I speak with a lot of business owners; some are seeing success while others are struggling for whatever reason. Even the successful businesses have obstacles though. In fact, nearly ALL business owners I speak with face a common obstacle. It may be slowing them down or even completely holding them back.
That obstacle is the constant effort to do too many things at once.
Businesses face a lot of challenges and include many functions that must run simultaneously such as sales and marketing, finance, payroll, fulfillment and production, etc. Because of this, it is only natural that business owners decide to work on them all simultaneously as well. Each function has its own issues to work on and improve. This, of course, pulls the business owner in every direction and last time I checked, there is only one of me (if there is more than one of you, please share your secret).
Now I’m not simply talking about multi-tasking (which is a bad idea even though my wife claims otherwise). I’m talking about the direction you are going with all those tasks. What are working toward? Highly productive people have this same problem believe it or not. It is a matter of focus. Not just daily focus, not even weekly focus.
We’re talking about singular focus that lasts at least 2 weeks and as long as 90 days (maybe a year if you’re a later stage company with slower growth). Within that time frame, you will eat, breath, and sleep that single focus. Maybe your focus is to increase the average number of sales by 50%. Well my friend, that is ALL you care about for the next 90 days! Do you still do the other stuff? Well, of course.
You can’t sell if you aren’t fulfilling, making payroll, or any of the other critical functions. The difference is you will simply maintain them at their current level and nothing more. It is okay to keep these other functions within your peripheral so they do not fall apart but beyond that, you know nothing of them. It is all about the single focus of increasing sales. You talk about it constantly, theme parties around it, reward against it, and dream about it when you don’t want to.
How long do I have to do this?
So how do you know which time frame (2 weeks to 90 days) you should choose? Well, that depends on a few factors such as your industry and growth rate. If you are approaching the speed of light, your time frames will be closer to 2 weeks as too much is changing too rapidly.
If you stay too long on one focus, it may slide back in importance long before you are done and leave you with big fires to put out. Certain industries such as software development often do what may be called agile development which is often based on 2 week deployment cycles in order to ensure no one falls into complacency and to ensure no one’s brain melts from overexposure to the same computer code. For most businesses, the 90 day line is perfect (1 quarter of the year).
Every 90 days, you take another look at things and determine a new focus. It is good to switch it up because computer programmers are not the only ones running the risk of melted brain. Teams and people become callous toward the focus after too long and begin to ignore it. We all do it (just think of routines and goals you stopped tracking after a bit).
Are you even capable of laser-like focus for 90 days? probably not… at least not without some level of accountability. You will need someone to discuss progress with, someone that will ask about how the focus is going on a regular basis (at least twice per month). This can be an advisor, a board member, or may even become part of someone’s job description (it is still recommended to have some outside perspective as well).
I’m good at balancing work needs… and lying.
Oh, you like to do a lot of things do you? Well, there will be plenty to do in order to achieve your focus and you won’t be bouncing around, almost getting somewhere, always complaining that nothing works. Almost marketing never sees results.
Almost solving a problem leaves you without an answer… still. Unless you are a chameleon with those crazy eyes, you can’t focus on two things at once but we all continue to cram many more than that into our minds. Stop it! Those other things can be your focus next time, but this time they are not. You can capture them in your productivity system, a journal, or whatever to be visited later but now, they can wait.
Progress must be visible
In order to maintain this brutal level of focus, you must be able to see progress, movement, something! If you can’t visualize your standing within the area of focus, it is almost guaranteed you will get lost. You will think you are still focusing but upon comparison to your original plans, you are out in left field… in another stadium! Have numbers you can track that can be prominently displayed and regularly reviewed. How close are you to your 50% increase in sales? Have a way to see it.
Congratulations, you are alive… break time
After the 90 day period of focus is over, celebrate. Break routines and enjoy yourself a bit. At least have 2 cokes at lunch instead of one… something! You must reward yourself and your team for their dedication and focus. If you jump right into the next cycle, it will feel like never ending torture. If you reached your goal, really celebrate, if not, than just celebrate but don’t really celebrate. Instead of buying a small tropical island next to Richard Branson’s, just have a beach day a few miles down the road. Have some fun, you earned it.
Ready, set, go… again!
Now that the celebration is over, get back to work!! Take some time to find your new focus and… wait for it… focus! Forget the world around you, including those other, albeit necessary, business functions and focus.
This process of only looking at one thing for a period or quarter will lead to some phenomenal successes and allow you to sleep a little easier, or at least less confused as you will only be dreaming of one thing. You will see surprising clarity in other areas of your business, not just the focus area. It is just cleaning off the desk (which I literally need to do as I write…) so you can get to the brass tacks of what will bring success to your biz. First things first, set some time to figure out your focus for the next quarter and give it a try.