When Focus Beats Options: 3 Myths To Bust In Order To Embrace Your Limits And Succeed

When Focus Beats Options 3 Myths To Bust In Order To Embrace Your Limits And Succeed

Developing new business relationships can be tricky. The development professional works towards a deal, the hours rack up, and yet there is no certainty of success. It might all be for nothing. Like personal goals, business goals need careful assessment if they’re not to take up a great deal of time and effort for no purpose.

But how do we as leaders handle that uncertainty, the feeling that we might be wasting our time? Many of us turn to working harder in order to ensure we increase our chances of success. The rationale is that more work means more options, and having more options means lower risk. Sometimes, that’s a good investment, but not always.

In this article, you’ll learn how to balance the optimization of all potential leads with judgment honed by instinct. I hope to demonstrate strategic thinking that helps to know when to stop and focus on a few or even just one objective.

When I’m not working, I like to relax by pursuing sports. I will never tire of my first love of horse riding and what it led to: motor racing. Later I learned skydiving, which led to wingsuit flying.

Like all good sports, each of these took time to develop and commitment to pursue regularly. Skills and equipment need to be maintained, along with relationships with other enthusiasts. But to do them well requires focus, for they are jealous passions. If I want to excel in one, I must forget the others.

I saw a question on a book cover the other day, and it stopped me in my tracks:
For many ambitious people in business, maxing out every possibility is a way of life. Opportunities are everywhere. In this mindset, success exists at the end of every lead; all that is required is the hard work to travel there. With sufficient effort and efficiency, a multiverse awaits, where all the destinations of all paths are, theoretically at least, available.

The entrepreneur in all of us is—or feels they should be—working towards the side hustle, the second home, the parallel career, the publishing deal and the professional qualification—not to mention the optimized talents of children.

With enough work, the mindset tells us, the opportunity cost of making decisions can be eliminated, and everything can be within our grasp. In the 1980s, women were told they could “have it all.” Since then, everyone has been tempted to believe they can do it and be it all, too.

The trouble is: It’s not true. Sometimes, we may be selective with our options. Maxing out our time in order to box-tick our bucket list leads, in the end, to the hollow satisfaction of doing only that. The experiences, possessions and accomplishments on the list become secondary.

We must face the fact that we have only a few thousand weeks to enjoy our lives, and about a third of that will be spent asleep. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that once we’ve accepted the fact of finitude, shut down options and narrowed our focus, something miraculous happens: Our choice takes on a life of its own. We start to enjoy the constraint of commitment to focus on the present and shrug off the burden of choice, options and possibilities that lie in the future.

So, how can we make the most of the weeks remaining to us and achieve the goals we know are important? We can start by recognizing our limits.

Here are three productivity myths to eliminate from your working day.

Myth 1: Adopt the productivity hacks of highly successful people.

Okay, so Benjamin Franklyn rose at 5 a.m. each day, Stephen King begins his with an identically arranged workspace and Warren Buffet plays online bridge.

Rather than try and adopt these (or any of the many others) practices of those who are widely famous for their success, try to find inspiration in the habits of people you admire. Take those you think you can successfully adapt and make them your own: Einstein enjoyed solitary walks to give him space to think, for example.

Myth 2: Max out your time—don’t waste a minute.

Productivity research shows that we only have about 3-4 hours of peak productivity each day. If we squeeze achievement out of every minute in an 8-10 hour day, we’ll kill creativity in a bid to be like machines. Focus on when you are most productive and schedule the task you are trying to achieve in that window.

Myth 3: Ambition works: The bigger the target, the greater the achievement.

It is easy to believe that the most ambitious people are often the most successful: Aim for the stars, and you might summit Everest, right? It sounds convincing, but the research points the other way. Actual productivity is a slow, incremental process of small but increasingly challenging goals aligned toward a clearly defined outcome. Bite-sized tasks that build routine and confidence make goal-seeking a habit. Monster challenges are just, well, monsters.

So we remain with the business development challenge we started with at the beginning: When do we quit? Investing time is like investing money—once all the research has been done and the red flags have been eliminated, you have to listen to gut instinct—that “still, small voice” that will not be silenced. For me, listening to that has always paid off. The hard work is often inner work.

Interrogate yourself and your motives and clarity will follow.

As the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami put it: “You can have tons of talent, but it won’t necessarily keep you fed. If you have sharp instincts, though, you’ll never go hungry.”