I spent dozens of hours last year interviewing writers, artists, entrepreneurs and CEOs about how they work and what they want to achieve. The people playing at the top of their fields are masters at focusing on a few, or even one key priority.
I envy them.
To be honest, I’ve struggled to focus on my work. I’m always disappointed when I find myself thirty minutes down a Twitter or Reddit blackhole and a deadline is staring me in the face.
These days, I’m pretty hardcore about how I manage digital distractions. I’ve blocked social media and news sites from my computer and phone during the day using apps like Rescue Time and Freedom.
I also write out my priorities for each day the night before. I even bought an old AlphaSmart Neo word-processor on eBay the other day because it helps me write without being connected to the grid.
All of this helps a lot… but not always.
I still feel like the companies and tools we rely on are fighting a war for our attention, and we’re caught in the middle.
When I say no I often worry I’m missing out.
When I say yes, I often over-commit myself.
A while ago, I said yes to a business opportunity and ended up wasting half an afternoon on a sales call that was a waste of time. I’d to work late that night to catch up.
I said no to convert invitation because I’d was behind on work. The next day, a friend told me it was one of the best gigs he was ever at.
Figuring out what to say no and yes to is a delicate balancing act.
I hope the advice in this newsletter helps you walk it.
5 Top CEOs On The Power of Deep Focus
It's easy to take on lots of new projects and say yes to every opportunity; it's hard to say no and focus only on what matters to you.
It could be writing a book, starting a business, learning a skill like coding or working towards a promotion.
The reality is focusing on key goals or priorities will help you accomplish far more in the long run. The leaders of these five companies focused relentlessly on their customers and core values and became massively successful as a result.
1. You'll Become More Creative
Many entrepreneurs work on multiple projects at once. They jump from one project to the other on a whim or if there's an emergency. This unfocused approach to work hinders, rather than helps, creativity. Just ask author and creativity expert Michael Gelb.
"Multi-tasking is really bad for us, particularly when it comes to creativity. If you just get away from it all, you can come up with the breakthrough," he says.
"The highest odds of coming up with a creative breakthrough come from intense focus, punctuated with a few purposeful attempts to get some distance from the problem, to help really stimulate ideas," he adds.
2. You’ll Serve an Ideal Audience
Focusing all of your business's resources on a few key products or a select group of customers could help you stand apart from the competition. That's an approach Vishen Lakhiani, CEO of personal development education company Mindvalley, took.
Several years ago, Lakhiani compared his company to competitors. He realised rivals offer hundreds if not thousands of courses. So Lakhiani and his team culled Mindvalley's courses to approximately 40 and concentrated on promoting those.
"We're not looking to create a library of 10,000 programs. We're looking to create the singular best program in every genre," he says.
"So when you come to us, you know that every minute you spend, you're getting the best training in the best way from the top minds in the industry," he explains.
3. You'll Give Customers What They Want
If you're building an app, product or service, it's easy to cram in every possible feature and create a Frankenstein product.
The unfinished National Health Service “Connecting for Health” software project in the United Kingdom cost more than £12 billion. British member of parliament Richard Bacon called it "one of the worst and most expensive contracting fiascos in the history of the public sector."
Pocket, on the other hand, enables users to save articles and videos for reading later. Released in 2007, the service claims over 30 million users. According to founder Nate Weiner, Pocket avoids scope creep by focusing on its core mission.
"Are we helping people to actually read and consume the things that they save? How effective are we at that? How do we enable people to consume stories that are worth their time and attention?" he says. "That is really a lot of what we're focused on."
4. You'll Have More Time Off
Search Instagram for hashtags like hustle, and you'll find millions of entrepreneurs boasting about working eighty- and ninety-hour weeks, but that's an unsustainable way of working long-term.
Entrepreneurs can grow a successful business and still claim time off if they focus on what they love and hand over everything else. That's what Laura Phillips does. She coaches other entrepreneurs how to launch products, services and coaching programs.
"My team are on board to free up my time so I can focus on the things I'm really good at. I have a community mentor who takes on a lot of the small mentorship within my program. And I have a really great assistant called Kate. She takes on a lot of my admin and booking calls and just takes a lot off my plate," says Philips.
"My business model is actually very simple in the whole scheme of things. It's all coaching based. So as long as I'm coaching, my business is growing. That leaves lots of time for fun and travel."
5. You’ll Stand Out From Competitors
Tails.com provides personalized pet food based on a proprietary algorithm. It currently employs 187 people and provides over 9 million individually tailored meals to customers across the United Kingdom and France. The company has grown quickly since its founding in 2014, thanks to focusing on its core group of customers.
“70% of our customers had never bought dog food online before coming to us,” says James Davidson, cofounder and CEO.
“Introducing a 'new normal' and breaking deep-rooted personal habits is a major shift to try and achieve. To do it, we have relentlessly prioritised our product and - crucially - we have learnt that getting the right physical and digital offer means focusing on our customer's current needs first and future ‘wow' second.”
What I’m Reading
The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail by Oscar Martinez (somebody should send Trump a copy of this book)
How to raise boys in the 21st century (I’m a father to a fourteen-year-old and an eighteen-month old boy)
What I’m Writing
I took time off from writing over the holidays. Services as normal only resumed this week.
Instead, I set goals for 2020. That said, here’s one I published a while ago that readers like.
“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.” Zig Ziglar