The way of focus, fittingly, involves asking just one question – “Is this the best use of my time right now?” – over and over again.
Asking this question automatically requires us to evaluate if we’re spending wasting time focusing on urgent items vs. important ones. It means consistently understanding and evaluating trade-offs and, then, making the best decision given the constraints.
Relentless focus and great strategy are, in essence, the same thing.
For managers – between structure and ambiguity.
For CEO’s – between centralization and decentralization.
For survey creators – between question rich surveys that will yield many an insight and shorter surveys that will actually be completed.
For teachers and coaches – between the stretch zone and panic zone.
For us – between life, work and everything else we want to prioritize.
… and so on.
Tension is a key part of what makes anything great. It is impossible to get something “just right” without the right amount of tension. And, getting it “just right” requires us to accept the fact that it’ll exist, embrace the idea that we won’t always get it right and keep plugging away.
Tension accompanies us at every step and in every decision we make. Great strategy is making decisions with a clear understanding of the tension/trade-offs involved. As with most challenging life lessons, awareness is the first step.
We often face great difficulty saying no to new opportunities. This is typically due to one of 2 reasons –
1. These opportunities offer clearer short term rewards – e.g., a bit of extra money or instant gratification
2. We don’t like saying no – we prefer to be liked vs. attempting to be respected for our choices
There is a link between the two reasons because if the rewards of saying no are blindingly obvious, it is hard to not say no. It is when the rewards are fuzzy that it becomes harder to make the like-respect trade-off. The problem with this is that we often neglect the most important things in favor of short-term wins. Clayton Christensen often talked about how it takes parents nearly two decades to see the results of the time invested in their kids. I think that is the case for most great relationships. They take consistent investments for a long period of time. They degrade similarly as well. We don’t see it coming.. until it does.
An idea that could help make it easier to say no would be to re-frame it and think about what you are saying yes to. By saying no to answering email in the evening, we would be saying yes to quality time with our loved ones, for example. By saying no to that extra project, we’d be saying yes to sleep, exercise, and better personal health. By doing this, we pay attention to the real trade-offs.
And, where there is awareness of trade-offs, there is likely a good decision that is being made.