Networking can be a goldmine for shared experiences. At a recent event, I ran into a former classmate, Sarah. We started chatting, and immediately she sighed, “Ugh, I’m so wiped. Work just leaves me drained every day. Don’t even get me started on the never-ending emails!”

I totally heard the exhaustion in her voice. This isn’t uncommon – perhaps you’ve experienced these feelings yourself. Colleagues and peers across industries often express similar sentiments. While I’ve certainly felt that way myself, I’ve been fortunate to have managers who prioritise work-life balance and encourage switching off after work. You might recall my previous blog that highlighted the importance of taking regular breaks throughout the year.

When I started digging into ways to improve productivity while maintaining a healthy work-life balance, I stumbled upon the concept of “organisational mindset”.

So, this time around, I want to delve into the concept of an “organisational mindset.” Here’s what I’ll explore:

  • Setting Your Work Terms: How can young professionals establish clear boundaries, ensuring high-quality work while operating at 70-80% capacity?
  • Holistic Career Development: How can you shift your perspective on your job and embrace a more comprehensive view of your professional growth?

We’re all in this together! While I’m still learning alongside you, this topic is incredibly important to me. I’m not here with all the solutions, but I do want to share what I’ve discovered and have a conversation about how we can tackle this. Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself, or maybe it’s someone you care about. Either way, if this blog can serve as a springboard for positive change, that’s a win!

Setting Your Work Terms

Setting your work terms empowers you to take control of your professional life and build a sustainable work-life balance. Here’s why it’s important:

  1. If you don’t proactively define your workload expectations, someone else (often your manager) will do it for you. This can shift the dynamic from a collaborative partnership to a one-sided arrangement.
  2. Clear work terms empower you to confidently decline taking on more work than you can handle. You can manage workload expectations proactively and contribute your best without fostering a victim mentality or feeling pressured to say “yes” to everything.
  3. When your workload feels overwhelming and undefined, it’s easy to procrastinate. Establishing clear boundaries and prioritising tasks within those boundaries allows you to focus on specific goals and avoid feeling paralysed by a never-ending to-do list.

So, how do you set your work terms?

It’s not about control; it’s about collaboration. Setting your work terms creates a win-win. By communicating your needs (hours, environment, values) and collaborating with your manager, you ensure a healthy work style that benefits both you and the company.

Think of yourself as a talent manager for your career. You want your “client” (you) to thrive while delivering value. This means advocating for a good fit culturally and seeking a manager and team that align with your needs. In return, just like an agent, you might be willing to go the extra mile occasionally, prioritising collaboration and learning for mutual success.

In the knowledge industry (technology, medicine, law, etc.), the agent concept isn’t as prevalent as in entertainment. That’s why it’s even more crucial for you to step up and manage your own career. By self-reflecting and playing both client and talent manager roles, you define the package you’re offering to a potential employer – your talent, skills, and desired work environment. This proactive approach ensures you find a position that fosters your growth and well-being while delivering exceptional value to the organisation.

Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping.Jordan Peterson

Here are some things that have worked for me :

  • Track your time to identify areas where tasks may not directly contribute to the organisation’s goals. Cal Newport’s concept of “deep work” vs. “shallow work” can provide valuable insight here. While some repetitive tasks are essential, prioritising activities that leverage your skills for strategic thinking and problem-solving maximises your impact.
    By analysing your time allocation, you can strategically prioritise tasks and employ timeboxing techniques. For example, I allocate documentation tasks to afternoons on Tuesdays and Fridays, periods I’ve identified as my least productive for deep work.
  • Set hard and soft boundaries. Hard boundaries are your non-negotiables, the lines you won’t cross. These might involve work hours, personal commitments, or acceptable behaviour. Think of them as the things you’ll never do or accept. Soft boundaries are more like aspirations, goals you strive for but are flexible on. These might involve desired work schedules or communication styles. With soft boundaries, you can negotiate and compromise, perhaps gradually implementing changes. Here’s a great article on this topic.
  • Be transparent and accountable. Be open with your team about your boundaries (hours, communication) and what you can realistically commit to. This builds trust and allows everyone to focus on their work. In return, you deliver high-quality work within your defined limits and adapt when needed, keeping everyone informed. It’s a two-way street for mutual respect and a productive work environment.
  • Adjust and adapt where needed. Work terms are guidelines, not walls. Imagine you set a boundary on checking work emails outside of work hours. A critical issue arises on a Friday evening. To demonstrate commitment to a win-win:
    Imagine you have a family commitment and need to leave the office at 5, but your manager approaches you with an urgent issue right before closing time. Here’s how to create a win-win:

    1. Acknowledge the urgency and try to ask some follow up questions to ascertain the size of the problem and what implications that would have on the project. If it is a quick 15-min fix then stay back and complete it but let your manager know that this is an exception and you won’t be able to do this every time.
    2. If it’s a bigger problem, propose outlining next steps or delegating initial troubleshooting to a teammate who might be available longer. Suggest resuming work on the issue first thing the next morning.
  • By demonstrating your willingness to help while also communicating your boundaries, you can work collaboratively with your manager to find a solution that benefits everyone. Remember, it’s never “you vs. your manager.” You’re both on the same team, working towards shared goals.

Holistic Career Development: Actionable Takeaways

We previously discussed the importance of a strong, collaborative relationship with your organisation. A major win for you within this win-win dynamic is achieving consistent vertical development. While horizontal development, acquiring skills through experience, is a natural part of the job, vertical development is a transformative process you initiate. It’s about taking ownership of your career trajectory.

Imagine your career as a valuable investment. By setting a long-term vision and actively pursuing vertical development, you’re not just making a personal investment in your growth; you’re also positioning yourself to become an even greater asset to your organisation and the workforce in general. This deliberate focus on acquiring new skills and knowledge propels you towards more senior roles and responsibilities. This win-win approach fuels your career satisfaction while ensuring your continued value to the organisation.

Think beyond the confines of your current role or industry. Vertical development is about deliberately acquiring new skills and knowledge that propel you towards a wider range of possibilities. Imagine yourself as a skilled and adaptable professional empowered to collaborate with diverse organisations across various sectors. This vision fuels your career satisfaction by unlocking your full potential while simultaneously ensuring your continued value to any team you join.

Vertical development empowers you to become an independent force, shaping your own career path while contributing to grander goals. However, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Expect years, perhaps decades, of refining your vision, evolving priorities, and even shifting your goals entirely. That’s perfectly natural!

The key is building an antifragile career. This means one that thrives on change and allows you to adapt effortlessly. Don’t get locked into a single revenue source; aim for versatility and the ability to pivot in any direction.

(here’s a good read on vertical development and horizontal development)

Look, I’m no expert, and I’m still figuring this out alongside you! But here’s what I’ve learned about building a flexible and fulfilling professional life. These strategies have helped many people, and maybe they’ll resonate with you too:

  • Take charge of your career! Reflect on why you are working in your current role (if you aren’t employed, you are still working towards getting a job or completing your studies). A good starting point is to identify whether you are in it for the paycheck or whether it offers a chance to apply your knowledge and gain valuable experience. Evaluate your dependence: How reliant are you on this specific job? Identify strengths and weaknesses: What aspects are thriving, and what needs improvement? Embrace exploration: What could you try differently? What questions remain unanswered? By answering these questions, you gain a clear picture of your current situation and can chart a course for a more fulfilling future. It allows you to define your ideal work environment and understand what an organisation can bring to your professional development and overall well-being. By clarifying your expectations, you’ll be better equipped to articulate the type of workplace that would truly energise you.
  • Next, ask yourself: “What unique skills and experiences do I bring to the table?” If you’re unsure, seek honest feedback. Talk to colleagues about their impressions of working with you – your strengths, areas for development, and overall impact.
    I even took it a step further, asking my manager why he chose me and his criteria for team selection. Initially, these questions felt self-centred, but a shift occurred. I began analysing the feedback objectively, viewing myself through a manager’s lens. This exercise helped me understand my contributions as a team member and the value I bring to the organisation.
  • Expand your horizons. Explore activities completely outside your work bubble. This activates underused brain regions, breaking free from ingrained thought patterns. It fosters neuroplasticity, boosting curiosity and opening doors to unexpected skills.
    However, a common pitfall is the rush to monetise newly acquired skills before fully developing them. Focus on mastering the new skill, not turning it into a quick profit. This can stifle enjoyment and natural growth. Instead, aim for slow, steady value creation. Over time, building a diverse skillset that can potentially unlock new revenue streams in the future, should you desire them.

Simplify interactions. Imagine approaching every interaction with the goal of making life easier for others. This simple shift in mindset can have a ripple effect, positively impacting all areas of your life. By actively considering how your actions or requests can benefit others, you’ll find that your own experience becomes more streamlined as well. By being proactive and considering how to make situations clear and understandable, you’ll find communication smoother and more efficient. Make it a habit to approach situations by asking, ‘How can I simplify this for them?
While some high-level executives create formal guides on working with them (like Claire Hughes Johnson’s), that might feel excessive for young professionals. But the core idea is valuable! Even without a formal document, simply thinking about how to make it easier for others to collaborate with you goes a long way.

Final thoughts

This post unpacked achieving a healthy work-life balance through setting boundaries and taking ownership of your career. We discussed how networking can reveal common struggles like burnout. By setting clear work terms and collaborating with your manager, you can establish a win-win situation that avoids overwhelming. Effective strategies include tracking your time, setting boundaries (both hard and soft), and maintaining transparency with your team.

The importance of career development was highlighted through the concept of vertical development, which involves acquiring new skills for career advancement. We also explored taking charge of your career by reflecting on goals, seeking feedback, and expanding your horizons through new activities. Finally, the importance of simplifying interactions to improve communication and collaboration was emphasised.

Remember, self-reflection is fundamental to all of this. As young professionals, it’s vital to regularly carve out time to reflect on our high-level goals and vision. What activities truly add immense value to our lives? Here’s where mindset comes in. You can choose to approach your career with either a victim or a player mentality.

Are you a victim of circumstance, blaming external factors for your progress (or lack thereof)? This passive approach keeps you stuck, reacting to the world around you. Or are you a player, actively taking control and shaping your career path through self-reflection and proactive learning? Players see challenges as opportunities, identify areas for improvement, and seek out growth experiences. By reflecting on your goals and taking ownership of your development, you shift from a victim to a player. This empowers you to navigate the abundance of choices and build a fulfilling career that aligns with your vision and values. So, which one are you? Or maybe, a bit of both? The good news is you have the power to choose.

What resonated most with you from this post? Share your takeaways and insights in the comments below – together, we can learn even more and inspire each other on this knowledge-seeking journey.

I truly hope this provided some valuable food for thought.

Thanks for reading!

Peace out!