Are Time-Bound Goals a “Waste of Time” During Work-Life Transitions?

Here are 3 steps for career changers who want to use their time more thoughtfully so that they can reduce unnecessary stress during their work-life transitions.
This discussion of the relevance of time-bound goals is the fifth and final post in this series on applying the S.M.A.R.T. model of effective goal setting for career change.


1. Start Strong & Build a More Sustainable Approach 

During career transition, there are many factors outside of your control. Yet, when it comes to how you spend your time, the choices you make may help you or hinder you. If you’re feeling stressed by time pressures or frustrated with the pace of your progress, begin with this practical step.

Map out your week and what you do when in that week. Not what you think you should do. Not what you want to do or expect yourself to do. Base your map on what you actually do in your week.

Most of us are over-optimistic about what we can complete in a particular time-frame. Begin by taking a realistic look at where you are now.

Write in all the things you already do in a typical week. Sleeping, eating, family time, household activities, caring activities, leisure and social time, work time, and so on. What’s left? How much time do you currently have to focus on your career change goals?

Unrealistic expectations fuel discouragement. If you begin by considering what is sustainable within the context of your current obligations you immediately put yourself in a better position. 

There will be opportunities to make adjustments. But you will start stronger if you begin from your current reality. 

2. Structure your Time to Reduce Distractions 

Once you have a better understanding of what is possible and sustainable, you can evaluate what to change. What do you already know about what works? What will you prioritize?

For example,  think back on what you already have experienced. When you found previous positions, what were the most fruitful activities? For most career changers, connections are one of the most important factors in finding opportunities. This can be challenging if you are moving into a new field. 

If you’re still unsure of your direction, or it’s been a while since you’ve changed your work, it’s often helpful to get feedback on your ideas so that you can come up with a workable strategy customized for you. Choosing how you use your time is not simple. It requires thoughtfulness and discipline, both of which are more difficult in the context of uncertainty.  

Now that technology and automation play such a large part in career change and job search, you need to find ways of handling endless sources of distraction. It’s easier than ever to be busy without necessarily making progress. 

 Make your time work for you by finding a structure that supports you. For example, some people use a timer to help them limit the time spend on research or social media. 

Any of these activities can support your career goals. But it’s important to self-monitor. Does time reading various posts on LinkedIn mean that you run out of time to invite new people to your network, or engage in other activities that have worked for you in the past?  Although advances in technology have changed how you do things, the fundamentals remain. Building relationships and your communication skills are still key. 

3. Build in Time to Reflect and Renew 

So far we’ve considered time-bound goals as a way to both stay on track by beginning with more realistic expectations and as a means of dealing with multiple distractions. Both of these can be of benefit. But for career changers, it is not enough. 

Career transition is not a linear process. In her in-depth research with voluntary career changers (see her book Working Identity) Herminia Ibarra concluded that career reinvention was a “messy trial-and-error process of Iearning by doing.

So how what does this mean for you and how you use your time? It means that it is essential to build in the space for reflection. Don’t pack your schedule so tight that you don’t have time to periodically step back and review the big picture of the changes you want to make in your work-life.

Look for patterns and ask what is helping and hindering you in moving closer to your goals. It’s essential that you learn as you go. Try some of these reflection questions:

  • What am I noticing?
  • What surprised me [this week]?
  • What do I still need to find out more about?
  • What is clearer now that before I had these conversations/completed this activity? 
  • What might I stop doing or begin doing?

This time to reflect and renew is important not only for your wellbeing, but also for insight. It allows time to attend to feedback you are getting from your environment and the outcomes of your activities. 

In the context of the uncertainty that is typical of significant change experiences, you will invariably make decisions with less information than you would prefer. It’s important to harness not only what you know and observe, but also your intuitive knowing. Make time for both.

A realistic appraisal of what’s possible for you in your situation, and structuring your time to reduce distractions will both help you to use your time more effectively during your career and work-life transitions.

But setting time-bound goals and choosing how to use your time is not a “once and done” effort. Build in the space to reflect and renew so that you create opportunities to respond to what you are learning as you go.

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