By Anne Fisher
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- If you're like many of Katy Piotrowski's clients, the past year of economic chaos and workplace uncertainty has caused you to forget about career advancement and focus instead on just surviving. That's a natural response, of course.
But, says Piotrowski, a Colorado-based executive coach and author of "The Career Coward's Guide to Career Advancement" (Jist, $10.95), progress "is still important and attainable, even when the job market seems to be shrinking."
The best part is, you don't need to do anything radical: Piotrowski says that even small steps can yield surprising results, like more job security and, yes, even better job offers. Four ways to get going:
1. Join, and be active in, an association. If you're already a member of one or more, join another, "whether it's a professional group tied to your field or a local civic organization like Rotary," she says. "Their get-togethers force you to meet new people and learn new things."
2. Use all your talents. Maybe you're a good writer, but that isn't part of your job description. Piotrowski urges you to "compose articles that highlight your expertise and submit them to websites, blogs, and publications that can benefit from your know-how." Or let's say you're skilled at planning: "Put together an improvement proposal for some aspect of your job, and present it" to decision-makers. Putting all of your abilities to work will challenge you -- and get you noticed.
3. Create a list of 20 professional successes you accomplished in 2009. "Scan your calendar, status reports, and computer files to remind yourself of what you've faced and handled," Piotrowski suggests. "Then jot down a few key pieces of data about each success, including things like money saved and customers affected." She calls this a "success database", a valuable tool for writing a new resume, preparing for job interviews, and "reminding yourself that your career is making a difference." Who couldn't use a confidence-builder right about now?
4. Keep repositioning the "golden ring." A couple of years ago, before the recession started, you probably had a goal in mind. Whether or not you've already reached it, Piotrowski recommends that you take some time to reflect on "what will inspire you and jazz you career-wise in the future. Then jot down a new set of goals to keep you moving ahead."
Duncan Mathison, a career coach and co-author (with Martha I. Finney) of "Unlock the Hidden Job Market: 6 Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times Are Tough" (FT Press, $16.99), says there are three things you can do right now, today, to start you off right in 2010:
1. Shift your attention from the expedient to the important. "A real career disabler is choosing to focus first on the things you can get off your plate first, regardless of their importance," Mathison observes. "Instead, do what's most important first, and put off the unimportant -- even if it will 'just take a minute.'" Doing the things that best serve your career goals before you do anything else, he says, will keep you from frittering away precious time and energy on non-essentials.
2. Have a conversation with your manager about your job, your career goals, and where he or she sees you headed in the future. "Take the guesswork out of where you stand," Mathison suggests -- again, so you can devote more attention to what matters, which is where you're going next, either at this company or elsewhere.
3. Let go of the old and embrace the new. Change is tough, and there's been too much of it in recent months, but Mathison urges you to work up some genuine enthusiasm for new projects and ways of doing things, if you possibly can. "Don't take a 'wait and see' attitude," he says. "Gracefully end conversations with colleagues that involve whining about the good old days." They're gone.
Happy New Year to all!