Personal Productivity and Strategic Career Planning

“You’ve got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” — Yogi Berra.

“Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.” — William Jennings Bryan.

“The secret of achievement is to hold a picture of a successful outcome in the mind.” — Henry David Thoreau.

Your company has a strategic plan for success. Do you?

You should, if you expect to maximize your personal productivity and create success in the long term. Business is no place for flying by the seat of your pants. While you’ll want to exercise flexibility in your career, moving forward without a firm destination in mind wastes time and energy, and it may leave you too unfocused to accomplish much of consequence.

As a rule, success doesn’t just happen. While the occasionally lottery win does occur, you can never depend on luck, especially in something as competitive as the modern American workplace. Instead, you’ll need to create your own success, through the application of careful planning, persistence, and the sweat of your brow.

From Here to There

Begin your planning phase by establishing a clear, realistic picture of where you stand right now. Analyze not just your current career, but also your personal nature, from a variety of angles. Don’t sugarcoat what you find; distinguish and highlight your deficiencies, so you can correct them as necessary.

Take into account your current level of education, training, and personal resources (wealth, relationships, talents, etc.), and ask yourself where they can take you. Then define your core values, and think about how they can help you achieve whatever “success” means to you. Would you prefer that corner office on the top floor, a six-figure salary, or simply a good, steady job you can enjoy for your entire career?

Next, consider the following questions:

• Do you like your current job?
• Can you see yourself remaining in your current career for the long haul?
• Does your current career provide the kind of lifestyle you want?
• Does your family place any constraints on your career choices?
• Does your personality constrain your career choices?
• Does where you live limit your opportunities?
• What do you like doing?
• What do you hate doing?
• What would you refuse to do under any circumstances?
• Do you have any passions you’d like to explore?
• What’s your dream job?

Once you’ve done that, compare what you’ve found to your ultimate goal for your career. The latter needn’t be fancy at this point. Something like “I want to run the company someday” or “I want to make a million dollars” may seem fairly simplistic, but they represent something to shoot for. You can work out the details later. Don’t fall prey to the lure of perfectionism; you’ll never get far if you keep spinning your wheels.

Charting Your Course

After you’ve pinned down your starting point and know the right general direction to strike out in, start building the road to your future.

Along the way, select clear landmarks to keep you in line. Formulate a mission statement: a concise, clear statement of what you want to accomplish in the short term, using definitive action terms. For example, a freelance writer might decide: “I want to hone my writing skills and continue educating myself until I can regularly sell articles in my chosen field.”

A vision statement, then, is an extension of your mission, one that reaches out to the long term (at least a decade). Avoid pie-in-the-sky generalities; base your vision on achievable reality, and make it something definite and not easily changed. The writer might take as his vision: “I want to advance within my field until I’m recognized as a top expert, achieving financial security and supporting myself exclusively with my writing.”

With your mission and vision in place, you can then extend the self-analysis outlined in the previous section with a SWOT analysis. Consider the following as you develop your career path:

• Strengths
• Weaknesses
• Opportunities
• Threats

Again, assess all these factors honestly, so you know which new milestones to set in order to get from here to there in as straight a line as possible. Then think about what you need to do to achieve those milestones. For example, an instructive relationship with a mentor might help you knock off some of your rough edges and speed up your learning curve. You may want to polish up your ROI by obtaining additional training or education; if so, don’t hesitate, even if you have to pay for it yourself. If your current job won’t take you where you want to go, or you find yourself hampered by a micromanager or a decaying corporate structure, consider looking for a new job that moves you forward.

Reacquiring the Target
Whatever the case, do what you must—within the guiding structure of your personal mission, vision, ethics, and goals—to get into gear and advance with a purpose. Avoid diversions and detours when you can. Hacking your way through the underbrush of ambition will take a lot of work, no matter what; but having sharpened your metaphorical machete and set yourself up to succeed, you’re much better off than if you’d just gone charging off into the woods without a plan.

One caveat: don’t get so focused on short-term objectives that you lose sight of your big goals. Your strategic plan for career success cannot remain static, because the rest of the world won’t. Stay flexible enough to roll with the punches of life—and stop occasionally to check your compass and reestablish your bearings before forging on.

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