Focus on What Matters

Sheila Murphy

We have all seen action movies where the bad guy detonates a bomb, and it is ticking off the time to the explosion. In those moments, the hero does not bother to learn how the bomb operates, he wants to know how to stop the detonation. They are focusing on what matters. Usually, this results in straightforward instructions about what wires to cut.

It would be best to do the same when you are looking for a new outcome in your career, whether it is the next promotion or building a book of business. You want to invest your time in those items with the most significant impact. Moreover, here is what you need to understand - it differs by person and by where you are at the moment.

For example, early in your career, you may need to concentrate on building your reputation in a particular industry. It may be more impactful to spend most of your efforts on networking or honing your selling as time goes on. And then, if your market shifts and you need to pivot into some new industries, you may be back to building that reputation.

Here are three steps to ensure that you are focusing on the right things:

Evaluate What is Holding You Back.

You should know the one or two things that would most significantly impact your career trajectory if you did them differently. To determine these things, you may need to investigate what others believe is important and where they think you have been lacking. For example, what feedback have you received from client pitches or interviews? Another data point may be what your competition is doing. You do not want to copy the competition. Instead, you want to understand if there is something you are missing or if there is a way to distinguish yourself.

It is also best to talk to trusted advisors about their thoughts as to what you should be doing differently. In these types of conversations, it is best to write down word-for-word the suggestions and then compare notes from the various people you talk to. Remember, what you change does not have to be something new--it may be doubling efforts on networking or increasing the reach of your professional profile.

Assess Where You Spend Your Time.

Time is finite—so if you are going to focus on one item, something else will need to go. For example, if you need to increase your external networking, you may need to decrease your time on an internal committee or networking.  

Be ruthless in guarding this time and investing only in what you have set it aside for. I have seen many clients free up time on their calendar only to have filled up with new items that do not relate to those one or two things that are most important.

Generate a Plan.

To make a change, you need to have a well-thought-out plan. Set aside time to think about how you shake up those one to two things you are focusing on.

First, you should brainstorm and put down all the possible things you could do to change how you operate. Put down everything - no matter how expensive or crazy it sounds. And then begin to whittle down and hone your plan of attack. As we have discussed, your actions should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound). Make sure your plan has you doing new things. If you do the same things you have been doing, you cannot expect a different result.

Remember that some of the things you may be working on may not happen overnight, but you must make the change. Meeting new people rarely turns into a new client in two weeks but over time, with the right approach, you can make it happen.

The same is true of building leadership skills. You may not be a natural at galvanizing teams toward a vision. However, by understanding best practices and incorporating them into your conversations and approaches, you will earn a new reputation over time.

Your plan should include check-in points to see where you are and the impact it is having. During these check-in points, you want to see if you should be adding something else to the mix.

Once you know where to invest your time to have the greatest impact and you have a well-thought-out plan, you are well on your way to improving your career trajectory. So get started now because time is ticking.


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