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APU Careers Careers & Learning

Don’t Burn Your Backburner Projects

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By J. Thompson
Online Career Tips Staff

It’s the New Year. ‘Tis the season for resolutions, strategic planning, and remembering all those “backburner” projects lingering from 2012. You know, 2012, that bygone era. Here’s a novel idea to consider for 2013:

There’s no such thing as a backburner project.

Sounds strange, but if you take this approach you’ll maximize your effectiveness. How? More often than not, that backburner project eventually turns into that need-it-right-now project.

Let’s say your manager brings up a small project and instructs you to put it on the “backburner.” First, get that term out of your head. Instead, consider it a C priority. It’s still a priority. It’s just not an A priority. When you have extra time, do some research and shape a basic strategy, even if your manager’s concept isn’t clear. Use the opportunity to lay out an unbiased and unfettered concept by documenting it in a project plan or in PowerPoint. Put it in your hip pocket.

Small projects like these often come from offhand discussions based on limited information well before its time. Leaders are forecasting business needs on the horizon that don’t warrant top effort today. However, the day will come when there’s a critical business need and you’ll be able to provide an immediate strategic direction. And your manager and team will very much appreciate it.

By nurturing all projects, regardless of priority, it will demonstrate your ability to lead independently as long as it doesn’t negatively impact your top priorities. On the flip side, the last thing a manager wants to hear is, “but you told me to put it on the backburner.” That may be true, but if you weren’t prepared, you may have just missed a great opportunity to hit a homerun. And even if the project doesn’t see the light of day, the information and thought leadership you’ve documented can often be leveraged for other endeavors.

This year don’t get burned. Jettison backburner project from your vocabulary.

[Check out banished words of 2013]

J. Thompson is the Vice President of the Content team at American Public University. He earned an M.F.A in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles and performed his undergraduate studies in English literature, political science and business management between the University of New Mexico and East Carolina University. His career insights draw upon experience as a communications vice president supporting learning management, applicant tracking, and talent and leadership development for Bank of America and other Fortune 500 firms.

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