One of the most common questions asked during a job interview is, “What are your greatest weaknesses?” Why is that such an important question to ask prospective employees? It’s simple: professional weaknesses are universal, but the ability to identify and speak openly and honestly about them is not. Whether you’re facing short-term obstacles (such as a slump in motivation, or personal issues that are affecting your work) or longer-term challenges (such as bad habits or a lack of a specific skill set), being honest with yourself about areas of struggle is the first step toward solving those problems.
While self-awareness can be very challenging to master, it can also be one of the greatest tools in your career management arsenal if you practice it. The good news is, there are some simple strategies you can implement on a daily, weekly, and long-term basis that can help you cultivate more self-awareness at work and use that self-awareness to grow your career.
At the beginning of each workday, check in with your mood, your motivation, and your thoughts about the day. You might not notice anything helpful at first, but over time, you can start to identify patterns you can learn from. For example, are you more stressed and frustrated on days when you have a lot of meetings scheduled? Is there a certain project that always boosts your motivation? Are there days of the week when you’re consistently more tired and less focused? The more you know about the way you show up to work every day, the better able you’ll be to identify any problems and work to find solutions.
At the end of each day, ask yourself what went well – and what didn’t. Did your commute take longer than you planned? Did you finish a task earlier than expected? Did you set aside time to set goals and get organized for tomorrow? Noticing both the good and the bad things about your day can make you more aware of good habits to keep up or pitfalls to avoid in the future.
At the beginning of each week, take stock of what you either need or want to accomplish that week, and write them down. Think through some of the observations you’ve made about what times, days, and events motivate or deflate you, and when you’re at your best at work. Then, use that information to plan out your week. If you know that you need a lot of time to prepare for a Wednesday meeting, don’t schedule other high-priority work for that morning. If you know that you are energized and motivated on Fridays when you’ve accomplished a lot that week, schedule easier tasks for early in the week to secure those wins, and then ride that Friday momentum by working on more challenging projects.
At the end of each week, take a moment to reflect. Ask yourself again what went well and what didn’t, but try to start noticing patterns that emerge. Do you consistently have better moods and higher productivity rates early in the week, or at specific times of day? Conversely, do you find you struggle to get up to speed at the beginning of the week but feel caught up and in a groove by midweek? These observations can help you create a schedule and a workflow that works with your natural patterns instead of fighting against them, and you can bring that plan into the following week to keep improving.
It’s easy to fall into habits and patterns of behavior at work, especially when those habits work for us. But over time, sometimes those routines stop being the best ways for us to spend our time and energy – and it’s important for us to be able to recognize when we need a change. If you begin to notice yourself struggling with tasks or projects, use those daily and weekly self-awareness practices to figure out why you’re having a hard time and what needs to change.
In addition, set aside time every few months to review your short- and long-term career goals, and make sure that the habits you have in place are helping you achieve those goals. If your goals have changed, or if your routines don’t feel like they’re working for you anymore, reevaluate your needs and make small changes that can help you feel more in control of your career direction.
When it comes down to it, practicing self-awareness means having a growth mindset, acknowledging that everyone has areas where they could improve, and being open to continuously learning about yourself, your habits, and your career path. By taking steps to be more self-aware at work, you will also be strengthening your value as an employee and taking a more active role in your own career management.
*Ultimately, your professional growth is your responsibility, but you do have other people in your life who can be great resources in your quest to become more self-aware. In the next installment of this series, we’ll discuss the best ways to ask for honest feedback from those in your professional network – and how to give it back to them.