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To Be Successful, Do Only What Matters Popular wisdom says your sphere of influence -- your communications and social network -- should be big. Popular wisdom is wrong.

By Steve Tobak Edited by Dan Bova

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Everyone is obsessed with the habits of the wealthy these days. The great irony is, if successful people concerned themselves with that sort of nonsense they never would have made it big in the first place. Truth is, none of that stuff matters. It's all just a waste of time and focus.

If you want to be successful, you have to learn what really makes a difference. What really matters. You need to do that and keep the distractions – everything that doesn't matter – to a minimum. Now I'll tell you what matters but I've got to warn you: it's really simple. But then, all great lessons in life are simple.

What matters is what you do. How do you figure out what to do? Strangely enough, you figure out what to do by doing. By …

  • Getting out into the world, getting a job, experiencing and learning.
  • Figuring out how business works.
  • Learning what you like to do and what you're good at – your strengths to leverage and weaknesses to overcome.
  • Gaining confidence from your successes and wisdom from your failures.
  • Meeting smart people, asking good questions and listening to what they have to say.
  • Figuring out what it takes to be a good employee and how to motivate and manage others.
  • Learning what works and what doesn't work in the real world.
  • Putting yourself out there so you're aware of opportunities and maybe even create your own luck.
  • Understanding that it's all completely and entirely up to you – nobody else can do it for you and nobody is holding you back, either.
  • Having your priorities straight, the work ethic to always get the job done, and the discipline to focus on what matters and not on what doesn't.

Related: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics About Entrepreneurs

It always comes down to the same thing. Doing what matters. That's exactly how world-class companies like GE and P&G breed hundreds, if not thousands, of entrepreneurs who found tomorrow's startups and CEOs that turn good companies into great ones: on-the-job experience.

Now I'll tell you what doesn't matter. What doesn't matter is what everyone else says and does. That's right; none of it matters. Not a word. Of course, the exception is the people you come across in your real-world experience. If you get out in the world and do things, you will inevitably meet and learn from thousands of people. That's 99 percent of the wisdom you'll need. No kidding.

Here's another way to look at it. Let's talk about spheres of influence. The popular wisdom of the day is that everyone should have these enormous spheres of communication and social networks, the bigger the better.

Popular wisdom is wrong and I'll tell you why.

Social networking – tweeting, posting, linking, blogging, too – is what I call "one-to-many" communication. The level of interaction and quality of communication is lousy because a billion people are all doing the same thing so nobody has the bandwidth to read but a tiny fraction of what shows up in their stream.

Related: Why Stressed-Out Control Freaks Make Insanely Great Entrepreneurs

That's why the vast majority of online interaction is a complete waste of time. Everything you post just bounces around the Web and nothing ever really comes of it. Nothing that matters, anyway. It's like throwing a bucket of water into the ocean. Sure, there's more water in the ocean now, but so what?

Also, whatever you learn online is visible to everyone so it provides no competitive advantage whatsoever.

The way to be successful is to keep your sphere of influence small and focused. How small and focused? That depends. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates wrote code. Richard Branson sold records. Their spheres were relatively small and extremely focused in the early days of their careers while they were building their businesses. Then they grew in time. That's usually how it works.

It basically comes down to this: You do want to broaden your sphere but you want to broaden it by doing what matters, not by wasting your time on what doesn't matter.

Not only does reading about rich people's habits not matter, the same is true of the vast majority of what you do online. And if they wasted their time with all that stuff, wealthy people would never have become wealthy to begin with. The only thing successful people do that matters is focus on doing what matters. Simple as that.

Related: Where Does Innovation Come From?

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.

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