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10 Steps To Reaching The Next Level

by Alf Nucifora

Mired in the daily grind of executional minutiae and putting out fires? Can't seem to find time to think beyond the next five minutes? Lying awake at night because you've got the preparation of next year's business plan looming large on the horizon? Well join the club. You're not alone. That angst you're experiencing is shared by your harried peers who, like you, are increasingly weighed down by the burden of surviving the day, let along finding the luxury of contemplating the future and its possibilities. Thus I give you 10 steps for helping break the habit. What have you got to lose?

1. Look ahead: Always have an eye on the future. Planning three to six months out, is the bare necessity. And ask yourself the question "Am I being left behind in terms of professional knowledge and trends?" If you are, it's a sure sign that surviving the present is the only thing on your mind. Big mistake!

2. Conquer time management: That means you must prioritize and separate the important from the insignificant. It's probably one of the reasons that your day is lost to execution, leaving no time to think. Be prepared to multi-task in the process. And learn to be obsessive about the things that are important. That also means keeping lists and holding yourself accountable for performance.

3. Expand your circle of friends and influences: Make a real effort to escape the familiar routines when it comes to acquaintances and practices. Have lunch once a week with someone interesting outside your normal professional circle. Strive to meet the "alphas" of your business or profession. Make a commitment to build a network and in doing so, maintain a contact database that is accurate, up-to-date and habit-forming. Most importantly…maintain contact. That's why it's call networking.

4. Make time to "dream": It won't happen unless you force it. It could be early in the morning (I know writers who do their best writing in the quietness of pre-dawn hours), on weekends, when exercising, etc. Find the time to be alone, and learn to be comfortable with "alone-ness". Great thoughts spring from the uncluttered mind.

5. It's OK to loaf: Don't feel guilty about taking downtime. Watch that movie on the plane. Have that second glass of wine. Sit on the beach and read that thriller or trash novel. Go ahead and play. The mind can't think unless it relaxes and recharges.

6. Entertain the mind…constantly: Read a good newspaper every day, the one you're reading now, or the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. Read a slew of magazines that cover business, culture and your industry. Watch movies (not TV). Visit museums. Dine out. Attend lectures. Remember that life is constant learning, even for retirees who commit their life to daily golf.

7. Get Away: Travel outside your home market at least once a year. Visit new and exotic places without getting exhausted in the process. Life can never be the same once you've dined in a neighborhood ristorante in Rome or sampled the pleasures of the Australian Outback.

8. Take your vacation: Holiday time is meant to be taken. There should never be any pride in forfeiting necessary vacation time for the never-satiated demands of the job or the business. And go somewhere exhilarating and relaxing while you're at it, a place that will help clear the mind and its accumulated fog.

9. Exercise the brain: Like the body, it needs constant activity in order to remain trim, taut and terrific. Write an article for a trade publication. Deliver a business speech. Do crosswords, play Scrabble or bridge. Join Mensa, if you're up to it. Idle minds may be the devil's playground. They're also the breeding ground of mental sclerosis.

10. "Fear not": FDR was right. "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself". We see and experience it every day in the world of business. Ask yourself the following questions. "Am I willing to buck the trend? Are my reactions always knee-jerk? Am I always responding to anticipated objections that may not exist? Am I willing to fight where it's appropriate and right for the occasion, the job or the business?" More than one safe answer is a clear indication that we've lost the passion and the fight. Next stops, apathy, decline and death.

At a time when outsourcing and consolidation have reduced the head count and forced more labor on fewer bodies, where middle-management ranks have been culled mercilessly and Americans are expected to work longer hours in the insatiable thirst for business productivity gain, it's understandable that we forfeit the long-term perspective for the short-term need. But that's a survival posture. Growth and success demand great vision, grand gestures and hunger to confront the unknown. How are you doing?

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