I spend a lot of time talking with students and young entrepreneurs. A common question I hear from young professionals is, “How do I get to the next level in my career?” Then they ask, “Is it about working harder? Is it about working smarter? Is it about taking more risk?”
Among this group, one skillset that stands out as needing development is what I call focus discipline. I too struggled with this skill when I was younger. Most young professionals have wide-ranging ideas, energies, passions, goals, and ambitions — and much that they want to accomplish. And it's all too easy to bounce from one to the next. Therefore, I always advise young professionals to seriously think about what they want to accomplish: “Figure out where you want to see yourself in the next 12, 18, 24 months, and then develop a focus on getting there.”
It is extremely important to get your arms around a focus. Whether it becomes a five-year plan or an annual goal, concentrate on what you truly want to achieve and accomplish. I'm a big strategy guy. In fact, at my company we do strategic planning every year, and then we revisit and update our strategy mid-year. We all set goals and initiatives that are very specific, achievable, measurable — and in writing.
Once you set your goals, begin planning what you need to do in order to reach them. Who do you need to be working with or around? Where do you need to be prioritizing your time? It all has to start with an overall general focus.
I've been very fortunate. Even though I've had much success as a business owner during my 35-year career, I still sit down every year and make a list of goals. And I revisit those goals every few months. I occasionally remove one if it becomes irrelevant, and sometimes I add another one. But generally, my goals stay the same. I wish I could say I hit every one of my goals each year, but I do not. There have been times when I’ve carried a goal on my list for five or six years, but it never diminished in importance.
My point is this: after all these years, I still focus on who and what I want to be. Unwavering focus is the single most important piece of advice I have to give —especially to the young entrepreneur, who's just starting out in business.