Here’s the biggest challenge my mentoring clients bring to me:
“I have so many good ideas, but I don’t know which ones to execute.”
Ah, creative paralysis. Tough problem. And as an entrepreneur myself, I’ve certainly struggled with this issue over the years.
HERE’S THE BOTTOM LINE: Eventually, you have to stop brainstorming and start executing.
Because you don’t need another idea – you need an “I did.”
This isn’t about time management.
This isn’t about getting things done.
This isn’t about streamlining the quality of your process so you can maximize the efficiency of strategic productivity.
This is about creating a filter for your life.
That way, you can strain the impurities out of your life and free yourself to execute what matters most.
I like to call it, “focusing your face off.”
Here’s how to do it:
1. Look at yourself with unquestioning eyes. Focus is the fireplace. It’s the point of convergence, the center of activity and energy. And if you want that flame to burn white hot, begin by fueling your fire with an inexorable sense of why.
That’s the epiphany I keep having: Whether it’s discipline, execution, commitment or focus – knowing why changes everything. I don’t care how distracted you are, if you educate yourself on why something matters to you, you’ll focus on it. And if you keep visual reminders of that why in front of your face all day, you’ll focus on it.
Otherwise priority dilution will rob you blind. And you’ll continue to whine about how you can’t ever seem to hunker down and make anything happen.
Bottom line: Constancy of purpose cannot be penetrated by distraction. Ever. Filter your focus against your values and reap the rewards. Are you justifying your existence by generating activity, or validating your existence by executing what matters?
2. Delete the noise. It’s surprisingly easy to find focus when you enter through the back door. That’s what I’ve learned as an entrepreneur: Deciding what to do through the process of elimination is way less threatening and intimidating.
Try this: Make a list of every useless, inbound interruption that doesn’t matter and diffuses your focus. Read the list out loud three times. Then, when you’re sufficiently disgusted by how trapped you are in those trivialities; delete those distractions from your life forever. By embracing the essential and banishing the bullshit, you free yourself up to commit to a few things and win there.
Without cancelling out that noise, you’ll never discern between the necessary and the superfluous. And you’ll fall victim to the erosion of your time, the decay of your focus and the meaninglessness of your work. What can you eliminate so you’re left with so few moving parts that important work actually gets done?
3. Environments either champion or choke focus. When I deliver training programs on employee engagement, here’s my favorite statistic to share: Three hundred billion dollars. Within the U.S. workforce, Gallup estimates that this is the cost in lost productivity alone, according to their thirty-year Employee Engagement Index.
And it just occurred to me: I wonder what percentage of that number is related to a lack of focus?
Answer: Too much. After all, focus is a function of environment. And I don’t mean feng shui – I mean the emotional environment of your workspace. For example: It’s easy to focus when you don’t feel edited. It’s easy to focus when you don’t feel policed. It’s easy to focus when passion is embedded into the pavement. It’s easy to focus when work is a gateway and not a grind. And it’s easy to focus when you can count on the emotional release of consistent public recognition.
Remember: If you’re having trouble concentrating on the work that matters, maybe it’s because you’re not engaged in the first place. What environmental energy keeps you from keeping focused?
4. You’re defined by what you decline. About once a week, someone emails me with a potential business opportunity. Or a joint venture. Or some new project they want me to be involved in. And I respectfully reject (nearly) every one of them.
Not to be rude. And not to suggest the ideas or the people behind them are flawed. But I’m a firm believer in saying no to the good to make room to say yes to the best. Interestingly, the more distance I get from the opportunities I’ve said no to over the years, the more thankful I become that I held out.
In a recent interview with Fortune, Steve Jobs made a similar distinction:
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’re focusd on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”
Remember: Not close-minded. Not inflexible. Not stiff. Just focused. And when you focus yourself, you free yourself. What doors will saying no open for you?
5. Let the light shine on the obvious path. Comfortable people rarely take focused action. Their complacency is simply too convenient to be killed. On the other hand, the people who execute are the ones who disturb themselves into discomfort. They fan the flames of focus by creating unacceptable consequences of failing.
In my experience, the most effective process for doing so is through repetitive self-questioning. Trying asking yourself:
*Is what I’m doing – right now – reinforcing my why?
*Is what I’m doing – right now – supporting my empire?
*Is what I’m doing – right now – consistent with my number one goal?
It’s confrontational, it’s creative and it’s guaranteed to give you the kick in the ass you need to focus your face off. I ask these questions to myself all day, every day, and rarely ever have any problems staying focused. How much of your life are you wasting by (not) focusing on your priorities?
6. Give yourself permission to get lost. Inasmuch as focus is a virtue, you can’t stay focused all the time. Nobody can. Humans aren’t wired that way. Besides, if all you ever do is focus – you’ll never have any fun. And nobody will want to be around you.
The secret is to book blank time. I learned this from a classic study conducted at Kansas State University’s Counseling Services Department. Their researchers found that because focusing can be such hard work, you should reward yourself when you hit the mark.
Personally, I do this each morning: It’s called a daily appointment with myself. It galvanizes my entire day, keeps me from going insane and instills a renewing and reenergizing spirit that helps me return with strength.
My suggestion: You need this block of time in your life. Because it’s impossible to gauge progress if you never come up for air. But, when you stay committed to your own personal reflection needs, you’ll have no trouble staying focused when it’s time to get back to work. When was the last time you sat uninterrupted and quiet for at least fifteen minutes?
REMEMBER: Focusing frees you.
Not just from the irrelevant – but for the important.
Learn to filter your life.
That way, you take action on what matters most.
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That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor
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Monday, February 07, 2011
Here’s the biggest challenge my mentoring clients bring to me: