In my early days as a manager, I used to list out a dozen or more goals for my team at the start of the year (and even more for myself!).

There were so many things to be done, so many opportunities to chase and achievements to put on the board. We were buzzing with excitement.

But by the end of the year, everyone felt exhausted. Worse yet, in the frenzy of trying to meet all those targets, we didn’t always get the most important things accomplished. Our results suffered and my career prospects did too.  

I don’t want that to happen for you in your career.

That’s why I’m encouraging you to take a moment now to ask yourself this critical question:

“What’s the one thing I could work on now that would make the biggest difference for my career and life?”

Yes, you read that right. What’s the one thing?

There’s power in focusing. Like water coming through a garden hose. The wide-angle setting won’t remove the moss that’s grown between tiles on the patio but the concentrated setting will.

To help you home in on your “one thing”, here are four candidates to consider.

  • Get the support you need
  • Figure out the “who, not how”
  • Invest in your brand
  • Create a new habit

Get the support you need

As an achiever, I thought I needed to face every challenge by myself. Asking for help felt like cheating or admitting weakness. That meant reaching out to others for support was my last resort.

But after a few painful years of slogging forward on my own and missing a couple of promotions, I finally realized that when it comes to reaching big goals, it’s a mistake to go it alone.

Develop the skills to get recognized, promoted and paid more

It was once I joined forces with peers in masterminds, hired a coach and engaged a trainer who help me stay accountable that I reached my goals faster and more easily.

If I had only understood the power of teaming up with the right people sooner. I could have saved time and energy and things would have been more fun.

How about you? Where could you benefit from tapping into a structure that holds you accountable and helps you with midcourse corrections and direction?

Whether you’re going after a promotion, looking for your dream job or getting in shape, you’re likely to make faster progress with greater certainty by getting support from other people.

Where could you make progress more swiftly and with greater certainty by getting help from others?

Which brings us to the second candidate.

Figure out the “who, not how”

When feeling swamped by all the tasks you have to do is holding you back in your career, your “one thing” to focus on could be on doing less.

That probably sounds impossible at best and like the kind of thinking that’ll get you fired. But you might just be taking on more than you need to and standing in the way of your own success.

So before you dive into your to do list, take a page from Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy’s book “Who Not How” and ask yourself “who” you could get to do a task rather than “how” to do it yourself.

This is about arranging your work and life in a way that allows you to focus on the things you do best and feel energized by…  and ideally, that your organization values. Think of it as operating in your own zone of genius.

So look at how you’re spending your time and energy. To what extent is it on the things that energize you vs drain you?

And if your tendency is to do everything yourself, here’s something powerful a friend recommended that’s working for me:

  1. Make a list of all the tasks you do in a day.
  2. Pull out the things you like to do, that give you energy and you want to keep improving on.
  3. Then sort the rest by what you can “A/D/E”: Automate, Delegate or Eliminate.

So, what things are you doing that are not a good use of your time and energy and could be something someone else would love to do?

And if you’re having trouble delegating, think about what one of my team members said when I was trying to do it all myself: “Not giving your team work to do is selfish”.

This brings us to the third candidate.

Invest in your brand

In this world of virtual working, it’s challenging to be visible whether that’s with senior managers, clients or other stakeholders.

If your visibility and personal brand have taken a hit during the pandemic, then investing in your brand could be the linchpin move that helps you advance your career right now.

This could be as simple as reaching out to senior colleagues to build your network of relationships. If you’re feeling shy about reaching out, you’re not alone. But don’t let that stop you.

One of the alums from my How to Get Promoted program said she benefitted from the pandemic because it made it normal to reach out and cold-email senior people. What a great way to flip the assumption on its head and reframe!

Or you could build your brand by publishing. This could be sharing articles you’ve read with your take on it. Or you could write your own thought pieces. Publishing has never been easier whether it’s on social media, traditional publications or in-house newsletters.

When it comes to social media, you don’t even need to do it yourself. You can hire someone you trust to write in your voice and tell them the kind of themes and messages that you want to convey. When you add value to your audience, you also build your brand. It’s a win-win.

The key is to put yourself out there and expand your sphere of influence. And you can do so in a variety of ways, whether it’s through conversations, publishing your ideas, showing up in live meetings, or speaking to an audience.

So take a moment to think about how you want to be known and to whom, and how you can add value to those people. Then pick one to start with to build a foundation.

This takes us to the fourth candidate.

Career Mastery has been a game-changer for me. Wonderful, actionable advice that helps me be better than the day before.”

Carol Vincent

Create a new habit

Big gains can come from changing one small habit or element of your life.

For example, a team member recently bought a table top that made his existing desk height adjustable. I noticed that he was visibly happier and more energetic on our Zoom calls.

He said that being able to stand while he works has improved his mood and increased his productivity. Now he’s able to step back and take a mini-break, and then come back into his work without needing to readjust in his chair.

For you it could be as simple as going to bed 30 minutes earlier or swapping out the late-night glass of wine for a calming tea so you can wake up more refreshed.

Or imagine how much calmer you would feel if you stopped taking calls or looking at emails 15 minutes before you arrived home from your commute and used that time to get into a calm state so you can be more present for your family.

So, what’s the one habit you could stop or create that would make everything else you do easier?

The first step is to make a choice

Do you want to achieve your big goals and make your aspirations a reality? If so, then it’s time to focus on the single most important thing. The one thing that will make the biggest difference to your progress between now and the end of the year.

To prime your thinking, consider these four possibilities for your “one thing”:

  • Get the support you need – you’ll make greater progress toward your big goals by tapping into the power of people including peers, coaches, trainers and mentors.
  • Figure out the “who, not how” – arrange your life so that you’re spending most of your time operating in your zone of genius and find others to do the rest.
  • Invest in your brand – take the initiative to be visible with key stakeholders, whether through reaching out, speaking up, showing up or publishing.
  • Create a new habit – sometimes a single change in your normal routine can make an outsized difference in how you feel and perform and make everything easier.

What’s the one thing that will make the biggest difference to your career and life if you focused on it now?

Leave a comment below – I’d love to know.