Can you believe that we are more than halfway through 2011? It seems as though time is slipping away faster than I’d like, but I realize that time is something  I can’t control. On the other hand, what I do with my time is definitely something I can control.

Throughout your journey, you will find that it is easy to become complacent, counterproductive, and stagnant when you fail to plan. I can remember wanting to get out of a particular role at one point in my career and as soon as an opportunity presented itself, I did just that. I started a new role, without planning, without direction and I said “yes” to the very next opportunity.

Let’s say that pursuing your degree is your “career” during this stage of your life. Merely selecting courses and your degree without definite goals and a strategic plan can have negative impacts. It wasn’t until my mentor posed a question that I realized how many times I’d failed to plan and moved backward instead of forward. She simply asked, “Where do you ultimately see yourself?” When she asked me, I immediately responded because I knew what I wanted to do. The only problem is that I wasn’t making choices to get there; my impulse decisions were negatively impacting me. This is where an effective plan would have helped!

When you have a plan, you can always revisit it and make adjustments as needed. In the absence of one, you will find that there is a lack of direction as well as focus. To successfully plan, try the following:

1.       Evaluate where you are and map out your path. It can be a simple list initially and as you invest more time in your plan, add dates, timelines, and action items to the list.

2.       Perform a realistic evaluation of self. You could be doing things that you don’t like or that aren’t in line with your goals, so you have to take action.  Start by making a decision to do something, start by understanding what your areas of opportunity are and what your strengths are. Assessing your skills and abilities allows you to articulate who you are and what you have to offer, which translates to others that you mean business.

3.       Define short-term and long-term goals. Some of the items listed as goals will take longer than others and you should be able to identify what they are. Your goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound). From there, evaluate your goals and revisit as needed to make changes.

4.       Research and explore.  In pursing my degree, I realized that courses overlapped in HR, Small Business, and Management; therefore I selected courses that would allow me to have options. Don’t be afraid to look beyond the immediate and outside of your current career.  Exploring additional training and taking advantage of educational opportunities could ultimately enhance your career.

As 2012 is quickly approaching, don’t give yourself an excuse to not plan your future. Finding the time to create a plan can be a challenge, so perhaps taking 15-20 minutes each day is an alternative. At the end of the day, the only person responsible for your success is you. If you’re not willing to invest in your plan, can you realistically expect others to spend their time investing you?

Ericka Spradley is the President and Founder of My Next Level. She has many years of leadership experience and her understanding of the multi-faceted leadership realm has provided a level of expertise in human resource management and career growth. Among her significant accomplishments, Ericka has served as Vice President of Professional Development with The National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Strayer University Chapter, she was a columnist for Classroom to Cubicle, an online magazine for college students, and she is currently a Yahoo! Contributor columnist. In addition, her works have been found in Today’s Charlotte Woman and she has also been quoted by The Charlotte Observer.

Visit Ericka’s website, My Next Level, for more information and you can find additional articles she’s written at