The Next Step

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Chinese Proverb

Andy Stanley said, “Think steps, not programs.” and this has stuck true with me. A step is what each and every one of us takes to make progress. A program can be the environment it occurs in. A step is that actual change that takes place; a program is that resource that you leverage off to make it. A step is that true personal and relational growth; a program is a framework that lets that happen.

Steps are the building blocks of movement. The last critical success factor in making the most of a year. Movement is the key to learning, internalising and growing into your best year ever. Making the decision to do the next most important thing serves the movement, and movement serves momentum. Keep making deliberate, purposeful progress towards your clear destination.

How do you make sure movement happens consistently, progressively and intentionally? Here are five ways I have learned:

ONE

Think Steps. As I noted in the introduction, thinking steps allows you to evaluate and decide what to do next. Being clear on your next best step allows you to take it, then the next one, the next one, and the one after that. The journey of a thousand steps truly does begin with the first one. Get clear on that single and specific step and take it. Develop the discipline to stay on course and accept the humility of taking a few steps at a time. The tortoise beats the hare remember!

The beauty of this discipline is that the more you choose to take just one step the clearer the next one becomes and the confidence to take it grows. You build a bank of evidence that you are on track and the next best next step IS to take the next best step.

TWO

Resource Up. Jim Rohn is quoted as saying, “You will be the sum total of your books, tapes and associations five years from now.” Bearing in mind, the technological changes since that thought, the idea remains strong. What I put IN is ultimately what will come out. What I feed my heart and soul will influence my thoughts and words. To resource up means to ruthlessly select ‘books, tapes and associations’ that will serve and leverage your next year. Leave out anything that doesn’t serve your overall objective. Stop any downloads, programs, emails, updates or alerts that won’t move you closer to your preferred destination. Add in only those resources that will serve your life themes and your overall picture of the future.

Find your preferred learning style, reading, listening, designing, drawing, walking, running and leverage that. Invest in the right number of experiences and opportunities for you to get to where you say you want to be.

THREE

Tension Your Priorities (Don’t order them). Zig Ziglar says, “The most productive day of your life is the day before annual leave.” Zig is right. Have you noticed how efficiently you can get through the in-tray, delete the emails and respond to phone messages just before you are off for a holiday? Amazing that we can’t be that productive all the time. Imagine when you are! Imagine having the habit of focus and disciplined execution to be present to the things that require your attention at that time.

I don’t list my priorities. I keep them in a circle, tensioned against each other. When I am at work, I’m not being a great Dad. When I’m camping with my son, I’m not tending to the professional responsibilities I have. Nor should I. At work, be at work. At home, be at home. I realise we are wired and on much more than ever before, I am too. What I’m suggesting is that we need to be fully present to the responsibility in our hand at that time. Even the people I work with benefit from this. Sometimes we work together and sometimes we play. Be clear on which is which and do it with passionate abandonment. Be present where your feet are.
I serve my workplace, but it’s not my master. That role is filled. By keeping my priorities in tension, I can be clear about which one gets the best of me at that time. Helping me to stay focused and present.

FOUR

Create A Not To DO list. Made famous by Jim Collins in Good To Great. Popularised by Tim Ferris and leveraged by one and all wanting to be as effective as possible. The not to do list serves your focus. It also empowers you to decide what is REALLY important. A not to do list helps me work out the difference between what I want to do, what I can do and what I will get done. A not to do list consistently serves to focus you by asking what is ON TOP of my list.

Sean Kim’s article on Not to Do Lists argues that it serves innovation and it helps you ‘avoid distractions in order to focus on accomplishing the things that matter.’ Choosing the things that you DO and choosing the things that you DON’T DO matter equally to Sean Kim. Both are designed to serve your effectiveness and productivity. Sean rightly concludes, “You can’t be a superstar if you try to do everything.” Sean is right.

FIVE

Overcome the Three Setbacks. Generally but not exhaustively three things that will get in your way when it comes to effectiveness over the next year can be traced back to these three areas, distraction, disappointment and discouragement. When you have strategies to recognise and address these obstacles, you can be more assured of your continued effectiveness. Don’t be surprised when the obstacles occur, be diligent; create a game plan that will address the issues as quickly and effectively as possible.

Distraction. This happens when you hear yourself or someone else says “I’m off track.” It’s when other things have become more important than the most important things. It’s when you have a number of competing priorities and deadlines and can’t seem to get things done as effectively as you previously could.

The antidote to distraction is not focussing. The antidote to distraction is stillness. Take some time to stop, sit and reflect on what’s happening around you and mentally form a plan to move forward. Think, plan, execute. Stillness allows you to regain focus, composure and confidence.

Disappointment. This is when you believe you have been let down, usually by people, and often by people closest to you. This is a fact of life and a fine line exists between leading yourself through the ups and downs of relationships, guarding yourself against the ups and downs of relationships and expecting things to let you down. This is the ‘inside job’ of personal development right here. Not everything will go to plan, so have a plan for when things don’t go to plan.

The antidote to disappointment is forgiveness. It frees you from the need to be bound to the unhelpful behaviour of another. It also guards your heart against being hard for any subsequent setbacks. It gives you the pleasure of a light soul and a clean slate to move forward. Nothing is more tragic than a heart hardened by issues that can be resolved by forgiveness.

Discouragement. This is when what you set out to do, looks harder to accomplish and further away than you thought it would be. It’s when your reality seems disconnected from your dream. The further away it looks, the harder it can be to pick yourself up and take the next best step. It’s that point when making it, looks further away than it ever has. Discouragement is what happens when what you were sure would happen hasn’t happened. It’s a critical leadership moment to make wise, considered and courageous choices to make positive progress.

The antidote to discouragement is not courage; it’s perspective. When you take the time to reflect on what the big picture is and how you can navigate your way through your current reality, there seems to be a strangely intuitive way of clarifying what is really going on. And what the realistic options are moving forward. When you have a helicopter view, you have options, that’s the gift of perspective.

Hoping to avoid these setbacks is fanciful at best. Having strategies to overcome them is both wise and empowering. Avoiding setbacks is unavoidable. Doing something about them is critical. The more you take your next best step, the closer you’ll be to your preferred future. That sounds worth doing, wouldn’t you agree?

QUESTION: What have you learned that helps you take your next best step? I’d love you to share your thoughts.