When it comes to business priorities, focusing on the customer is usually at the top of the list. There's a reason "the customer is always right" has become a given. You can test this. Go to your coworkers and ask them who their most important customer is. For some, especially in sales and support, they will name external customers -- those who pay your company for products and services. For others, especially in IT, that answer might not be the end customer. That's because the impact of IT's work -- whether it be coding, project managing, or architecture -- is inside the company. Sure, it enables others to work better with external customers, but the customer IT worries about is inside the company. Here's the thing: I think the most important customer you have is... you. Now, I've strongly advocated in the past that your manager is your most important customer. And there are a ton of good reasons for that thinking, given how powerfully your current manager can impact our work and career. But I've changed my mind. I think too many of us write down our list of things to do for the day, get five surprises along with a hundred interruptions, come home to do all our chores, and then crash out. The next morning, we get up and do it all over again. The problem with this approach is that you are the engine of your work. Your work has value. To continue to supply that value, you have to have some time and effort to take care of you, the engine. Even when you know you need to take care of yourself, it doesn't matter -- you never, ever put it on your list of things to do. So whatever you need. doesn't get done. Personally, if I don't take care of my stuff first thing in the morning, it doesn't get done. And I need to argue with myself to do my stuff first because it is such an easy trap to look at the unread emails, the unheard voicemails, and the constant ping of instant messaging. Stephen Covey called this need "sharpening the saw." It's a good analogy. If you don't stop to sharpen the saw, it gets harder and harder for it to work effectively. It's related to another of Covey's principles, in that you need to be working on the important, not just the urgent. Today, the urgent drowns out the important. All the time. So, what's this important stuff you should be doing for you?

Building job skills

Job skills are the tools that you put on your resume that will get you the initial interview. If you don't have the "right" job skills, you won't get called in. The electronic trash bin is your future. Taking the time to stay on trends for skills needed, researching training or taking time inside your company to use your adjacent job skills are all good examples of ensuring you are your most important customer.

Building your business network

Going to lunch with coworkers, having an informational interview inside your company, taking the time to attend a professional organization meeting, and -- most importantly -- supporting the people in your business network all need to be on your to-do list. Your business network supports employment, not job, security. Continuously learning and improving job skills while supporting and growing your network is the best possible protection in the job market.

Marketing Your Work

Marketing is about ensuring your resume is updated, that your online profiles are maintained, that you've captured your accomplishments all year long to prepare for the performance review -- or the promotion. The key to marketing is consistency. The time to be marketing your work is... all the time. Not when you need a job because you got laid off. We're terrible at doing this work. But it's important to do.

It's Not Self-Absorption

All of this stuff is important to building and maintaining a career. It's important when it comes time to do the next -- and inevitable -- job search. We ignore it, though, despite the importance of sharpening the saw and building are own worth. This needs to be part of our work -- what we do every day to build our career and protect our family's income. And the only way to get there is to treat ourselves as our most important customer. So: Who's your most important customer? Tell me by posting a comment below.

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