One of the best pieces of business advice I ever heard was this: don’t focus on what you need to do ten years from now. Focus on what you need to do today.
What does it mean? Well, most of us have a vision in our heads of how we want our business and life to look. We want to be hitting a certain revenue figure or have X percent of market share or drive a certain kind of car or live in a certain kind of house.
To be sure, we need long-term goals to be successful. It’s a proven fact that people with clear, actionable goals are more likely to succeed than those who lack direction.
But it’s a double-edged sword. Often, we’re so obsessed with this long-term goal that we stress ourselves out trying to wrap our heads around how on earth we’ll get there.
We expect a clear set of steps that will lead us from where we are to where we want to be, but that’s like jumping from point A to point Z. In reality there will be many, many smaller milestones and shifts of direction along the way to our bigger objective.
Instead of focusing on the step you’ll take immediately before you hit that revenue goal or buy that dream home, you need to focus on the step you’ll take right now, in the present moment, to move you forward.
I remember listening to an interview with Oprah Winfrey (this was years ago, before everything went straight to YouTube, and though I’ve tried I’ve never been able to track down the exact clip. If you’ve seen it, give me a shout!).
She was asked about whether she ever dreamed she’d be so successful, and her answer was fascinating. She said if anyone had told her when she was young where she’d end up, she might have been paralyzed because it would have seemed so impossible.
As you may know, Winfrey was born into poverty and had an extremely difficult upbringing before starting her career, which also wasn’t without its share of challenges. Had she known she was destined to become one of the wealthiest and most influential women in the world, she might have been too overcome with fear or uncertainty to take the next small step toward her staggering success.
But she didn’t know. She didn’t focus on what she needed to do to become the Oprah Winfrey, household name. She focused on what she needed to do to graduate college. Then to get a job in radio. Then to take her program to television. Then to launch The Oprah Winfrey Show.
See how it works? Every little piece adds up to the greater whole, but if you’re consumed by getting straight to the finish line, you’ll never achieve the smaller victories necessary to make it there—and in fact, you may even limit your own potential.
Playing The Long Game
We should all be playing the long game. That’s what entrepreneurship is at its core, after all. It’s sticking with something you believe in long enough for it to become profitable and scale.
To play the long game and avoid becoming paralyzed by the bigger picture, follow these tips.
Rethink Your To-Do List
Our to-do lists are typically structured by time-sensitivity—things that urgently need to get done today, followed by things that should get done in the next few days, followed by not-so-urgent tasks.
But instead of focusing on how soon something needs to get done, try restructuring your to-do list based on how much impact the task will make in the long run.
That “urgent” email you need to send or conference call you need to have? How much of an impact does it have on the big-picture operation of your business? 80% of the time, probably not much.
Whenever possible, delegate or automate these urgent but non-impactful tasks so more of your time is freed up to focus on projects that actually move your business closer to your long-term goals.
Trust The Process
Hard work yields results. Period. But here’s the spot where a lot of people get hung up: the results might not be what you expected.
This goes back to getting caught up with the outcome—being so focused on the finish line that you forget to put one foot in front of the other.
When you’re busy taking steps to improve your business, new avenues open up. Relationships develop. Opportunities unfold. Things you couldn’t have factored into your plan suddenly come your way, and some of them will contribute to your success.
To take advantage of these things, you can’t plan every little detail of your path toward achieving your goals. You need to have faith in the process.
Take The Next Best Step
Don’t stop moving forward.
Just as a wise investor holds steady through times of market turmoil, the wise entrepreneur doesn’t waver or bail out during the ups and downs of running a business. He knows and expects that they’ll be there, and holds steady taking the next best step for his business even after a setback.
When you face a challenge, stop despairing over how it’ll affect you ten years from now (chances are, it won’t). Instead, focus on what you can do to overcome it today.
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