How to Gain Traction in Your Career

These eight questions will help you progress in your field.


Without action, dreams remain little more than electrical charges in your brain. Action is the alchemical step that turns those dreams into reality. It’s a pretty straightforward idea, but if you’re anything like most people, you probably find that the right action doesn’t always happen at the right time (and sometimes it doesn’t even happen at all). Here are eight questions to ask yourself to help you make progress and gain traction in your career.

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1. What is my goal? This one seems a no-brainer, but it’s worth revisiting on a regular basis, first to make sure that you are keeping it on the top of your mind (the busyness and challenges of life can sometimes take top billing), and second, to make sure you still want to head in that direction.

2. What are my next possible steps? It often helps me to have a grab bag of next possible steps ready to pick from. Sometimes I feel like writing. Other times I’m in a mode where I can put on some music and do some of the mindless organization activities that need to be done. Still other times I’m in a space where my activity is best directed at reaching out to people and connecting. Having options (assuming there isn’t one mission-critical next step that needs to be done) increases the likelihood that I will actually stay productive.

[See more job advice at U.S. News Careers.]

3. What step do I need to take next? Once you know what your options are, ask yourself what step you need to take next. What next step is going to give me the biggest bang for my buck? What step is creating a bottleneck? What step needs to be taken before anything else? Or sometimes just: What step sounds like the most fun?

4. What is preventing me from taking that step? Occasionally, what keeps us from moving forward with our next steps is something that's getting in our way. If you find yourself balking on taking a step, this is a great question to pull out. Is it because you don’t know how to take it? Is it because you don’t have the resources to do it? Is it because you’re afraid to take it? The more clarity you have about what’s getting in your way, the more potential you have to get past it.

5. What resources do I need to take that step? How can I get them? If you realized in the last question that you don’t have the resources you need, that’s only part of the equation. The next step is identifying what resources you need and figuring out how to get them. Ask this question regularly as you are looking at next-step options, or any time you find yourself feeling stuck.

[See 4 Questions to Ask When You Want to Quit Your Job.]

6. What do I need to know in order to take this step? How can I gain that knowledge? If the obstacle you’re encountering has to do with a lack of knowledge, then the questions center on what knowledge you need and how you can gain it. Again, the idea is taking whatever obstacle you’re encountering and asking, “What do I need, and where can I find it?"

7. How am I spending my time? Is it moving me forward? Is my action in alignment with my goal? You can be busy until steam is coming out your ears, but if it’s not the right kind of busy, it’s all hamster-wheel action. Look at how you are spending your time. Is the action you are taking moving you in the right direction? Is it focused on a goal of secondary importance? Is it busywork?

8. What has been working? What hasn’t been working? All action and no reflection may get you where you want to go, but action mixed with reflection is likely to get you there faster. Spend some time examining the steps you’ve taken so far. Build on what has worked best and learn from what hasn’t.

As you incorporate action questions into the picture, you might try organizing an action group and get together once a week, or once a month, and explore the questions together. Each person can answer: What is your next step (or next five steps) and why? What is getting in your way? How can you overcome that?

The questions outlined here are fairly self-evident, but that doesn’t mean they’re not relevant. Many people get bogged down simply because they aren’t asking them regularly. Sometimes what is most needed isn’t the blinding flash of insight, but the mundane day-to-day awareness of what we need to be doing, why we’re not doing it, and how to solve that.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.


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