out time of day, and it's vital to see it coming.

Just as important as knowing your peak conditions is knowing what throws you off. Are there certain projects that you find particularly challenging? Is there a software program that just drives you nuts? And, what about that colleague who routinely drops the ball or drags you into their drama?

"When you know what interruptions (and people) you are vulnerable to, then you can start to problem-solve them," say Julie. If you want to halt those derailments, you've got to be able to identify them.

Of course, sometimes anomalies happen, but if you pay attention, you'll probably see the habitual stumbling blocks. "You can’t control the random roadblocks but, for most people, 80% is predictable."
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Illustrated by SYDNEY HASS.
8. When you’re off, be off. No excuses.

"How we spend our time off has a direct impact on the quality of our work," says Julie. So, it's absolutely mandatory to take time off. That means, occasional check-ins or engaging in office issues.

"When you are at work, be at work, and be productive. Hammer out the kinks getting in your way, and then put very clear edges on your work week and your work day." Get everything done so when you're off, you can be OFF. Be conscientious and courteous, letting all your co-workers know well in advance of your vacation, and do not encourage anyone to reach out while you're away. But, make sure everyone has everything they need from you before you go.

"Then, plan how you are spending your time off in a way that really takes you away from thinking about work, and that really renews you," says Julie. "Figure out what recharges your batteries," and if you're stressing about what's going on at the office, remember that this R&R "is the greatest investment you can make in your work." And, on the other half of the equation, remember this too: "How we spend our workdays has a direct impact on the quality of our time off." So, it's time to talk about the P-word.
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Illustrated by SYDNEY HASS.
9. Remember the three most common procrastination triggers.

As a time-management master, Julie knows procrastination is Enemy No. 1. She's given us an excerpt on the subject from her latest book, Time Management From The Inside Out, but before getting into the nitty-gritty, let's break down this beast.

"There are usually three reasons behind procrastination," Julie says. "Once you know the cause of hesitation, then you can problem-solve." Here are the most common causes:

1: The task is too large and you don’t know where to start. "Maybe you've got half an hour but this is a 10-hour task." If that's the case, recognize that your back's against the wall. Break the task down into manageable pieces, then figure out how long you actually need to complete it.

2: Fear that you won't do a good job. For this one, Julie says, "Ask yourself what you need to make this work. Is it research? Is it talking to someone who has done this before? Or maybe you just need to take a breath and say, 'Let me do a really shitty job quickly and then get help on a second draft.'" Always remember that you have options.

3: Fear of what comes next. "Sometimes, it's not the task itself but what it leads to." For example, "Lots of people procrastinate updating their resume, because once that's done they'll actually have to start looking for a job, doing that hard work, and facing rejection." If that's the case, the only solution is to take it one step at a time, and know that you'll cross that bridge when you get to it. "Break it down or get an advisor," says Julie. "Seek out the support you need to get through it."
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Illustrated by SYDNEY HASS.
10. Know exactly how you procrastinate.

We all have different preferred methods of procrastination. Sometimes it's cleaning up the desktop, deleting junk email, or doing other work that's less of a pain than the work we're avoiding. Whatever it is, know your own habits. This is just as important as knowing your peak conditions and your stumbling blocks. If you identify your procrastination method, you'll be able to catch yourself doing it early (and have no option but to admit it).

If that sounds punitive, remember: It's for your own happiness and peace of mind. "Procrastination just weighs you down and de-energizes you," says Julie. "Who can afford to waste energy on guilt and anxiety? You’ve got to scrub that stuff out." PREACH.
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Illustrated by SYDNEY HASS.
11. Set a timer.

If you're really stuck in the procrastination mire, then this is the trick we guarantee will yank you out of it: Set a time limit. That's it. Pull out your phone (don't open Instagram!) and set the timer.

First, think of a reasonable amount of time you'd ideally need to spend on this task, then hit the Start button, and go. You won't believe how effective this set-up is. "Knowing the torture won’t go on forever will help you to stop procrastinating," Julie says. "Once you are in motion, everything changes."

Like creating a false deadline, setting a timer tells your brain that there's no point in stressing. You're going to do this for 20, 30, or 60 minutes — period. But, the truth is, the timer trick is often like turning on a faucet. In all likelihood, you'll keep going after that timer dings. And, if you finish before the clock, then, great! Instagram time!

Either way, you win the race.
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Illustrated by SYDNEY HASS.
12. Know the difference between an interruption and an emergency.

This one's tricky. But, just because someone types "EMERGENCY" in an email doesn't mean you should call the fire department. This is where thinking ahead saves you again. Take a second and think about the last few interruptions you dealt with at work. Now, ask yourself: Which were truly time-sensitive emergencies?

"A very common mistake is treating all interruptions the same," says Julie. "Staying in that highly reactive state is the biggest time-waster in today’s workplace." Whenever someone drops a last-minute request in your lap or tries to yank you out of a meeting, think before you act. What is your real priority? How can you be of the most help?

For the non-emergency interruptions, Julie stresses the importance of creating "exit strategies." It's not about making excuses, but remembering what's most important for you to be doing and not letting someone else's issue derail you from that.

If your boss says they need you to take on a new project immediately, and it has to be rock-solid, then don't just tell them, "Yes, right away." Think about how much time you realistically need, as well as the other tasks on your to-do list (here's where that three-day horizon really helps), then propose a deadline that seems reasonable. That way, everyone's on the same page, you won't be overly stressed, and the project won't turn out sloppy and rushed.

That's a real win-win.
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Illustrated by SYDNEY HASS.
13. Talk to your boss in terms of company goals.

Just as you should always bear your role in mind, it's important to keep the company's mission at the forefront, as well.

"When in meeting with your superiors, always talk in terms of goals," Julie stresses. "What are your goals for this year? This quarter? This month? Organize your time and communications around that. Tie every communication back to the overall goals of the company." This reminds both you and the higher-ups of your intrinsic value. Don't get bogged down in office politics and petty issues (or, at least, don't involve your boss in that). Even when you're talking to them about your needs, always keep the big picture in mind — and in the conversation.

Says Julie: "People who work that way are instantly in the top 10% of the most valued employees. It doesn’t matter what their role is."
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Illustrated by SYDNEY HASS.
14. Prioritize your work in terms of the company’s revenue line.

Obviously, you are a beautiful and unique snowflake. We know that, and we're sure your boss does, too. But, you're also an investment.

"The company is spending money on that role and therefore it has some connection to the revenue line. I don’t care where you are in an organization," says Julie, "one way or another, you are generating revenue or saving the company money."

So, if you're trying to show yourself as an asset, remind yourself of that on a regular basis. That's the lens through which you should prioritize. When making your to-do list, setting up a meeting, or working on a project, always keep in mind the job you're there to do and why you're the one they chose to do it. High-five yourself, then get on it.
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Illustrated by SYDNEY HASS.
15. Create your own deadlines.

This habit will save you in every area of life. "Many people really do work better under pressure," Julie says. And, if you can adopt a habit of setting and holding to your own personal deadlines, your efficiency will skyrocket and your stress levels will plunge. Seriously.

Julie attributes this deadline magic to the fact that it removes the element of perfectionism. You quit sweating every detail and just do it, because you have to get it done.

For people who always get things done at the last minute, consistently setting advance deadlines will gradually break this habit. "After a while, they discover how liberating it is to have things done a few days in advance."

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