The Power of Focus

Somebody a lot smarter than me once said “the man who chases two rabbits catches neither.” I don’t recall who said it but it’s absolutely true.

But there is a way that guy can catch both rabbits. He just has to chase them one at a time.

That’s focus.

If you can’t say no to many things then you’ll find it impossible to say yes to focus. In most areas of your life what you choose not to do will determine what you are able to do. If you’re trying to do too much you fall victim to what is known as task saturation. If you fall into that trap you end up accomplishing far less than the person focused on one thing at a time.

That’s the big illusion that multi-taskers present to themselves. They believe they can do many things well and that they can do them all at once. But every bit of research shows without a doubt that they are fooling themselves.

One person doing eight things one at a time will do them better and faster than one person trying to do all eight of them at once. That’s the power of focus.

Some people would tell you they can’t focus. That’s not exactly right. What they can’t do is decide. They can’t decide on their priorities. They are like a kid in a candy store…they want it all and they want it right now.

That “kid in the candy store” mentality causes them to accomplish things right at the deadline. They get them done in the nick of time because suddenly they didn’t have to decide what to do next, a deadline made the decision for them. The problem is, things done at the deadline are seldom done as well as those things done with time to spare.

The most successful people possess laser like focus. They invest a bit of time, well actually some serious time, in determining their priorities and then they go after them to the exclusion of all distractions.

Warren Buffett has laser focus and he has a dependable process to keep it that he shares with people who struggle with their own focus.

He’ll ask them to invest some time to write out their top 25 goals. These can be life goals, 10 year goals or goals for the coming month or year. Once they have that list he asks them to review it and select their top 5.

So now they have two lists, let’s call them list one and list two. Buffett asks what the person intends to do with list two. Most say that they will work on them as time permits because while they are not as important as list one they are still important.

That’s when Buffett gives them life altering advice. He tells them list two is actually their “avoid at all cost” list. He says that list should get zero attention until list one is 100% complete. That’s what focus looks like in practice.

I can tell you from personal experience that focusing is easy when compared to developing the lists. If you want success with your own list one you must be willing to sacrifice everything on list two.

Most people are able to do that but are unwilling to do that. Those 20 things on list two prevent them from achieving any of the things on list one. In their case, ALL the rabbits got away.

Some would say if you’re focusing on more than one thing you don’t really have focus. I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt and say so long as you’re focusing on one at a time you can maybe have five or six things on your radar.

Any more than that and you might as well be Elmer J. Fudd.

Real Decisions Require Action

Making decisions can be a challenge. Making real decisions is even more challenging. A real decision is one that brings about action. Real action.

Real action causes something to change. It may not change much for you but whatever change is caused by your actions sends a ripple effect to those around you. Hopefully you understand that. It means that your decisions and the actions that result from them don’t only affect you, they affect the people around you as well. Your actions can have a big impact on those closest to you.

If you understand that then you should know the reverse is also true. You will be affected by the decisions and actions of the people around you. The closer those people are to you the bigger the impact.

That’s why it’s so important that your decisions lead to action. It’s not really a decision if nothing different happens because of it. Without action nothing different will happen. For those of you who believe it’s sometimes best to not make a decision you should know that a decision to not decide IS a decision. It’s a decision to allow the decisions and actions of others to control and shape your life.

You can make a decision to “stand pat” or “sit tight” or whatever you want to call it but unless virtually ever other person in the world also does nothing then something is going to change for you.

The change may be small and it may take some time for you to realize the change happened but it will happen. The only question is do you want change to happen to you or because of you? Do you want to control the change in your life or are you willing to allow the change to control you?

You can decide whatever you want but if the decision isn’t followed up by some sort of action then you might as well not have decided at all.

You may be only one decision away from an entirely different life. You may be only one decision away from being able to maintain the life you have. Whichever is the case both require that your decisions include an action step.

The decisions that affect your life are being made ever day. You must decide if you want input into the effects of those decisions or you’re willing to let someone else choose your path.

Happiness requires some control over your life. That control can only come from deciding what you want and then taking action to make it happen. As we head into 2020 I don’t think I’m going to wish anyone a Happy New Year. I think I’ll wish people an Active New Year!

Just Thinking

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. Mostly about thinking. Very serendipitously I’ve seen several blog posts about thinking in the last few weeks too.

I think that thinking is good. I wish more people would try it. It really helps when making decisions and I particularly recommend taking a moment or two to think before you speak. It’s amazing what a difference that moment or two can make.

If you think as you look around (I don’t normally recommend multi-tasking but in this case I’ll make an exception) you’ll realize that pretty much everything you see began as a thought. Someone thought about making the device you’re reading this on. If someone printed it out for you to read that was very thoughtful of them. Everything begins with a thought.

So thinking is good. But is it always good? I think not!

Our thoughts lead the way for us. If our thoughts are positive our life tends to be positive. If our thoughts are negative our lives tend to be as well. Henry Ford once thought “whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” That was a great thought but it only became great when he said it out loud.

You see as good as your thoughts might be thinking alone is not enough to succeed. Thoughts can begin the process of success but action finishes it.

Mountains of failure are built on the foundation of good thoughts, or as some people might call them, good intentions. But those good thoughts all have one thing in common…a lack of commitment to take proper action to bring them to fruition.

Every person reading this has had great thoughts that they never followed up on. Those great thoughts could have become something special if only….

If only they had been acted upon.

So keep thinking but don’t just think. Take action. Massive, directed, intentional, unstoppable daily action. It may lead to nothing. It may lead to learning what to do differently next time. But it may lead to something incredible that makes a difference for you, for those close to you or maybe the world.

What do you think about that?

Your Best Investment

The best investment a business can make is an investment in their people. ALL of their people, not only the ones who work for the business but the ones who buy from the business as well.

Most business leaders agree that investing in the development of their people is essential to long-term growth. They see their people as an investment that pays limitless returns. Many of those same business leaders however see their customers as almost an expense. They want more customers but they want them with as little expense attached to them as possible.

When a business sees their customers as an expense they provide the lowest level of service possible without losing the customer. At least that’s their goal.

Businesses that see their customers as an investment do market research to determine what MORE they can do for their customers. Businesses that see their customers as an expense do market research to determine how much LESS they can provide them. Hopefully without losing them.

If you don’t think a business would do that “how much less” type of market research then you have been very lucky in avoiding the need to speak with certain companies that 99% of the population loves to hate. Those companies lead the way in what I would call “negative market research.” They bake a certain amount of customer “churn” into their annual plans with the understanding that’s it is cheaper to lose some customers than it is to invest in them.

If you have a cell phone or cable TV for instance you likely understand exactly what I’m talking about.

If you run a company and you see your customers as an expense then your customers will one day see you as a company too expensive to do business with.

Good companies invest in their customers, better companies invest in their people, great companies invest in both.

Providing consistently excellent service isn’t hard. But it takes constant effort and a realization that you’re never “there.” Even if the majority of your people see your customers as an investment if you have just one or two who don’t, the customers will find them. It’s almost like magic…in a bad way.

Are you investing in your people? All of your people? If not you’re missing an opportunity to grow your business at a much faster rate than you probably are today.

Invest in all of your people, it’s truly the best investment you can make.

What’s Your Best Thing?

What do you do better than almost anyone else?

 

It’s amazing and maybe a little sad how many people can’t answer that question. It’s also very concerning how many business leaders can’t answer that question on behalf of their business either. 

 

It’s concerning because the fastest way to grow your business, or yourself, is to build on your strengths. Many people focus on eliminating their weaknesses but the most successful people will tell you it’s far easier to simply overwhelm them with your strengths. 

 

I’m not saying to ignore your weaknesses, you certainly should eliminate them where you can. What I am saying is that if your strengths shine bright enough they will blind people to your weaknesses. You won’t be thought less of because of what you’re not good at, you will be thought more of because of what you’re great at. 

 

There’s some guy named Tom who plays football in the New England area. I hear he’s a pretty good quarterback. Some people say he might even be the best quarterback ever. But guess what, I also hear that he can’t hit a curveball when playing baseball. 

 

Nobody cares whether he can hit a curveball or not because he most certainly can throw a football. He uses his strengths to succeed and he keeps himself out of situations where his weaknesses could be exposed. 

 

You, me and everyone else can do the same thing in our lives and our careers. But first you must know what your strengths are. You must know what you’re better at than most everyone else. You must know what you do best!

 

Don’t mistake what you’re most passionate about for what you do best. Sadly they are often not the same. “Follow your passion” is advice often given during Commencement Speeches. It can be and often is some of the worst advice ever given. 

 

“Follow your passion” is great life advice and you definitely want to have whatever you’re passionate about be part of you life. But following your passion is not sound career advice. “Do what you’re best at” is much better advice for a successful career. If you’re fortunate enough that what you’re best at is also what you’re passionate about then good on ya. Don’t assume that because you’re passionate about something that it’s also what you do best.

 

It may take some time and deep reflection to know for sure what you’re best at. Some people know almost instinctively but most people need to noodle on that a while. But figuring it out is well worth it. Playing to your strengths is rewarding both financially and emotionally. 


So let me ask you again…what’s your best thing?


The Lottery of Life

I don’t often buy lottery tickets. I do when there is a jackpot over $500 million or so but why bother with those pesky $200 or $300 million ones. 

 

I think lots of people are just like me. Lottery officials seem to confirm that. The higher the jackpot the longer the lines to buy tickets and the faster the jackpot grows. 

 

There are a lot of people who play the lottery of life the same way. They ask for a little help but what they mean is “do it for me.” They will actually refuse “some” help because they want enough “help” so that they don’t have to do a thing on their own to succeed. 

 

The people who truly win the lottery of life are the ones who have developed the discipline and work ethic to succeed on their own. Except they know they never really do it on their own. They work their butts off and accept whatever help they can get along the way and use it to boost their own efforts, not replace them.

 

There are certainly people who seem to “luck” their way to success. There are people who have the appearance of success handed to them. There are also a whole lot of people hoping for success to somehow magically appear.

 

But the surest way to find success is to look for it in the hard work and effort you put forth to earn it. 

 

The legendary baseball player Babe Ruth once said, “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.” Are you that person? Do you suffer the setbacks that life offers and bounce back to try again? Are you working for success or hoping for success?

 

I don’t want anyone to stop hoping for something better but hope alone doesn’t accomplish much. Never allow hope to stop you from making a concerted effort to earn the success you’re hoping for. 


If you’re willing to work for it then I’m willing to bet you’ll find it. You’ll find it or you’ll make it but either way you’ll have won the biggest lottery of all. You’ll have won the lottery of life! 

Last Second Sam

There are people who claim to believe that procrastination helps them be more successful. To them I would say that once you become comfortable misleading yourself you can, and most likely will, mislead anyone. 

 

Procrastination will kill your opportunity for success. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow but eventually it most definitely will. That much is certain!

 

People who believe procrastination helps them because they think better under pressure are not being honest with themselves. People who believe they are more productive when working under stress are fooling themselves. 

 

Approaching deadlines do not make people smarter, calmer, more productive or more logical. They make everything more challenging.

 

The real reason many people procrastinate is that they see low value in the task. It’s either not fun enough or they see no reward for doing it. Some people procrastinate because they do not have confidence in their ability to complete the task. Fear of failure is a driving force behind many a procrastinator’s behavior. 

 

For some people procrastination is part of their personality. They are just more impulsive than other people. These are the people I call last second Sam or last second Sally depending on…well you know what it depends on.

 

One of the most effective tools for overcoming the tendency to procrastinate is a Prioritized Daily Task List. A prioritized task list is a to-do list on steroids. You list all the things you need to accomplish on a given day but you list them in order of importance. You DO NOT do the second most important thing until the most important thing is accomplished. 

 

Don’t worry about working on one thing all day if it’s truly the most important or most productive thing you could do that day. You’ll still be better offer than if you spent the day doing a bunch of unimportant or unproductive things. 

 

Many procrastinators put off doing things that are quick and easy to do. They don’t see a lot of fun or reward in doing them so they just put it off. Answering an email is a good example. A quick answer might take only a minute but they still open and read the email several times before answering it. 

 

So here’s a good rule of thumb to help stop at least some procrastinating. If a task takes a minute or less to do then do it immediately. No delay, no hesitation, and NO PROCRASTINATING! You will be amazed at how many things you do in a day can be completed in under a minute. 

 

Don’t kid yourself into thinking being a last second Sam or Sally has one ounce of benefit. You will not find even one very successful person who will tell you their success is due to putting off until tomorrow what should have been done today. 


And you’re highly unlikely to be the first.