How to achieve great things
A version of this article appeared at Inc.com.
You’re good. You wouldn’t be where you are if you weren’t. But you know you’re capable of better than good – you’re capable of achieving truly great things.
Problem is, days go by, then weeks, months – maybe even years – and you’re still cranking out good. You’ve yet to design that unbelievable product, write that great novel, dominate that market. Everyone admires you, but you’ve a growing sense of disappointment in yourself.
How do you change that dynamic? How do you move from delivering ‘good’, to delivering ‘Holy cow’? Try these five steps:
First things first – if you want to achieve something great, best decide what it’s going to be.
This may seem like a flash of the blindingly obvious, but I’ve noticed an interesting and consistent positive correlation between those who know what they want to achieve and those who achieve great things. As my mother used to say, “If you aim at nuthin’, you’ll hit it.”
Can you jot down – now – on a notepad the two or three great things you want to achieve? No? Then start there.
2. Plan ruthlessly, execute relentlessly.
The highly successful leaders I work with distinguish themselves from the merely competent by one thing: They have a plan, they work the plan, but they aren’t trapped by the plan.
While this sounds like a simple mantra, merely competent leaders stumble in its execution – specifically, they either design a plan, but don’t work it; or they work the plan, but shudder to a halt when they reach a barrier or uncover a problem.
The answer? Once you start implementing, don’t stop until you’ve finished. Adapt on the fly, improvise as best as you can, but unless something truly horrendous will happen otherwise, keep going.
Here’s a small example of what I mean: I deliver a lot of online webinars. Some of them are ‘canned’ (recorded in advance) and some of them are live. I’ve noticed that with the canned webinars, I’ll often start and restart many times, unhappy with my choice of words or the tone I’ve struck. With the live webinars, once I’ve started, I’ve no option but to keep going. And guess which webinars almost always turn out to be more vibrant, and better received? The live ones.
3. Get out of your inbox
Leaders in thrall to their inbox – once only apparent when you visited someone at their office, now, you can see it everywhere: peck, peck, peck; on airplanes, at lunch, during restroom breaks – any where, any time there is a minute to spare.
Here’s the thing: if you’re in thrall to your inbox, you’re working to other people’s agenda, not your own (a view I was intrigued to see shared by one surprising individual).
It may be over-promoted and it’s often over-complicated, but the ability to achieve Inbox Zero (or something close to it) isn’t optional for great leaders. If you’re serious about achieving great things, you need the time and space to do it, and if you’re using every break available to scroll through your inbox (or your social media stream), then I have news for you – you ain’t doing great things.
4. Get out of your office
You truly want to achieve great things? Get the heck out of your office.
Not just because it removes you from all the interruptions and distractions that being in your own environment makes you subject to, but because it takes you out of the comfort zone of maintenance activities.
Your office desk, chair and computer monitor is where you do the 80% of merely good work, day in, day out. Find a retreat space, a unique corner somewhere, where you can specifically go to work on your major achievements. It may be a conference room down the hall, it may be the local coffee shop, it may be a broom cupboard – doesn’t matter – just find a space that isn’t the place where you do ‘normal stuff’.
5. Review, revise, adapt, push on.
It’s day two. You’ve made a start on your great project. What to do today? Try this formula I arrived at in achieving one of my own big goals: Review what you did yesterday; revise anything that looks a little off; adapt your overall plan as necessary, and most importantly, push on.