My parents still use the same AOL email account that we got when I was in high school in the 1990s. Twenty years later, my dad often hunches over the computer keyboard with a befuddled look on his face as he waits for their computer to boot up and I think he might be listening for the buzzing and hissing of the dial-up phone line connection.
I always swore I would remain abreast of the current technology and not be caught in the past like my parents, but after taking a number of years off to raise my children, I have found myself dragging behind the times a bit. Now that I’ve returned to work, I can’t help but feel a bit out of sync and disconnected. There have been many new advances and changes in the workplace that have become apparent over these few short years. While the working world was learning how to take advantage of Google Apps and use social media for business, I was changing diapers, puréeing baby food (and then cleaning up the regurgitated messes), and spending agonizing sleepless nights waiting for one child or another to stop screaming. Re-entering the workforce feels a bit to me like how the advent of email must have felt to my parents back in the day; overwhelming and complex and confusing.
Now that it has been a few months since I’ve officially started working again, I’ve collected a few tips that might make the process a lot less stressful for others facing a similar re-entry. But first things first- take a deep breath. Then, jump right back in with confidence and know that with time, everything will make sense and be manageable.
Get back up to speed in your industry
A lot has probably happened during your hiatus, especially if your professional field is fast-paced and dynamic. I know after five plus years out of the education world and the classroom, I felt as though the terminology, issues-at-hand and technology had certainly shifted noticeably and I was a few steps behind. It’s important to take the time to re-focus yourself on the factors at play in your industry as well as the new lexicon. Sign up for newsletters, read articles and websites online, meet with folks who can help you get re-acquainted with the happenings in your field.
Orient yourself early
If possible, spend some time before you actually start working getting up to speed on all the systems in place…your email, computer, calendar, databases, office layout, daily schedule, payroll, etc. If you are familiar with all these aspects of your new position ahead of time, you don’t have to spend a lot of extra time dealing with logistics as you get oriented in your new role. For me, having to use a new Salesforce database and Google Calendar, Hangouts and Drive really threw me for a loop after being minimally connected to technology the past few years. I have been slightly embarrassed by the number of questions I’ve had to ask about things that are probably pretty straightforward for most working folks these days, but I’ve had to come to grips with the fact that a lot has changed on my computer since my kids came along.
Make connections and ask for help
Talk with your (often younger) colleagues about how to navigate the new methods of working and communicating in your industry. Your team is your best support system as you re-enter the workplace! Set up times to talk individually with your colleagues; get to know them and ask lots of questions. Since going back to work, I’ve found my team to be an incredible sanity-saver as I try to figure out how to do my job effectively and also with humor; I would be very isolated and lost without them. Being open and asking for feedback from your colleagues or supervisors can also be valuable as you re-orient yourself to the workplace and your new role.
Practice effective time management
Re-starting your career, especially when you have competing priorities and demands elsewhere, can be messy and complicated. Schedule your time as effectively as possible so you can be present and focused when you need to work. I know that as the mom of three little ones, I have to be mindful of how I spend every hour of every day. There is always something I could be doing and someone always needs me, no matter what time of day or night. I am therefore learning to focus on the most pressing priorities, and I try not to get distracted by non-urgent matters. I also aim to set aside chunks of time during the day where I avoid other interruptions that can get in the way of my work. Now that I have to juggle so many competing priorities, I actually find it easier to sit down and work since I know I have a limited amount of time in which to complete my projects.
Set limits about what you can and can’t do
With the steep learning curve that comes along with a new position, think carefully about what “extras” you are able to take on. I was the queen of volunteering when I was teaching- raising my hand for every extra opportunity that came my way, leading too many clubs, serving on all possible committees. Now, I have to be realistic about what will work for my new schedule and new position as well as for my family. Is there an extra project that you are dying to work on? Or do you feel like you should do it just to show you are working hard? Think carefully about your work choices; be realistic and don’t sign up for too much, especially at first. Focus instead on doing your required work well and hitting your stride in the new role.
Give yourself a break!
Starting any new job is a big transition. That transition, when coupled with re-entering the working world after a hiatus, is even more complex. It is easy to lose confidence and a positive outlook when you are managing multiple priorities, demands and deadlines, especially when you’re already feeling overwhelmed. I often get upset when I feel like I wasn’t productive or I am not contributing enough to my team. Try not to be hard on yourself and just do and learn as much as you can each and every day. Balance and patience are key as you strive to remain your most authentic working self. With time, everything will become smoother and you will feel settled with your new role and responsibilities. Jumping back onto your career path is exciting and challenging, but with a little preparation and mindfulness (and technology coaching?!) you will be poised to succeed.