Focus can be extremely difficult, especially for entrepreneurs and creative thinkers, who are usually "idea" people. We tend to be big thinkers with lots of imagination, vision, and new innovations. It’s easy to get caught up in the next new thing or the bright and shiny objects and distractions. Fresh ideas are great, but you can wander off in several new directions every day. To be successful, you’ve got to have the discipline to focus on your core business.
Leadership Means Focus
Time and time again, I’ve seen very successful CEOs and executives stray from their core businesses or try to launch unrelated enterprises, only to see all of their ventures fail. If you take your eye off the ball, then everything you’ve worked so hard to build will fall apart. A leader needs to set the direction and keep everyone on track. It’s the leader’s job to make sure people are focused on a few key items in the business and to eliminate any distractions.
We faced this challenge at Planet Tan. Sometimes we had managers who suggested that we franchise, or add a new product line, or branch out into something new. Though on the surface these might have seemed like great ideas and logical next steps, they also involved diluting our focus and ultimately decreasing our ability to meet our clients’ and team’s expectations. If you’re rolling out a new initiative every month, it becomes frustrating and demoralizing to your people, because soon they’re not sure what to focus on. I’ve heard friends in the retail investment world talk about the "product du jour": the latest thing that management is touting as the cure for every investor’s ills. The problem with such an approach is that you can’t be an expert in a hundred different things. If you try to do everything, often you end up accomplishing nothing.
I call these folks "starbursters." Loaded down with too many unrelated notions, they take off really fast and have brilliant, flashy ideas, but then the efforts fizzle. Starbursters can’t focus on one thing long enough to see it through. Eventually they flame out in midair like a bottle rocket — or crash and burn. Starbursters are bad for your business because they end up taking you in directions that de-focus and de-energize your mission.
Staying On Target
As a leader, you’ve got to keep your team targeted on the core business and on things that support the core business. I’ve also heard this referred to as "making sure the Main Thing stays the Main Thing."
It’s too easy to get caught up in another line of business or with expansion into areas that distract you. At my own firm, we understood that we were in the indoor tanning industry, and that was our sole focus. Everything we did had to reinforce getting and maintaining members. All activities had to ultimately lead to growing the business. Our attention to the core business was not unlike Jack Welch’s strategy when evaluating opportunities for General Electric. He’d ask, "Do we fix it, do we sell it, or do we close it?" That’s a pretty clear sense of focus.
Another method of evaluating new ideas and opportunities is to ask yourself the famous Peter Drucker question: "If you weren’t already in the business, would you enter it today?" If the answer is no, then the question becomes, "What are you going to do about it?" Again, the point is that a loss of focus can be your undoing. Know what the prize is, and keep your eyes on it!
Stay Focused at Work
Before you can maintain your company’s focus, you must understand how to concentrate your own efforts. The big picture is a business with a clear, singular mission. The smaller picture is a staff —and a boss— that understands time management and how to communicate information efficiently. Follow these five tips to increase your focus throughout the work day:
- Make a To Do List: And stick to it. Having a prioritized list helps you stay on task and measure your progress.
- Prioritize E-mail: Instead of dealing with hundreds of unread emails ranging from personal to professional, arrange your e-mail into folders and organize them by assignment, priority, and context.
- Schedule Interruptions: Instead of having an open-door policy all day, block out a time for questions and concerns to be raised. You’ll find you can be much more productive without people constantly walking in with requests.
- Fight the Boredom: Inevitably, parts of the job are going to be repetitive and monotonous. You can best combat this by choosing the best time each day to handle these sorts of tasks. Perhaps you are most productive in the morning or right before lunch; find the ideal time for you to knock out boring paperwork or number crunching.
- Choose Music Carefully: Some music can be conducive to work, but certain types can be more distracting than silence. The office isn’t the place to check out the latest album or sample new music. Consider listening to an album you’ve heard before or instrumental music if your ears need more than the clicking of the keyboard to stay sharp.