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How to Stay Focused on Your Career Goals When You’re Working From Home During a Pandemic

3 ways to maintain your professional momentum and keep your career from stalling even during unprecedented circumstances.

Young mother working from home
Young mother working from home

Conference calls in pajamas. Excel spreadsheets in bed. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the professional lives for those of us lucky enough to be able to work from home—and left all of us worried about our job security.

There’s a ton of advice out there about how best to work from home while self-quarantined. Still, most of it tends to be about getting through tasks and maintaining day-to-day productivity. That, in itself, is a struggle.

But it’s also essential to come up with strategies to maintain your professional momentum. I know it’s hard even to think a few days into the future. But one day, this situation will end. And if you try some of these moves below, you’ll be able to keep your career goals on track. Even better? Following them now can boost your confidence in your professional and financial future.

1. Take advantage of virtual networking and learning.

Usually, tuning into a webinar isn’t a substitute for face-to-face time. But not in the age of social distancing. Trade organizations and networking groups are now offering virtual conferences, panels, coaching sessions, and “happy hours” to engage their audiences while everyone’s confined indoors. These digital gathers are much more affordable than in-person events (many are even free), and you can connect with people from all over the world. It’s a win-win.

Make sure you choose mindfully and don’t overload your calendar. Your time is valuable, especially when you have long-term professional development in mind. “Time is limited, and not all webinars are created equal,” Rachel Burstein wrote in a fantastic Harvard Business Review guide to getting the most out of webinars. “When selecting which webinars to attend, consider how much value each will provide for particular projects with which you’re involved. Think about your other commitments.”

2. Do that professional growth exercise you’ve been putting off.

While what may happen six months, let alone six days, from now is so uncertain, you can still plan for the future. Spend some time to reflect on where you want to be five or ten years from now. (Besides outside.) There are a lot of fantastic future career planning exercises available for free online, such as the University of California at Berkeley’s Career Clarity or the 100 Dreams exercise.

You could also try creating a vision board. I used to think these were cheesy. But for many people, they allow you to express what you want and meditate on how to get there. Vision boards “add clarity to your desires and feeling to your visions,” says to career expert Christine Kane. She wrote a book about how to get the most out of them without feeling like you’re time-traveling back to your elementary school scrapbook days.

3. Start your side hustle—but only if you’re bored and have energy to burn.

Hint started as a side hustle. I was working for AOL, trying to kick my Diet Coke habit that was exhausting me and wrecking my health. Eventually, I quit soda cold turkey and started infusing my water with fruit to give myself a tasty alternative. I didn’t think of turning it into a company until I realized I could help other people ditch their soda addictions. That’s the key to figuring out a side hustle that you’ll want to pursue for years or decades to come. Ask yourself, “How can I help?” rather than “How can I make more money?”

“A side hustle should be something that takes your knowledge, experience, skills, or passions and converts them into a product or service that can help other people,” author Lauren Eckhardt wrote last year in The Startup. “It’s the classic model of people helping people.”

I’ll be blunt: In an uncertain economic climate, you shouldn’t expect a side hustle to pay much (or at all) immediately. Please don’t go into it thinking that it will bring in meaningful income for a year or more. It might, however, rescue you from boredom while you’re staying at home and unable to see friends. And it can position you to make significant, sweeping career changes once the coronavirus crisis is over. You can use this time to enrich your professional momentum rather than letting it slow to a crawl.

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