Priorities and time management for an effective job search

By Neil Patrick

The myth we can have everything continues to delude us

There’s an explosion of self-help books, podcasts, webinars, forums. It’s become a multi-billion dollar industry. People spend their money AND time so they can change something about themselves they are not happy with.

People think they want to start a business. They think they want to lose weight. They think they want to become an expert musician. But they don’t REALLY want it. What they fall in love with is the pure attractiveness of the thought. And the myth that we can have everything.

People become enamoured with the idea of their goals rather than the reality of the commitment that’s required to achieve them.

They want to have it all.

Well we cannot. Not you, not I, not anyone.

Everything in life costs time or money or both

Everyone who is a true star at something has a talent for sure, but also dedicates themselves to it.

The idea we can have everything sets us up to fail from the start. But we persist in the belief that we can always have more, we just have to find a bit more time to get it.

So one thing that everyone seems to want more of is time. Including jobseekers.

Tim Ferriss, spotted this emerging market early and made I am sure a very good return on his bestselling book “The Four-Hour Work Week”.

Who wouldn’t like to work just four hours a week and spend the rest of their time doing…well whatever they felt like?

It’s a very seductive idea of course. And the many thousands who bought that book prove this. But it's the idea, not the reality involved in achieving this nirvana which seduces us.

Our number one excuse is time

We deceive ourselves that our lives would be so much better if we had almost infinite freedom to do just about whatever we wanted.

Being too busy is the most tempting excuse. We kid ourselves that if we had more time we’d achieve more.

Well we can’t. And we won’t. Time is finite. Everyone has the same amount every single day.

The only choice we really have is how we spend those hours.

And we still waste that time every day

A while ago I was facilitating a workshop with a group of senior managers. It was about project management. I asked them how much time they spent on their A tasks…the things that they needed to do to achieve their personal objectives that they would be appraised on.

I thought this was a fair way to get them to focus on the most important things they needed to do every day.

And almost all of them said they spent the first couple of hours every day reading and replying to emails. Whilst I am sure many of them worked more than 8 hours a day, that’s still around 25% of their available time spent on admin.

Moreover it was their best time...the time when they were most alert and able to be productive.

Next I asked them what were the biggest organisational problems they faced? The number one answer was communication. Huh?

The urgent stuff was stopping them doing the important stuff

Or what they thought was the urgent stuff.

And the reason they had a communication problem was that no-one actually talked enough to their colleagues. They were all too busy reading and replying to their emails.

What really mattered was communicating the important things and doing it fast. And the fastest way I know to communicate with someone isn’t to send them an email. It’s to speak to them.

How can that be you say? An email is instant. Except it usually isn’t. It’s usually a chain of back and forth commentary and remarks which often spreads out over days. And how long does it take you to write an email? Unless you’re an expert touch typist, I bet it’s much longer than it is to actually say it…

A person to person live conversation is two way and simultaneous. It allows you to reach a conclusion. Not next week, but NOW.

That’s where we fail. We let the things which are most demanding of our attention get it. Even if we know that it’s not really the most important or valuable thing we have to do that day.

The trouble is that we feel so much better when we know we’ve answered all those emails. We think that our team isn’t kept waiting for our decision. Our boss has the information he needs for his report. Our peers won’t accuse us of holding them up or being uncooperative.

That’s a good feeling right? Yes it is. But it also means we have sacrificed one of our most important assets - time - just to get that good feeling.

“I cannot do x because I’m just too busy”.

Bullshit. You either want to do something or you don’t. We often like the idea of doing something, but when it comes down to it, we don’t actually really want to do it.

This isn’t just time management, it’s success or failure

But here’s the problem. Just about every professional person I know that has a job is money rich and time poor. And just about every unemployed person I know is money poor and time rich.

Except they are not. Their time is simply gobbled up by the non-productive tasks in their job search.

Or what they tell themselves is their job search activity.

I’m networking. I’m searching for vacancies. I’m polishing my resume. I applied to 20 jobs this week alone! I’m so busy!

That’s the danger. Letting the most at hand tasks get in the way of the most important ones.

And if you are jobseeking that needs to be the activities which are most likely to lead you to getting hired fast.

Why this is even more critical when you’re job seeking

You may think I am talking nonsense. That I don’t understand just how demanding a schedule you have set yourself. And how hard you are working.

So ask yourself this question:

How do you rank the priorities and most value-producing activities involved in your job search?

If you cannot answer this question, then you have your answer…you need to know what they are.

I cannot make that list for you. But I can suggest some likely candidates for it.

Some things that I think should be at the bottom (or not even on) the list are:

  • Searching job boards
  • Browsing newspaper and magazine job ads
  • Uploading your resume to online databases
  • Emailing people asking if they know of any vacancies
  • Calling up recruitment firms
  • Improving your resume
  • Getting more qualifications

Some things which probably should be towards the top of the list are: 

  • Creating a search optimised Linkedin profile
  • Setting up newsfeeds for organisations in your sector
  • Improving your social media profiles
  • Following relevant people and organisations on social media
  • Sharing and commenting on the content of relevant thought leaders
  • Talking to people in your network who already work in your target sector
  • Growing your network of connections in your industry
  • Making appointments to talk with people that may be able to help you

And last but not least, getting off your computer and talking to as many relevant people as you can face to face. At every opportunity.

You may not agree with my lists. That’s fine. But I am sure that somewhere in your daily schedule is something that you know is robbing you of time. And if you’re really honest with yourself you already know what it is…

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