“Can you boil down your advise to one word?”
That’s what a seminar participant asked me. “No,” I said, “but I can boil it down to three: Focus, focus, focus.” I said that because I see ‘focus’ as the solution to a number of modern dilemmas.
Is there any human being who is active in our economy today who doesn’t realize that we are dealing with an unprecedented number of distractions? I doubt it.
Distractions come in a variety of disguises, but they all achieve the same result – to direct our attention away from what is important to that which is trivial. In addition to age-old types of distractions – unhappy toddlers, unexpected automotive repairs, etc. — technology and the media have created a whole new world of distractions. These advertisements, text messages, and emails, etc., are often designed by the best talents in the world to catch our attention.
Focus is the counter-weight to distractions. It’s how we deal with the tsunami of stuff assaulting our senses.
Shortened Attention Span
Not long ago, I was approached by a online learning company who wanted to feature my video training for sales people. I’d have to “cut the 30-minute videos down to no more than 10 minutes each” they explained, “because the attention span of the young salespeople could only tolerate ten minutes.”
Evidently, the development of the human mind over generations has come to a halt and is now regressing. If you can’t concentrate on something for more than ten minutes, you are going to have a problem staying focused.
Seemingly limitless opportunities
For much of the history of human experience, opportunities in business were eagerly sought. Today, however, there are so many opportunities available that the sheer quantity of them is a threat to prosperity and business success.
Not a week goes by that I am not approached by someone with a new opportunity for my business. I do not doubt that many of them are legitimate. However, only a tiny fraction will fit into the mission of my business. By enticing me away from my core competencies and markets, these ‘good’ opportunities threaten to squander my time and attention. Truly good opportunities are the enemy of the best.
In a world of seemingly limitless opportunities, focus provides us the opportunity to work effectively.
I could go on and on with these modern dilemmas, but you know the world I am describing without me articulating it any further. The question is “What is the solution?” How do we survive and prosper in this new economy? How do we guide our businesses through these turbulent waters?
And that brings us back to “focus, focus, focus.”
What is focus? Here are a couple of dictionary definitions:
- a point at which rays (as of light, heat, or sound) converge or from which they diverge or appear to diverge
- a central point, as of attraction, attention, or activity:
- a center of interest or attention.
The easiest way to understand it is to think of the camera in your smartphone. When you take a picture, you focus on something and take a picture of that. Note that focus requires something to be the center of your interest. You need to focus on an object. In photography, that thing becomes the object of your attention and the point on which you focus.
The principle applies in business as well. Focus, in business, requires a thing on which to focus. Without a thing to focus on, our efforts and those of our businesses will become easy prey to distractions, limited attention span, and unlimited opportunities and we’ll lurch from one urgent attraction to another, expending energy and money with little return to show for it.
Focus then, requires two separate processes.
First, we need to find the thing that is worthy of compelling our attention and offering the greatest likelihood of a return on our investment.
Once we have discovered, articulated and committed to the ‘thing,’ focus then requires disciplined implementation.
Focus can come apart at either place. You can, for example, have a great vision to which your committed, but lack the discipline to stick to it. The net result? Your energy is dissipated and nothing worthwhile is accomplished.
Or you can be incredibly disciplined, but have nothing worthwhile into which to invest your energies. The result? A lack of focus. You work very hard on nothing of consequence.
I’ll discuss the discipline issue in another post. For now, let’s address the issue of finding the ‘thing’ on which to focus.
Here are five specific steps to focus your business.
- Create a clear and current set of foundational documents: Vision, Mission, and Values statements. These set up the big picture by articulating your ultimate aim for the business, the work you will do and the rules by which you’ll live.
2. An annual set of FOFS (I used to call these goals) FOFS are statements of what you choose to “Focus on First’ in your business. By creating an annual set of these statements, you adjust to the changing situation and narrow your efforts down to those that hold the highest probability of moving you toward your vision. Read more about FOFS here.
3. Break the annual FOFS down into monthly expressions. By turning the annual statements into monthly increments, you make them more asessable and attainable.
- Weekly FOFS. These are smaller increments of the monthly FOFS, and have the same impact.
- Daily FOFS. At the end of every day, everyone should plan what they will focus on first the next day.
If you can implement this system, you’ll have provided a very specific, tangible expression of the ‘thing on which to focus’ and taken a huge step toward making your organization more effective.