After decades of working in, and consulting with, the marketplace I’ve become convinced that the vast majority of people who miss their potential are not lazy; they are unfocused. Many put their hearts and energies into building a great career, business and life, yet never rise above mediocrity. Others become wildly successful, but still fall far short of what they could have accomplished had they focused their time, energy, talents and resources more intensely on a daily basis.
Following are four rules of focus that will take you past the exhausting and unfulfilling “mile wide and an inch deep” approach that dominates so many lives, and into a more unstoppable achiever in whatever you set your mind to.
1. Focus fanatically on the ultimate few. Consultants, authors and trainers have been saying this in their own way for decades:
First things first, last things not at all. Peter Drucker
The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. Stephen Covey
Don’t spend minor time on major things, or major time on the minor things. Jim Rohn
Focus is defined as “the ability to concentrate”. Naturally, before that can happen, you’ve got to choose what it is exactly you are going to give disproportionate time, energy, resources and talents to. By identifying and focusing fanatically on the ultimate few—a small handful of goals that mean the most—you create a focus filter, making it far easier to know what to say yes or no to; what to daily engage in, or what to withdraw from as you move towards your goals.
The challenge is that from all the good things you’d like to accomplish (good things to do), to focus on the best things (best things to do). And while it’s counterintuitive for “Type A” leaders to say no to good ideas or opportunities, there is no greater destroyer of focus than always saying yes.
A common time when this sort of blurred focus shows up is when well-intentioned people try to change too many things in their business or life at one time. If you make ten changes at once, you divide your energy by ten and have a ten percent chance of success. The ensuring disappointment proves time and time again that setting too many goals at the same time guarantees you’ll achieve few, if any, with excellence.
Without identifying and focusing fanatically on the ultimate few you will tend to dabble your way through the day, reacting to the latest emergency and improvising around the newest crisis. You’ll be prone to mistake motion for progress and confuse activity with accomplishment.
2. Identify and act on daily lead measures. While your “ultimate few” are the lag measures of what you’d most like to accomplish, your highest leverage daily activities are the lead measures that take you there. In case you missed it, let me stress that I said “daily” activities. Reaching your most important goals isn’t a destination thing, it’s a daily thing. The simple truth is this: a day has no memory whether it was good or bad; you have to come back and prove yourself all over again by executing the handful of diligent daily disciplines that continue to move your progress forward. It doesn’t matter how great yesterday was, it ended last night. To make each day a masterpiece you must continue to focus on the key lead measures; and every day means every day. In fact, your success in achieving what means most to you will have less to do with the brilliance of your plan, and more to do with the consistency of right daily actions.
To determine your key daily lead actions to execute, don’t make the mistake of listing everything you can do to achieve your goal and then pursuing them all. Instead, think in terms of leverage and ask, what are the fewest daily battles necessary to win this war? Then focus on getting them done, daily, regardless.
3. Finish your day before you start it and schedule your key lead measures. Again, to defer to two of my mentors and their timeless wisdom:
Never begin the day until it is finished on paper; finish your day before you start it. Jim Rohn
Begin with the end in mind. Stephen Covey
Lead measures should be scheduled for tomorrow before you leave for home this evening. Then, when you come to work, you’ll have a blueprint waiting for you that will narrow your focus and quickly put you into a productive stride early in the day. As “stuff” arises that gets you off track as the hours progress, it’s easier to return to your focused plan if you actually have one to begin with, and aren’t just making the day up as you go along. Many people make the mistake of trying to squeeze their priorities into the day, rather than scheduling their priorities and working the day around them. Forget the old buzz phrase, “prioritize your schedule” and instead, schedule your priorities and your focus will compound.
4. Learn to say no. Opportunity doesn’t equal obligation.
If you’ve ever turned your head for five minutes and had it become your day, you know the danger of not saying no to low return conversations, tasks, or to trivial pursuits. However, without following the three prior disciplines you won’t have a framework from which to discern what is a good or bad decision, or use of time. Thus , when you concentrate daily on the ultimate few, and diligently executing the pre-prescribed, scheduled, lead measures that will take you there, you’ll get off track far less often, and will more quickly recover when you do.
The four rules of focus are both sequential and non-negotiable; you can’t pick and choose which you like. They must progress in the order given and cheating on even one of them yields predictable, and oftentimes immediate consequences. The rules of focus, much like laws of gravity are unforgiving; they don’t care how busy you are, or how you feel, or how unique you believe your situation is. Violate them and you’ll see it, feel it and suffer because of it. Follow them daily and you’ll go farther, faster, than you ever believed possible.