Using Writing to Deal with Negative Thoughts and Emotions


As a career coach, I've found that I'm most likely to be working with people in some kind of career crisis. Either they are unemployed and trying to find a new job or they have reached some kind of difficult tipping point in their careers where their unhappiness drives them to take action. 

When people are in these situations, they tend to focus on practical things:

  • How do I write a resume?
  • How do I do a good job during an interview?
  • How can I network more effectively?
  • How do I make a career change?
  • How do I start my own business?

But in focusing on these practical "next steps," they often neglect to deal with the negative thoughts and feelings they are having related to their current circumstances. This is emotional baggage that can really weigh them down.

For example, many people who are unemployed have a lot of unresolved anger and resentment about how they were treated by their previous company or organization both before and after their layoff. They can also have feelings of anxiety, fear, stress and even shame. These negative feelings often come across to potential employers and to networking contacts and can make it much harder for people to find a new job. 

I also see a lot of people in really toxic work environments. They are stressed out by the demands of their jobs and dealing with a never-ending series of office dramas, petty politics and even bullying. This type of situation creates its own emotional baggage that can have wide-reaching impacts on people both in their work and personal lives. Work performance starts to suffer and if the person tries to job search in this mode, potential employers will definitely know that something is going on and tend to react negatively. 


The Symptoms of Difficult Circumstances

Regardless of the cause--unemployment, a toxic workplace--these people tend to share some similar symptoms:

  • Feeling more negative emotions--finding it harder to laugh, feeling irritable, anxious or despairing.
  • Greater difficulty with sleep, including problems falling asleep and/or staying asleep.
  • More aches and pains, including headaches, stomach aches and other physical symptoms related to stress.
  • Problems in  personal relationships with family and friends. They may have more frequent arguments or feel more irritated with people in their lives, both at home and at work.
  • Feelings of isolation and loneliness and a desire to withdraw from their usual social activities.
  • Obsessing about their situation, dwelling on worst case scenarios and/or anger with the situation and the people they feel have contributed to it. 

Often what is going on is that people are trying to block their emotions around their difficult circumstances, afraid to really confront and deal with the negative thoughts and feelings that plague them. But emotions will not be denied. They may go underground for a bit, but they always come out and demand that we do something to address them. That's when these kinds of symptoms start to show up.

Writing Through Your Negative Thoughts and Feelings

Dealing with our emotional baggage is one of the greatest things we can do to get ourselves unstuck and re-energized. Surprisingly, one of the most effective ways for dealing with these situations is to use what's called "expressive writing"--a research-backed approach to writing about the thoughts and feelings we are having related to difficult circumstances in our lives. 

While there are a number of different types of writing activities that can produce benefits, the core approach, pioneered by Dr. James Pennebaker of the University of Texas, consists of 4 days of writing in response to some specific prompts. 

The idea is that through the exploration of your deepest thoughts and feelings as they relate to a core traumatic experience or situation, you can begin to construct a more meaningful story for yourself of what has happened and its impact on you and your life. This helps you develop new insight into the situation and how it may have not only shaped your experience and your life, but also how it may have even benefited you and helped you grow. 

Here's Dr. Pennebaker's basic prompt:

Pennebaker writing assignment

Benefits of Expressive Writing

Dr. Pennebaker's research with a number of different populations has indicated that most people who use  expressive writing strategies to address challenging situations experience some important changes. They have seen:

  • An increase in positive moods and a reduction in negative thoughts and feelings.
  • Improved physical health, including improved sleep patterns, lower blood pressure and lower heart rates.
  • Improved relationships with family, friends and co-workers.
  • Reduced feelings of stress.
  • Improved focus.

Further, they have also found that people find new jobs faster and improve their academic performance

Interestingly, the people who tend to benefit most are those who are less likely to talk about their problems with someone else--especially men

Writing for Recovery

Although you can use Dr. Pennebaker's basic prompt to try out the expressive writing concept, I wanted to help people go a little deeper in the context of their careers. So I've developed two online writing programs specifically for people who are in a toxic work environment and people who are unemployed. 

In each course, I help you set up for success, and then have you go through 4 days of writing with prompts that are specific to dealing with either toxic work or being unemployed. Each day, you also complete a pre-writing emotional check-in and a post-writing evaluation of how the process went for you. 

At the end of the course, we evaluate your progress, looking not only at how your stress symptoms may be changing, but also at how your writing may provide you with some additional insight into what's going on with you. I also share "next steps" ideas and resources so that you can build on what you've started and begin to move forward again. 

Each module includes audio, worksheets and other resources to guide you through the process. There are also discussion questions for some of the modules. 

You can learn more about the course for the toxic workplace here and the course for recovering from unemployment here

I'm limiting enrollment to 20 people per course because I want to evaluate how this works in an online, self-guided format. So if you're interested, I encourage you to sign up quickly!

I'd also love to hear if you've ever used expressive writing techniques to deal with difficult circumstances. How has this worked for you? Leave me a note in comments!

Designing Your Career: Reality Checks and Evolving Into Experimentation



This is the next in an ongoing series of posts  I'm doing about how to use design thinking in your career. 

When we last left off in the Designing Your Career series, we had entered the Ideation phase where we talked about how to brainstorm potential ideas for experimentation.

In this post we're going to discuss how to do a "reality check" on your ideas and how to begin evolving your thoughts for the next phase, Experimentation. 

Reality Check

As you look at the promising ideas you've developed in your initial brainstorming, you'll want to do some "reality checks" on these ideas in order to further evolve your thinking. Remember, we're brainstorming and exploring ideas that will help you grow your career and design a work life for yourself that meets your criteria for success. 

For each promising idea you've identified, explore these questions:

  • What's at the heart of this idea? What values is it expressing for you? What real needs or issues is your idea addressing? Let's say that you're exploring the possibility of starting a "side gig." What's attractive to you about this idea? Is it a need for freedom and independence? Is it about being able to utilize and express different aspects of yourself? The more you understand what's underneath your idea, the more open to all possiblities you become. 
  • What are the constraints on your idea? What are the challenges and barriers you may face in implementing your idea? Who in your life might oppose what you're thinking? Remember, constraints or limitations don't have to be insurmountable. They merely give you a sense of where you may have to be more persistent or creative in your thinking.  
  • Brainstorm new solutions. First look at the underlying values you identified previously. Are there other ways that you could express or connect to these values? Then brainstorm ways that you might address the challenges you identified. It can be helpful if you go back to the core group of people you were working with in your initial brainstorming session. They can often offer different perspectives or ideas for how to address these issues. 

Work with each of the ideas you came up with in your initial session in this same way. Once you're finished, take a step back and see which ones feel most "do-able" at this time. Which of your ideas has the most juice and energy for you? Those are the ideas you'll want to experiment with, at least initially. 

Make sure to archive any ideas you don't want to work with at this time. It may be that at a later point, you decide you want to go back to them. I have entire notebooks of ideas that I've been playing around with for years. Sometimes it's a matter of the right time and people coming together for an idea to take on some new life. 



Summarize Your Idea(s)

At this point, your ideas will have gone through several iterations. It can be helpful to summarize and refine it as you prepare to go into the Experimentation phase. 

Take a look at your notes and field research and then try to capture your current understanding of your idea. 

  • Give it a title--try something playful or inspiring. 
  • Write a one-sentence summary--what's the heart of your idea? 
  • Describe how your idea would work--what would you be doing? What needs and opportunities do you see in your idea?
  • Who are other people involved in this and how can you get their support?
  • What value and benefits for yourself and others do you see in your idea? How will this address your career and life aspirations? 
  • What questions do you have? What is still open or uncertain for you? 

Again, it can be helpful to share this next write-up with your brainstorming team. They may provide you with additional ideas and information or point out holes in your thinking. 


In the next post in this series, we're going to look at how you play with your ideas in the Experimentation phase. This will be all about testing and trying out, pushing the edges of your comfort zone and being open to what you learn in the process. Stay tuned!



On Down Time



At the end of July, my husband said to me, "We need to take off the last two weeks of next month." I immediately felt two things. 

Panic--how the hell could I "afford" to take off two weeks?

Desire--OH I want to do this!

I sat with these two feelings for awhile. They represented the two aspects of myself that are always at war with each other it seems. 

The panic came from the person inside who believes that I must always be "productive"--doing, accomplishing, making shit happen in the world. She fits in well with dominant culture, especially in the US, where it's all about the disease of being chronically busy.

The desire came from that other person inside me--the one who knows that sometimes we need to just BE. The one who recognizes that the purposeful, centered DOING that is what I really seek can only come about when I allow myself the time and space to breathe. 

I ended up taking off the two weeks. We didn't go anywhere--it was the classic staycation. Instead, I took time to make art, to write in my journal, to read novels and re-read some personal development books that had been calling to me from the shelves. With our neighbors, we hosted a dance party, where we invited friends over for drinks and dancing to Pandora on our tiny patio. Days unfolded with no particular plans and no need to "accomplish" anything. It was incredibly replenishing for my spirit. 

I know that I've written in the past about the need for slow times and retreat to rejuvenate. But like most people, I still struggle with honoring these in myself. I can tell YOU that you need this, but it's harder for me to take my own advice. 

Slowly, though, I'm recognizing how absolutely critical it is for me to start with myself. It's the old "put on your oxygen mask first before trying to help someone else." So I'm claiming this need and already looking forward to scheduling two more intentional weeks in December. This is as necessary to my "productivity" as my to do lists. It's also essential to the other parts of my life--the relationships I value, my own creativity, my spiritual and emotional self who does not thrive on daily accomplishments. 

I keep spiraling back into this essential knowledge--of the need for stretches of time where we stop pushing ourselves and just revel in where we are now. As I return to the "real world" this week, I'm  trying to bring with me some of the peace and centeredness I felt with time off, restructuring my days to focus more on what really matters and less on all the stuff that feeds a frantic, anxious pace. I do my best work when I do it from my calm center. The more I can feed this place in myself, the better I am for myself and for the world. 

3 Reasons You Need to Start Sharing Your Dreams


I'm thinking a lot lately about how we get in our own way. It's easy to look around at this economy and to just want to give up. So many barriers and challenges--makes you want to stay in bed with the covers over your head. I get it.

But even in the midst of challenge there is opportunity. We have to go after it though, creating possibilities where others only see the barriers. 

One way we keep ourselves stuck is by keeping our dreams and ideas to ourselves. Interestingly, I find that people are willing to talk all day about what's wrong, but they have a much harder time talking about their aspirations and what they'd like to have happening in their lives instead. 

I know all the reasons we keep our dreams to ourselves, but there are bigger reasons to start sharing them with others. 

1. Others might be able to help. 

When you start talking about your aspirations to other people (rather than your problems) you will usually find that the first thing they want to do is give you some help. They may know a good connection or have some information or resources that could help you further your dreams. Putting it out there might just invite what you need to get moving on a more positive path. If you keep thing to yourself, there's no way anyone else can help. 

2. Others might share your dreams and want to join in.

In the past few months, I've had some amazing conversations with people when I tell them what I'd really like to see in the world. Turns out they want to see the same things and have some ideas of their own about how we could make our dreams happen. 

It can be hard to create positive momentum on your own. But when you are working with other people who share your vision and beliefs, the load gets a lot lighter. And the ideas get a lot brighter. 

3. Talking to other people can help you get clearer about what you really want.

If you're like most people, you can get caught in the echo chamber of your own mind, where the more you think about something, the less clear you become. 

Talking to someone else about what you want in your life can help you get a lot clearer, especially in the beginning stages. You hear yourself saying things that give you that deep "aha." Or they ask a simple question and suddenly everything shifts into place. 

Talking about what you want is a powerful clarifier. And the clearer you are, the more likely you are to start taking action. 

This is partly a post about being more positive--talking about what you want, rather than problems and what you don't want. And it's partly a post about connecting with people on the basis of your dreams and aspirations, rather than based on your problems and anxieties. There's a negative energy we create in our lives when we're focused on what needs to be fixed. If we want to create more positive connections and energy in our work, we need to start talking with people about our dreams, not our problems. 

Design Your Career: Brainstorming/Ideation


Over the course of several weeks, I'm showing you how to apply design thinking and principles to your career planning and development. The series of posts so far is here

We've gone through the Discovery and Intereprepation phases, gathering information about your career challenge, looking for themes and framing possibilities. Now we enter into the Ideation phase, where you are generating ideas that you could experiment with in the next phase. 

Up to this point, your career design work may have been largely solitary. Although you may have talked to a select group of people to test out some of your assumptions or to gather information, I find that most of the time, people do discovery and interpretation on their own, especially if they are considering some big career moves. 

Ideation or brainstorming, however, is an activity that really benefits from having more minds working on the issue. Other people can bring in different perspectives and experiences and the give and take of a discussion can be very valuable. 

Here's how to tackle Ideation:

1. Invite a core group to help you brainstorm.

The first step is to gather a group to help you brainstorm. Ideally, this is 4-6 people whom you trust. These individuals don't have to be in the same industry or occupation--in fact, it can be beneficial to have some people from very different careers in your group. 

Let them know what you are doing and why you need their help and ask them to give you about 60-90 minutes of their time to help you brainstorm. This article on The Art of Asking has some great advice that you can use to plan for your invitation. 

2. Prepare for your brainstorming session.

Think about what you want to get out of your brainstorming session. Go back to your original challenge statement and to the opportunities you have been identifying and try to come up with some focused brainstorming questions to work with. For example, if you've been thinking about starting up a side business as a way to bring in income, you might have people help you brainstorm about your best options for a side business or refine a specific side gig idea. 

Next, prepare a space to work in. Pull together some flip chart paper and markers and some Post-It note pads. I've also found it can be helpful to have some Play Doh around--there's something about the kinesthetic connection to doing something with your hands that can help people think. And of course snacks--maybe even some wine or beer, depending on the time of day when you're planning your session. 



3. Brainstorm!

Once you get your group together, give them a brief overview of your design challenge, the highlights of what you've been discovering and then introduce your questions. Be careful that you don't get bogged down too much in giving your whole story--just focus on the relevant highlights that will give the group some context for your session together. 

Discuss the rules of brainstorming:

  • Defer judgement.
  • Encourage wild ideas.
  • Build on the ideas of others--think "and," rather than "but."
  • Stay focused on topic.
  • One conversation at a time so that all ideas are heard.
  • Go for quantity.
  • Try being visual--how can you sketch your ideas?

Depending on the personalities of your brainstorming partners, it can be helpful to start with a few minutes of quiet brainstorming where people write down some of their initial thoughts and ideas (good for introverts) before you get into brainstorming conversations. 

Keep your brainstorming session to no more than 45-60 minutes (minus the time you spend on the initial problem introduction and the brainstorming guidelines) so that you can maintain the energy.

Try to have fun with it. Move around, laugh, be willing to get a little crazy. Sometimes the best ideas come from what at first seems silly or completely "unrealistic."

As you brainstorm, be sure to document your ideas on the flip chart and/or Post It Notes. Don't be afraid to draw your ideas. Visualizing can be helpful. 

4. Select Promising Ideas

Once you've had a chance to toss around some of your ideas, end your brainstorming session by selecting promising ideas. In the end, of course, the path you choose will be your decision. But it can be helpful to work with your group to get a sense of which ideas have the most energy and opportunity. 

Have the group help you cluster your ideas--maybe there are several related ideas that you can pull together into a more coherent possibility. 

Then talk to your group about your sense of the ideas that are evolving--which ones seem to have some "juice" and feel exciting? Which ones don't feel like they'd work for you? Ask the group to really listen to you talk and to look for where they see you light up and feel passionate

Also ask them to push you a little on the ideas that you may dismiss--is it because they really aren't the best ideas or might it be because they would push on your growth edges and maybe seem a little too risky or terrifying? If it's the latter, then maybe they can help you explore some of these concerns. 

End your brainstorming session by summarizing everything you've discussed, being sure to capture all key ideas, questions and thoughts. 

In our next post, we'll talk about finishing up the Ideation phase with a reality check and evolving your idea for the Experimentation phase. 

Design Your Career: Frame Opportunities

Over the course of several weeks, I'm showing you how to apply design thinking and principles to your career planning and development. The series of posts so far is here

In the Interpretation phase of design, we've been looking at capturing your learning, identifying key themes and harvesting your insights. Now it's time to frame your opportunities--how do you take what you've been learning and use it to set yourself up for the next phase?

Create Visuals

One useful strategy for exploring opportunities is to create some visuals that express your key ideas. Here are some examples that could be helpful:

Screen shot 2014-07-29 at 6.27.52 AM

A Journey Map can help you look at your experiences over time. This is particularly useful if your initial design challenge is about how to make substantive changes in your career, possibly transitioning into something new. You might want to explore using the Career Stepping Stones method to map your journey. 



Screen shot 2014-07-29 at 6.32.47 AMVenn Diagrams help you explore several key themes and the relationships between them. 





Screen shot 2014-07-29 at 6.35.04 AMTwo-by-Twos are a way to illustrate tensions and create different categories. 






Vision boardAnother great career visualization strategy is to use vision board techniques to illustrate or flesh out some of your key insights. For example, in many cases this process can point us to key values we want to incorporate into our work. Through a vision board exercise, we can go deeper with these ideas and gain additional insights to use in the Ideation phase. 


Play around with using visuals to distill your insights and explore the relationships between them. This can open up new lines of thinking and fresh perspectives. 

Actionable insights

Make Your Insights Actionable

Your insights only become valuable when you can act on them as inspiring opportunities. It's important to take the time to phrase them so that they invite you into Ideation, brainstorming possible ways to experiment and make some new things happen. 

Explore your insights and turn them into "How might I. . ." or "What if. . . " questions. For example:

  • What if I volunteered to run a pilot program at work so I could test some of these ideas I'm having? 
  • How might I start using my skills as an artist to bring in new income?
  • What if I found a way to work 4 days a week so that I could use that extra day to learn some new skills?

For each insight you've gained, you want to generate several potential brainstorm questions, like the ones above. Try to make them simple and concise, expressed in plain language that feels inspiring to you. 

You may want to sit with your questions for a few days, returning to them later to see if they still resonate and to potentially revise, add or eliminate some questions. 

Ultimately you are going to select 3-5 of these questions to work with in the Ideation/Brainstorming phase. It's worth it to give yourself some room to find the right questions. 

A final note on the Interpretation phase. . .

The Interpretation phase can be both exhilerating and a little scary. If you have ignored your career for awhile, operating on auto pilot, this is often where you will find that you may be feeling the need to make some major changes. This can feel overwhelming and you may consider giving up.

Try to resist this temptation. 

Instead, use the design process to help you put some boundaries around what you will work on at this time. Go back to your initial design challenge and think about how you may want to reframe it. Set aside those insights that feel a little too difficult to address right now and look for those questions that feel more "do-able." You can always return later to those possibilities that you want to explore further after you have a few smaller successes under your belt. 

The beauty of using design thinking to plan for your career is that if you stick to the process, you will find that eventually it becomes second nature. You will naturally return to these strategies to address new problems and challenges as they arise. You will get into more of a flow, working with issues as they come up, rather than letting them fester until they can't be ignored. 

In my next post, we'll be moving into Ideation--brainstorming ideas for working with the questions you've been developing. 

Design Your Career: Harvest Insights


Over the course of the next few weeks, I'm showing you how to apply design thinking and principles to your career planning and development. The series of posts so far is here

On Tuesday, we talked about looking for themes in the information you've been gathering as part of your design process. Today, we're going to look at strategies for harvesting insights from those themes. 

What do we mean by "Insights"?

In this context, "insights" are concise expressions of what you have learned during your discovery and inspiration process. They sum up key learnings. You may find those insights in a quote from someone you talked with or in a phrase or sentence from an article you've read. Here are some examples:

  • I need to do work that let's me express my core values of innovation and freedom.
  • I have a hard time with risk-taking, but if I want to start my own business, I need to become more comfortable with this. 
  • The main reason I'm unhappy in my job right now is because I don't trust the company or my colleagues. What could I do about that? 

Career design is a very personal experience that will go to the core of some key beliefs you have about yourself and your work. Be open to harvesting insights that may touch on areas where you feel more vulnerable or afraid, because often these are the places with the most juice for moving forward once you acknowledge them.

Also be open to insights that may force you to question assumptions that you've made about your career. You may discover, for example, that you've always felt that you "should" do certain things but those "shoulds" were hidden from your thinking. Let these assumptions come to the surface. They may point to new possibilities that previously didn't feel available to you. 

Now that you have an idea of what we mean by "insights," here's how to work with them:

Let life surprise you

1. Look for what surprise or intrigues you.

Review your themes and categories with an open mind. What surprises you? What feels inspiring and worth pursuing more? Where do you feel curious? What themes seem to spark the most ideas and possiblities? 

Pay attention to where you feel the juice, the energy. These spots contain the seeds of opportunity. 

2. Capture your insights in short sentences that get at the essence of what you're seeing. 

As you look for the insights in your themes, begin to construct some short simple sentences to describe what you're finding. If you can, word them in ways that feel inspiring and positive to you--that suggest new possibilities or opportunities, or even challenges for yourself. 

3. Reconnect to your project challenge.

Look back at your original challenge and consider how these insights are connected to it. Try to narrow down to 3-5 insights that seem most relevant and important to your initial challenge and the questions you were asking. If you have other insights that are less relevant but that you want to hold onto, create a section in your Idea Book to record those. You can always return to them later. 

4. Get an outside perspective.

If you're comfortable with this, it can be helpful to share your insights with a trusted friend, colleague or partner. See if these insights resonate with them. Maybe they have some thoughts that can add to your thinking. 


That's it for now. In our next post in the series, we'll finish up the Interpretation phase by looking at how you can use your insights to frame opportunities. 


Design Your Career: Looking for Themes


Over the course of the next few weeks, I'm showing you how to apply design thinking and principles to your career planning and development. The series of posts so far is here

As you begin capturing your learning in the Interpretation phase, you should also begin looking for themes and patterns. This can take some time, but is well worth the effort. Here are ideas for getting started:


1. Review your Idea Book and all of your documentation to identify repeating words and patterns. 

 Look for common themes and ideas, particularly those that seem interesting or exciting to you. Write key phrases or concepts on Post It Notes or index cards so that you can cluster common ideas together more easily as you search for patterns. If you're a color-coding type of thinker, consider using different colored Post-Its for different themes.

Look for quotes that capture your ideas. If you have taken pictures or otherwise used visuals to document your research, be sure to write down the emotions or ideas these visuals evoke for you. There can be patterns in those as well.  

2. Cluster your ideas and give them a "headline. "

Organize your Post Its or index cards into clusters around the themes you are identifying. Then give them a "headline." Depending on your project, these may be things like "Skills to Learn" or "Ideas for Starting a Side Business." 



3. Look for links between themes. 

As you continue to work with your themes, start looking for links between themes. Can you group several related themes into a larger category? What contradictions or tensions do you see? What surprises you or excites you?

Over the years as I've looked at ways to reinvigorate my business, I've often found inspiration in looking at how to bring together disparate themes from different parts of my life--for example, can I bring visual art into my work? Or can I somehow incorporate my love of the journaling process into what I'm doing?

Look for serendipitous or potentially surprising themes you could link together as these could suggest potential things to experiment with later in the design process. 

4. Get input from the outside.

As you play around with your themes, try sharing your thinking with other people who might be able to give you some additional ideas or input. Talk to some trusted friends or colleagues or with your significant other. 

Often simply the process of sharing your thoughts out loud can begin to bring ideas into focus; you find yourself saying something that really "clicks." And of course, others can give you different insights or perspectives that suggest new ways of looking at your themes or different ways to organize and think about them. 

5. Be prepared to let go. 

One thing that can happen in the Discovery and Interpretation phases is that you can become overwhelmed with the information you've gathered. It can be helpful to return to your original design challenge  to remind yourself of some of the boundaries you may have set. It may be that you need to set some things aside for now to focus specifically on those things that are related to your challenge. 

You may also find that you are uncovering stories and ideas that aren't particularly helpful or that are less important to the work at hand. Be sure to set them aside, physically removing them from your design space, so that you can keep your focus on those themes and ideas that are most relevant to the work you want to do right now. 

In our next post, we'll continue with the Interpretation phase and take a look at how to develop insight into your findings. For now, see what you can do to identify and link some themes together as a way of clarifying some things for yourself. 


Design Your Career: Set Deadlines

Over the course of the next few weeks, I'm showing you how to apply design thinking and principles to your career planning and development. The series of posts so far is here


For the past few weeks, we've been talking about how to use design thinking to create the career you want. One thing that's critical to your success in this endeavor is setting some deadlines for yourself. It's SO easy to be pulled off course by "life", as well as by the creative process itself. We can wander forever in the Discovery phase if we aren't careful. 

Although there's a certain need to give yourself some space to explore, at the same time, this boundlessness can work against you. Procrastination is a problem in any creative project, but I've found it's particularly true for our career projects. The work we have right now, combined with everything else going on in our lives can seem far more pressing than working toward an uncertain future. 

As you go through the entire Design process, it's important to set deadlines for yourself. Be clear about how much time you're going to give yourself in each phase and STICK to those deadlines. The If/Then planning process can help you keep moving. Keeping track of your small wins along the way can also be helpful in motivating you to move forward. 

Don't let procrastination keep you from crafting a sustainable career. Use deadlines to give your career project some helpful boundaries and constraints. Remember--without the "doing" your dreams will go nowhere. Deadlines can help you take action. 

Design Your Career: Capturing Your Learning


Over the course of the next few weeks, I'm showing you how to apply design thinking and principles to your career planning and development. The series of posts so far is here. 


You've defined your career project challenge and you've been gathering research and inspiration. Now we enter the Interpretation phase of the design process, where you begin to make sense of what you've been discovering. 

This can be a confusing part of the process. You have a lot of information. Your perspective on your project is evolving and changing. In some ways your design challenge may seem clearer. In other ways it can get more muddied. This is normal. Careers are messy, especially these days, and you are in the phase where you are letting yourself be open to possibilities, so there's a lot floating around. 

We talked in my previous post about the importance of having an Inspiration Journal--your "design sketchbook" for your project. As you seek sources of inspiration, talking to other people and gathering information, you should be documenting your findings in your Inspiration Journal. Capturing what you're learning is an important part of the process, as you will be using this later to look for recurring stories and themes that can give you clues about how you want to experiment with possibilities in the Ideation/Experimentation phase of the process. 

Here are some strategies for capturing learning and keeping this phase manageable:

1. Plan For It

Set aside time each day or each week to capture what you've been learning. (This would be a great way to spend the first hour of your day!) One planning strategy that can be helpful to ensure that you do this is "If/Then Planning."  This is a simple strategy for achieving any goal.

  • If it's Thursday at 4 p.m., then I'm capturing my career project learning." OR
  • "If it's 9 a.m., then I'm taking 30 minutes to capture my career project learning."

Believe me, if you don't make specific plans for working on this, then your project is likely to get pushed to the back burner. 

2. Capture Your Thoughts, Reactions and Impressions

 In addition to documenting the content of your research--for example, recording the results of an interview with someone in your dream career--you also want to take the time to capture some of your reactions and impressions. 

  • What emotions does your research evoke? Excitement? Anxiety? Boredom? 
  • What are some of the most surprising or memorable things you're discovering? If you interviewed someone, what surprised you about about what they shared? If you're gathering articles on your topic, what aspects of these articles are standing out for you? Why do you think this is the case?
  • What questions are bubbling up for you as you gather your research and inspiration? Be sure to document these as they can be clues to potential experiments you can run later. 

3. Capture key stories.

If you're talking to other people as part of your inspiration/research process--and you really should be--it's important to keep an eye out for the stories they are telling. Document these in your Inspiration Journal, along with why these stories captured your attention. Again, these can offer valuable clues for your project. 


The idea in this part of the Interpretation phase is to ensure that you are creating space to start making some sense of your research and inspirations. In a future post, we're going to look at how we search for themes and insights in our learning. To do this, though, we need to make sure that we are actually capturing that learning along the way.