Instead of New Year’s resolutions, I’ve found it more effective to choose a word or phrase to live by.

This year, it’s about being strategic.

For my business, that means establishing clear goals, setting priorities, leveraging our assets, and making good choices about what my team and I do and how we do it. And regularly monitoring our progress so we can make adjustments along the way.

I didn’t fully appreciate this until late in my corporate career when chatting with our head of Talent Development – let’s call her Margo – at our firm’s offsite for senior women.

During a coffee break, she observed that I’d had an “amiable career”. One where I did whatever the firm asked me to do whether that was changing departments, moving overseas or taking on a difficult client base. It was not a compliment.

She made it sound like I had taken the path of least resistance in my career. That if I’d been more strategic and played my cards better, I would have been more successful.

Of course, this was just Margo’s opinion. But her words have stuck with me because the core of what she said is true. It’s up to me to take charge and adopt a strategic approach to my career. And the same is true for you.

If you’d like to be more strategic about your career, stay tuned because we’ll be opening registration soon to my annual free summit, Career Mastery™ Kickstart, to help you start the year strong and set you up for success.

In the meantime, here are three ways to be more strategic in your career and life.

  1. Do what matters most
  2. Play to your strengths
  3. Connect the dots

Let’s start with the first way.

Make sure you do what matters most

It’s easy to get caught up in the urgent at the expense of what’s truly important. So I’ve started asking this question that my mastermind group suggested:

“What’s the one thing that would have the biggest impact if I did it this year?”

You can also ask this question every quarter, every month and even every day to make sure you’re doing what matters most.

Personally, the thing that will have the biggest impact for me this year is making friends with my inner worrier. I’d like this year to be the one where I finally break free from the worry habit that’s been a drag on me for years.

Professionally, it’s being strategic about which projects my team and I take on so that everything we do is aligned and builds on each other. Equally important is saying “no” or “not now” to everything else.

And make sure you’re doing what matters most to you

Whether it’s your personal or professional life, there are many well-meaning people who have an opinion on what you should or must do to be successful.

But they’re speaking from their own lens on the world, not yours. And listening to them will pull you in directions you may not want to go, which leads to regret.

Stop listening to them for a moment and get in touch with what you think truly matters. It’s the best way to ensure you live a life of no regrets. The life you want to lead.

To my former colleagues, leaving a high-paying job to become a coach, speaker and author seemed radical. But for me, helping people become better leaders and more successful in their careers as they define it is far more rewarding.

So check in with yourself on a regular basis to make sure you’re doing what really matters to you.

This brings us to the second way to be more strategic.

Play to your strengths

I like to think broadly about strengths to include all the things that make you strong. In a work context, it starts with your skills, traits and qualities. And it also includes your accomplishments, resources, interests and network of relationships.

What’s in your inventory of strengths? How good a fit is there with the career you’ve chosen and how could you apply your strengths in a bigger way?

When you build your career on the foundation of your strengths, you’ll have a far better chance of success and standing out in a positive way. You’ll also have more fun.

This came into play when I was choosing between two internal jobs. The derivatives structuring group was higher paying and more prestigious. The client-facing market coverage group was less respected and lower paid.

My colleagues couldn’t believe I’d pass up the chance to work in the derivatives group, but that’s exactly what I did.

In this case, being strategic meant choosing a job where I could lean into my strengths with people rather than struggling to stand out against a group of math geniuses with my good-not-great quantitative abilities.

When you play to your strengths, you’ll have a greater chance of success while also having a more enjoyable time.

This leads us to the third way.

Show that you can connect the dots

At work, a sure way to demonstrate your strategic thinking abilities is to join up various dots – which could be pieces of information, ideas or even people – to add value in a bigger way.

It could be as simple as asking yourself, “who else needs to know this?” For example, when a team member heard about a merger falling through, he came to me and said, “I just heard the XYZ deal is falling through. Does that mean we can rekindle the project we have with their subsidiary?”

And when you and your team have had an accomplishment, you could show up as more strategic (and helpful) by asking, “who else would benefit from doing this?” Then sharing your insights with those people. By the way, this not only shows you understand the bigger picture, it also helps you show up as helpful and leader-like.

It pays to go the next step to connect the dots in your area of work. To what extent could you connect the dots in your area of work?

But what if you have no time to be strategic?

It’s hard to be strategic when you’re constantly in fire-fighting mode. Frankly, that’s a sign that it’s absolutely urgent that you set aside time to think.

And guard that time as if it’s with the person you’re most afraid of cancelling on. For me that was the meeting I finally secured with a new client prospect. Who is it for you?

Just don’t fall into the trap of making fire-fighting a habit

Fire-fighting mode can be addicting because it comes with an adrenalin rush. The danger is when fire-fighting becomes a habit that starts dictating your days, which can look like you’re constantly bailing water without fixing the leak.

The longer-term risk is that you’ll wake up one day and find yourself way off course because you’ve been too busy with urgent tasks to notice.

So don’t let something or someone else rule your life without your permission. Remember, you don’t “have to” do everything. And you’re not the only person who can do everything you do.

Instead, take time out to be strategic by remembering to:

  • Do what matters most – don’t let the urgent distract you from what’s important to you.
  • Play to your strengths – you’ll have greater success making full use of your skills, assets and resources and have more fun too!
  • Connect the dots – show you understand the bigger picture and add value by thinking beyond the task at hand.

So, how could you be more strategic about your career and which of these three ways would help you most?

Leave me a comment and let me know!

And stay tuned for the announcement about our free Career Mastery™ Kickstart Summit 2021, which starts later this month, to start the new year strong and set yourself up for success!