4 tactics to adjust to a full-time job after studies.

Anastasia
5 min readMar 29, 2021

Traditional University degree programs have a very similar cadence. You pick your major, get a list of subjects for each semester, attend lectures and seminars, deliver some homework in between and prepare for the final exam which determines should you stay or should you go (now) 🎵.

Overview of what you have to do looks something like this:

You have your preparation materials, sometimes you even know what areas will be covered in the exam and you know when it will happen. You have a deadline and you know what you need to do.

But whether you are 100% ready or (most likely) around 50% ready, you have to go there and do your best. 🤞

After 7 years in 2 Universities and 2 degrees, I got so used to this behavior pattern. I learn as much as I can and feel like, and in the end, whether I am ready or not, I have to try to pass the exam/test/deliver my Master's Thesis and so on.

But full-time office work requires different time-management skills:

Starting to work in a company I expected a somewhat similar pattern.

There’s a task that needs to be done, I have some time to do it and I have a delivery deadline. Short and sweet.

And in many cases, when I was a Junior it worked perfectly fine. Except that now I should of course do as close to 100% of the task at hand as possible. Can’t really go to present half of your presentation to the developers and deliver half of the analysis.

For many jobs, the reality of working looks like this:

When you have a clear deliverable and a defined deadline, you know what you need to do to get there.

Developers need to develop, sellers need to sell, marketers need to release campaigns, and so on.

Suddenly work started to look more like this. 100% of what you can do is not defined anymore, because you can always do more: run more models, do more research, prepare more graphs, look into more data sources. Deadline is also not so explicit anymore unless you have downstream dependencies.

You decide when you are done.

This became a mind breaker for me, during all the studies I have never learned to understand when my work is ready. When is it good enough? Especially if I know I can always do more or better?

The motivation to continue working is also closely dependent on the progress. The further the light at the end of the tunnel is, the harder it is to continue walking.

How do I deal with it?

I found that a combination of 3 tactics works the best for me to keep me motivated, both at work and in my personal life.

1. Learn how to prioritize.

At the beginning of your career most likely your manager or senior peer will help you out with finding and prioritizing tasks to do it’s very important to start ahead with learning that skill.

The more you grow, the more independent you become, the more crucial it is to know what is important to do right now, and what can wait.

There is an abundance of prioritization frameworks, the best if you choose something that works for you! (Or is commonly used in your company). Here is an extensive list of practical tips on prioritizing your tasks.

I use an extended Eisenhower Matrix: Weighting importance VS urgency of tasks. The tricky part is estimating the importance and urgency and here only experience will help. So don’t feel discouraged to ask your stakeholders and peers to help you with evaluating those criteria.

Other important things to keep in mind:

  • Learn when to say no.
  • Learn about your business needs to know whether the task is important and urgent.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask, but make sure you set the expectations correctly.
  • Be transparent about your backlog and priorities.

2. Set deliverables and hard deadlines.

Scope out your deliverable. Break down if needed. Do the MVP if your backlog is full of other, equally important tasks.

This is an art in itself, and it’s the art of asking the right questions. To yourself, to your stakeholders, to your teammates.

A great tip of advice: Before agreeing to do right away what you are asked of, find out why this needs to be done. Why that specific way? Is there a way to do it better? What kind of questions do they want to answer.

Helps not to do unnecessary work which doesn’t really answer the question. Outline clearly the MVP or OKRs for your project. Lingo and framework don’t matter as long as it helps you to define what is the result. Set the deadline for the deliverable. Imagine how long it might take you to get to your clear and specific goal, add 20% more time for work projects and 50% more time for personal projects and lock this date in your calendar. It helps a lot if it’s attached to some event or some people depend on it. This brings us to the next part of the puzzle.

3. Keep external accountability

When people depend on you delivering something, it serves as a great accountability boost. For work projects, I like to book a meeting with the team where I will present the results of the analysis or recommendations, so it doesn’t let me push the deadline further. It keeps me on the edge because I know that time is not flexible and I have to finish my part of the work to enable others to do their part.

4. Measure your progress

This part is not so crucial to achieving your goals, but for me, it’s crucial to keep long-term motivation. Write down your achievements, keep track of the projects you’ve done at work and how much value they brought. (I actually have a video about the framework for progress tracking, check out here). Put your progress into words and numbers. Look at them from time to time, get surprised about how much you have improved, get that dopamine boost, and start your new sprint feeling better about yourself. 💫

I also have a more detailed video on that topic, check it out!

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Anastasia

Data Scientist who believes everyone should know how to use and analyse data. Working in fintech, living in Stockholm.