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5 Questions to Ask Yourself at Any Stage of Your Career

Whether you are starting a new job, advancing your career, or considering a different direction, these simple questions can highlight ways to bring out your best self at work. We’ve outlined 5 questions to help identify your individual strengths and increase your productivity and happiness on the job by inspiring small changes and new professional goals.

1. When am I happiest at work?

No matter how much you love your job, there are always good days and bad days. For some of us, there are even good mornings and bad afternoons. While there will occasionally be unwelcome tasks to tend to, it’s worth spending some time thinking about the moments you feel most content at work. Ask yourself what you’re working on when you lose track of time, what environments you seek out, which type of projects you are most excited to work on, or when you feel most fulfilled.

Once you’ve identified these personal “happy triggers”, consider how you can be more efficient in completing less enjoyable activities, so that you can spend more time doing the things that give you energy.

Tip: If you’re having a hard time finding a way to incorporate more of your happy triggers at work, think about how you might pursue this interest as a side hustle.

2. What do I find most frustrating about my job or career?

There is no point in sugarcoating it — you will inevitably have to make some career sacrifices along the way. Whether you are giving up bedtime with your kids for your dream job, a structured role at a large company for the excitement of a new startup idea, or a reliable paycheck for the freedom of freelancing, we all face the ongoing challenge of balance throughout our careers.

The best way to navigate tradeoffs and determine if they’re worthwhile, is to prioritize. What is most important to you? This applies to the good and the bad. It’s important to know what things frustrate you most about a job, so that you can be proactive about pursuing opportunities that limit your exposure to the down side.

Tip: For many people, it’s the tedious administrative activities that can become frustrating at times. To help manage the time and energy dedicated to those tasks, try earmarking an hour every day, or block off a few hours once a week, to tackle less desirable to-do’s. If possible, schedule this time before a more enjoyable activity so that you have something to look forward to — you’ll be surprised at how much easier it can be to complete tedious to-do’s when you restrict the amount of time available to spend on them.

3. What aspects of my job could be more efficient?

Time is money, and thanks to the growing universe of online tools, software products, and the on-demand workforce, there’s no excuse not to maximize your productivity by taking advantage of the resources at your disposal. Make a list of all the tasks and activities you complete on a day-to-day basis – the more tedious, the better. Then go through each item and ask yourself whether there is a more efficient way to approach that task: Can I create a replicable template for this email or document? Can I outsource this activity? Can I use a free online tool to simplify the process? As humans, we tend to choose the path of least friction, which often involves continuing with business as usual. By making a point of challenging the status quo; it may free up more time to work on the aspects of your job that you enjoy most.

A list of tools to check out: 

4. At what points in my day job do I thrive?

Have you ever fought the urge to high five yourself at work? You might have just nailed a client pitch, received an excellent performance review, or completed a big project with an outcome that you are proud of. These internal celebrations are different for everyone. Pay attention to your day-to-day routine and try to identify any patterns: Are those celebratory moments most frequent at certain points in the day? Do they tend to happen on particular types of projects? Are you someone who thrives more in an unstructured or a structured environment?

Tip: Once you identify a pattern, consider bringing it up in your performance review or with colleagues — the more people who are aware of when and how you thrive, the better.

5. Where can I grow?

There is always room for improvement. Some of the brightest minds view themselves as lifelong learners. For freelancers, continuous learning is essential to competing in the on-demand marketplace; however, this mentality can be valuable to anyone, regardless of your chosen career path. Remaining curious about the ways you can build knowledge and expertise will not only keep you more engaged at work, but will strengthen your personal brand, making you a more valuable resource.

Tip: Several major studies have shown that people who write down their goals are more likely to achieve them. Instead of starting with the big lofty goals, write down some shorter-term milestones that directly contribute to achieving bigger goals down the road. Then, build in checkpoints to evaluate your progress against these milestones on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis.