Why you must focus to achieve success!

The ability to stay focused and control your mind from wandering regularly throughout the day can be both incredibly frustrating and exhausting if you are working on specific activities in pursuit of your goals. Whilst there certainly appears to be evidence to support ‘deliberate’ day dreaming that can in fact benefit you from embracing your creative part of the brain in a variety of different ways. The simple need to concentrate without distraction can be challenging when deadlines are fast approaching. It’s the ability to assume control of your mind, unhook the current thought and reset your focus on the task in hand. This takes practice, like and habit, but the benefits are significant as you will become a productive machine!

There are a number of different techniques to consider to train your mind to become better at focusing on your specific priorities and the benefits are certainly there to be seen. There is no doubt that by channeling your energies into a single activity will ensure you are consistent and the overall quality of your efforts will increase (check out the previous post on ‘The One Thing’). You will also find that you feel more relaxed and less overwhelmed as your mind isn’t trying to juggle a handful of different things at once – all you have to deal with is one task at a time. Additionally your specific objective will be achieved rather than a sub optimal version of the perceived outcome. Finally you will simply get more done in a shorter time period, rather than endlessly distracted and losing energy as your mind tries to process different requests, thoughts and activities.

The working day is essentially a series of individual blocks that you should focus all energies on for a specific period of time, then rest and go again – one analogy is like a boxer and having a series of rounds to fight in – 3 mins of focus, strategic effort with a single clear goal in mind, then rest, recover then go again…with the ability to last 10 – 12 rounds. We will explore the structure of the day in much greater detail in future posts but for now you should ensure your focus is maintained for the current window or round. To achieve your goals, you need a plan and the focus to deliver on the specific parts of the plan. To really achieve success you must have your primary goals in mind before you go to bed and when you wake in the morning – writing them down, reading and repeating them to yourself, front and centre – this creates the unwavering purpose you need to have any chance of being successful. Your goals will evolve over time, new ones replacing the old but you need to ensure you look ahead rather than backwards – your attention focused on what’s ahead of you to be achieved.

Below are a list of suggested techniques to think about that will help you focus:

  • – Our willpower and decision making lose energy throughout the day therefore it can be valuable to work on the more creative or activities that require concentration first whilst our minds are fresh, focusing on the hard tasks up front in those 2 or 3 hours in the morning, the more mundane, repetitive, mindless tasks can be done later in the day – it’s all about planning out your day effectively to optimise your energies – understanding when you are at your best should align with when you focus on different types of activities.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice – every time you find your mind getting distracted, recognise it and reset your attention on the task in hand – no matter how insignificant or small, keep working on this as you will get better at it and eventually it will become natural and you’ll pick up on when you day dream far faster – like anything its a habit than can be learned and improved upon.
  • During your breaks use this time to day dream and encourage your mind to wander – actively embrace this time and see where things go – essentially allowing your mind to problem-solve and relax – there are benefits to improving your focus by simply giving your mind a break from the intensity and deliberate control of staying in the moment.
  • Reinforce your commitment by keeping your promises (no matter how big or small) – follow through on commitments you’ve made ensures you’ll see things through till the end – this develops a habit of consistency and there are parallels to the way your mind will approach focus and self control.
  • Treat or reward yourself after completing a task with supreme focus. The promise of some kind of reward can drive you to see through a specific task. Remember these blocks or rounds should be small and therefore it won’t be that long until your first break – setting an initial reward as you start practicing can get you over the first few hours and gradually the rewards can become less frequent but perhaps larger as you complete more significant goals.
  • Take time to completely switch off – no work, no phones, time with the family, completely distract yourself with enjoyable activities, lose yourself in a different part of your life to re-energise yourself before coming back to your goals – avoiding burn out is key to relentlessly drive forward – it’s all in the planning but taking time away will enable you to refocus and push on.
  • Sleep at least 7 hours per day – don’t take this lightly – yes you may think you can work through the night (sometimes required) or you can live on 5 hours per day but over time I believe this catches up with you – you’ll be fresh and you’ll mind will be clear – critical in those first few hours of each day. Find ways to optimise your sleep so you sleep deeply and wake full of energy – it’s all about how effective you truly are whilst working rather than simply turning up – we want to maximise each hour and squeeze every last ounce of value from our working day if we want to achieve great things – so fresh, focused and energised requires quality sleep.

Priorities – finding the most important first step!

The key to success lies in asking a single question…’What’s the One Thing that I can do such by doing it everything else becomes easier or unnecessary’? The ‘focusing Question’ as described by Gary Keller in his excellent book ‘The One Thing’, considers the question you should ask yourselves or others when tackling any activity that is aligned to your goal or activity. Having read this book a number of times now it is clear to me that the power behind this question is immense and has huge influence over how likely you at to succeed in achieving your goal.

The key is to select the most IMPORTANT question rather than the hardest – generally most people create lists of priorities of things they have to do and have been told ‘get the hardest out of the way first’. The theory behind the ‘Focusing Question’ is to focus on the most important task or activity first no matter how hard or easy / large or small. The trick is identifying that one activity that is really the most important and then once finished, move to the next most important activity.

The beauty about the simplicity behind the question is that when you break down the question it guides you, holds you accountable and tells you what you need to do next. If we break down the question into three parts we can see the impact and effect;

(a) What’s the One Thing
This is very specific – its saying ‘tell me what the one and only thing is – not a number of things, just one’ so in effect gets you to pick one – it doesn’t allow you to choose more than one.
(b) That I Can Do
This is the accountability part – that ‘I’ can do – not anyone else – i.e. I’m taking responsibility for this task or activity – it means that I’m on the hook for the successful completion of this activity – no one else.
(c) Such by doing it everything becomes easier or unnecessary?
This is the Importance part – i.e. the part that ‘Matters Most’ i.e. the idea is that by selecting the most important activity all subsequent ones follow become easier or in fact may determine that others are simply unnecessary. To quote Gary Keller;

Make sure every day you do what matters most. When you know what matters most, everything makes sense. When you don’t know what matters most, anything makes sense.”
― Gary Keller, the One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

The One Thing can be applied to everything we do – be that work place activities or targets or personal goals. Once you’ve defined your primary goal or objective and the timeframe by which you choose to achieve it (further details on this structure later in a future blog post) you can then start considering the actions you need to take to achieve this goal…however by starting at the top level and asking the question (for example a goal that will take 12 months)….’What’s the One Thing I can do this year most such by doing it everything becomes easier or unnecessary?’

Think about what that one action item would be. As Gary Keller says ‘extraordinary success is sequential’ and this is at the heart of the process. By focusing on one thing at a time (without distraction) will ensure that the really important things get actioned in order and progression builds and builds (the domino effect) as momentum is created and you find yourself entering a state of ‘FLOW’ (section covers this later).

Breaking down a goal into smaller and smaller components really is the key to achieving your plans and repeatedly asking the ‘Focusing Question’ ensures you always are working on the most important actions first. So what’s The One Thing I can do this year, this month, this week, today or right now!

The question is the starting point for every step and as the question implies – everything after each action is that little bit easier or in some cases unnecessary – look at the list of actions that you need to take and consider those that are important and rank them based THE most important towards achieving your goal. As Gary Keller states – you should be creating a Success List rather than a To Do List – that’s what will get you there in the end.

Furthermore Gary Keller states ‘you can do two things at once, but you can’t focus effectively on two things at once’. So many people believe they can multi-task but in reality their attention is divided. Many people believe that multitasking is an efficient use of their time and they can achieve many things – this may also be true in certain circumstances however there is a danger of feeling overwhelmed and additional its simply not possible to do two important tasks concurrently – each individual item will distract you from the other thereby losing focus and concentration on what matters most – and that’s just two things at once – adding a third or fourth results in something eventually having to give.

By focusing on only One Thing at a time will result in other things being left until they then become the next most important thing to focus on – this is the time at which things should be left to a state of ‘chaos’ – in reality though some things may need to be lightly maintained however in the vast majority of situations most other activities can be left to a later point in time, delegated to someone else or simply never completed. This may sound impossible – how can you let everything else just drift? – however when you consider you are focused on the most important things first and then work your way down a ‘success list’ you will find that considerable more progress is being made in pursuit of your primary goal. As you become more successful those less important tasks or generally more administrative activities will be or can be taken up by others in support of you as you become known for these important critical tasks.

Most people will see the value of you regularly executing and completing critical important valuable activities that move the business or a situation forward ahead of other lower priority tasks.

An example may be that you simply taking action on a specific task (such as hiring someone to help you with a project or activity) will then free you up to do something more important and take care of other activities that are less important thereby giving you more time to focus on those things than will grow your business or yourself. So the action of hiring someone becomes the most important activity and the result means that everything after that becomes easier or unnecessary (as someone else is now taking care of business for you).

Whilst it may appear very simply (and it really is when you get good at it) there are many other forces at play that can make this much harder that you will need to overcome – many of which we will deal with later in the programme, for example Procrastination (huge factor in preventing you from taking any action at all or particularly something important) or Distraction (in person, social media, notifications, noise in general) all things that can result in a deviation from focusing on the One Thing that will improve your chances of success. Getting into a habit of focusing on the One Thing will overcome many of these factors as you become clear in what it takes to utilise this approach in everything you do.

Once you study many successful people you will see how single minded they are and how they don’t let anything distract them and have a clear goal, plan and execute the important things above everything else – repeating this process creates the domino effect and success builds quickly and geometrically.

Identifying the One ‘most important’ Thing is the secret and finding the smallest most straightforward starting point will unlock the progression. You may not always get it right but taking action, doing something, is half the battle. Eventually, through practice, you will get sharper in finding the starting point. Evaluate all possible options in consideration of your ultimate goal and keep challenging your position as to whether this IS the most important activity I could do right now. By thinking in this way it will become easier to quickly determine that first step or action. This is not Astro Physics, you simply have to identify what first single step is most beneficial – it’s all about breaking things down and down into small ‘baby’ steps – tasks then appear to be far easier to achieve and with completion you gain confidence, momentum and are encouraged to move to the next one.

The Focusing Question is something that can be applied in any situation once you’ve determined your goal and work backwards pinpoint your first step that then forms the basis of your plan to succeed.

This approach may seem simply, obvious and familiar but tackling a problem or goal in this way will ensure you are focused in the most optimum manner with the very best chance of success.

In the corporate world you will be asked to take on many different tasks, projects, challenges, solving problems or equally hopefully you’ll be pro-active and looking to identify opportunities to innovate or evolve your role, team, department, function or business – your starting point is simply to clearly articulate your goal (what is it you are trying to achieve or solve) and then consider the timeframe (the by when – even if this is not completely clear but at least determine a reasonable target date) and then you start working back by asking the Focusing Question.

The benefits are not just in the correct prioritisation of the activity it also prevents you from wasting time, drifting, never actually accomplishing significant things – by developing an ability to also focus on the most important things you will quickly be recognised for cutting through the noise and getting to the heart of the opportunity or problem.

This approach will set you apart from others as whilst they may work hard or long hours you are acting in an optimal state of efficiency and at the most effective – the time saved by completing those critical things first will push you above everyone else and you success will build on success as you become almost ‘machine like’ in your ability to identify the critical path to success. By asking this question each time it will become almost impossible not to be successful if you apply the other techniques in support of this starting point (that we will discuss later). The cumulative impact will ensure you stand out and on the correct path. The Focusing Question really is the key that unlocks the door to success, progression and achievement in both corporate and your personal life – once you uncover the first step everything else becomes that little bit easier.

Email Efficiency? Do, Delegate or Delete

Email is a double-edged sword – its both a wonderful communication tool, connecting people inside and outside of businesses and home across the world yet it can be the single biggest factor in why you fail to be as productive as you could be during the working day, or in fact in the entire day. Having been created to provide almost immediate communication with anyone anywhere on the planet, hours could easily drift away whilst you are lost, deep down inside your inbox.

Using email effectively requires discipline and self control. In pursuit of optimsing the working day I would strongly advise checking email only three times per day and for no more than 30 mins at a time (less if possible). Personally I check at 8am, midday and 4pm. If anything is really urgent outside of those hours someone invariably will find another way of updating me (and it better be for good reason!). Sticking to these windows ensures I avoid the trap of responding to every little question or conversation that appears innocent (more often than not unrelated to my purpose or goal) yet dangerous as they distract my attention and focus on my priority. Once the email window has closed then I log out completely from the email session such that no notifications will appear on either my computer, phone or any other mobile device.

Email is having an increasingly pernicious effect. Not only is it having a perceptible effect on productivity, it’s skewing what it is we focus on. The immediate increasingly crowds out the important. Noreena Hertz

The second key factor during the ‘open’ window is to filter and then prioritise everything in front of me in the first five minutes. I use the triple D approach, Do, Delegate or Delete. That way I’ve immediately removed the noise, the Delete, I then identify emails that others can attend to, the Delegate (another session on delegation will follow as a future blog post) and finally those items that I am directly required to either read or action (sub folders) sit in my Do folder.

Depending on your email client I would set up rules based on specific criteria to easily identify priorities and individuals – like it or not there are a certain group of individuals in an organisation you want to be aware of i.e. senior management, peer group, key business stakeholders etc… those that you should be tuned into and lets face it, if you want to progress you need to be on top of these messages and respond accordingly – these are opportunities to impress (where possible). I suggest colour coding the name of the individual or group using the rules in the email client (fairly easy to setup). This will help with prioritisation when you come to the Do list.

Additionally if you take some time to wander around your office and observe most people when working through emails you may see them staring at what appears to be the same email for hours, reading, scrolling, composing, deleting….others of course rattle through them and pat themselves on the back for clearing their inbox but still may be unnecessary, however through effective organisation or delegation many are wasting your time or require a single line response rather than writing an essay – be clear, to the point, identify the problem and reply with a concise response.

For now try this three window approach to dealing with emails and see how you get on. Clear your inbox of the clutter – move everything in there to a new folder (if you need to refer back at some later point) and then create three new folders – DO (create two sub folders – ACTION & READ), DELEGATE and DELETE. Then when the first next window opens up filter accordingly. Once complete delete the DELETE folder. Run through the DELEGATE folder forwarding or requesting others to take appropriate action and then focus your attentions on the DO folder – Prioritise the ACTION folder immediately based on either importance or sender and work top to bottom. Then move to the READ folder and work through this determining what action is required (if at all). The DO folder may result in actions or reading outside of the window however the intention is to at least run through initially to determine if an immediate response is required until the next window opens up. If you run through the entire 30mins so be it and leave what remains to the next window a few hours later.

This simple technique will ensure you are, at the very least, more organised, more productive as your time, energy and focus is not wasted on random emails, only this really important ones. It does require discipline to switch off email and the temptation will be there to just ‘check’ but don’t! – simply wait till the window opens up again and then filter and review, when the time is up log out and focus on the next most important activity aligned to your goal. After a week or so reflect on your productivity and adjust and adapt accordingly in line with the way you manage your inbox.

The power of saying NO!

Learning when and how to say ‘NO’ is a critical factor in your pursuit of success. Whilst saying ‘yes’ can be a wonderful thing, opening you up to new possibilities and opportunities it’s the power and strength to say ‘no’ that will ensure you remain clearly on your path to greatness. It can be extremely challenging and sometimes even stressful for those of us who don’t like to let people down, create disappointment or simply prefer pleasing others when we know deep down ‘yes’ is the wrong answer.

Our intuition can be a powerfully ally in this case when faced with a dilemma such as this. It’s important to understand and set your personal boundaries and limits when your inner voice attempts to hijack your preferred decision. It’s important to understand why you feel a certain way and what is driving you to succumb to this decision – understanding your thoughts and feelings is something to reflect on each time you realise this has happened to you.

Many people will simply not understand your decision at first when you listen to your own thoughts as their agenda or plan is not always aligned to your own – why live out someone else’s life or business plan if it doesn’t fit your own. By answering ‘yes’ when you know deep down ‘no’ was the better response you potentially can get sidelined and lose valuable time pursuing your strategic objectives. It’s therefore critical that when you reach these signposts you ensure your path to success is clearly mapped out and that when faced with a decision you stick to the correct path to reach your destination.

Again this takes practice. Saying ‘no’ can be incredibly brave depending on the circumstances. In fact the very prospect of saying that tiny word can fill you with anxiety in the days, weeks even months before you have to respond. The good news is, you have the control, no one can make you say ‘yes’ – in fact sometimes its admirable to stand your ground – not lease because its your time others are happy to waste. Additionally you may say ‘yes’ but despite this you may not give your all and as we know to become unstoppable you have to leave nothing on the table if you want to achieve extraordinary success in your career and in life.

The right to assert yourself in line with what you desire is yours and yours alone. You don’t have to conform to what everyone else is doing if it’s not in line with your goals or core values. You are unique and therefore hold the power to choose how you act and respond. When the lights go out and you judge yourself you should feel comforted in the knowledge that you chose wisely and not regret those decisions you made.

The two little letters are incredibly powerful when used at the right time, yes you may miss some opportunities however if you truly understand your purpose then saying NO will get increasingly easier.

Tom Hanks mused over this dilemma reflecting to Business Insider saying ‘I realised that I had to start saying a very, very difficult word to people, which was ‘no’. By saying no means you made the choice of the type of story you wanted to tell and the type of character you want to play.’ If you research many successful business leaders and other individuals in different careers many will tell you that saying NO is a powerful tool contributing to their success – in fact the ability to say no ensured Steve Jobs would become one of the most focused individuals in a generation.

Whatever the decision or choice you are faced with on a daily basis, pause for a moment and consider the answer before you give it, is it really aligned to the things you really want to accomplish, reflect how you feel each time (regardless of the answer you gave) and then consider the implications. This comes back to self awareness and how you choose to respond in different situations therefore like everything, start small, practice with easier choices and remember how you feel when you proudly make a decision you really wanted to make rather than pleasing someone else and incrementally build on this day by day until you build the strength to face down those big tough life choices – you’ll amaze yourself, build strength and character and remain firmly on the path to success.

Why affirmations work!

As we consider how to optimise our focus, execute our goals and take control of the working day there are many small techniques and tools that can be easily deployed to assist in setting us up for rip roaring success – positive affirmations happen to be one of those elements.

They are clear specific statements that when used repeatedly help you change your focus and mindset in an extremely positive way.  They can be thought of as an injection of motivation into the mind, focused thought leading to taking massive action.

It’s important to ensure that the statements used are in the present, powerfully constructed to be clear on intent even if the outcome or goal is still yet to achieved.
For example ‘I am financially independent’ or ‘I am passionate about my job’ or ‘I am respected by my peer group’.

The key is that you consider first what you want to achieve and then follow this by reminding and repeating to yourself the outcome that you desire. By repeating over and over, both by writing these down, reflecting on them daily and by saying them to yourself you will let your subconscious go to work to help you achieve them whilst constantly reminding you to take positives steps aligned with your goals.

I like the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ however this could be reworded as ‘you are what you repeat‘, at least it will ensure you stay in a positive mental state and drive you forward.

Now of course your affirmations have to be achievable and realistic much like your goals but go big – don’t make them easy – dream hard and push yourself, you want to be the best you can be? so stretch yourself – you are in control of your thoughts and attitude so why not make that visualisation as big and as bright as possible and then keep it front of mind at all times.

Your brain is incredible and it deals with everything in the moment.  When you think of something your brain gets to work to consider what appropriate action will follow.  Therefore it’s reasonable to assume that feeding it positive statements will result in meaningful actions.  If you don’t take control your brain will look for other influences to make sense of the immediate environment and then lead you down a different path, more often not the one aligned to your goals.

Like anything practice makes perfect – and repetition is the key to success with affirmations. Try writing down four or five affirmations and saying them to yourself when you first wake up and regularly during the day – success doesn’t happen overnight (I liked a quote I saw yesterday that said ‘it’s amazing how many late nights it takes to be an overnight success’!  I can’t remember who to attribute this to but it’s certainly true).

Build into your day a sprinkling of positive affirmations and repeatedly say them to yourself and let the magic of your mind assist you in achieving them.

Are you really working at fulfilling your true potential?

Highly successful individuals continuously contemplate which techniques will drive them to achieve greater success.  The journey to a better job, more money and responsibility is often the motivation.  However many still struggle with a feeling that they could and probably should have achieved much more.  It may be that from afar these professionals are exceeding in many aspects of their lives however the truth is that we all can squeeze more out of ourselves.  The vast majority of us if being truly honest with ourselves that we could do more, push more, achieve more, try harder in whichever aspect of life we feel important.

Now I’m not suggesting that many people don’t work hard, in some cases burning the candle at both ends, however we still know whether we were ‘all in’ and really giving everything when it mattered most – and most importantly aligned with our primary life goals.

Love him or hate him (and he does have his haters!) Tai Lopez believes ‘The Good Life’ to maximise the four pillars of success, Health, Wealth, Love and Happiness.  I do agree with this view and actually a really great way of thinking about what really is required to feel satisfied with life.  I think if we were to audit our lives in each of these four categories we would probably agree more could be done.  Now clearly achieving a balance in each isn’t necessarily a good thing but when we think of Wealth (and working relentlessly as an intrepreneur) we should be challenging ourselves to feel we have pushed to the limit – if of course we want to reach the top.

Remember this is not for everyone – some people are simply happy with their situation and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that however most leaders in organisations value those who take responsibility and are accountable for their actions and have the best interests of the company to heart.  Equally you must understand the critical tasks of your organisation, those handful of important activities that lead to success.  You should be operating at an extremely high level in your current role but also understand clearly what is expected of your boss and be working to develop those skills and competencies such that you are ready to assume the role when called upon.

There are only two things you can really control, your attitude and how you react to things therefore stepping out of your comfort zone and really pushing hard to fulfil your potential is one of the ways you will progress.  Recognise when you feel like you could do more and reflect on each occurrence at the end of the day – what can you learn, how would you act if faced with a similar opportunity in the future?

‘A temperate fire never boils the water’ (Alvin Conway)

Take the time to reflect on where you should push and end the day having giving it everything you got – you’ll feel and see the difference almost immediately as you start living up to your potential.

Welcome to The Relentless Intrepreneur

Firstly I want to begin by welcoming you to my blog and thank you for visiting!  I really hope that you will find it useful and effective as I share my thoughts, ideas and suggestions from both my own experiences and what I’ve observed in others over the past 20 years in business.  My objective and commitment to you is to help you succeed as you take each progressive step up the corporate ladder.  This blog is focused primarily on supporting the millennial generation develop their skills to tackle head on the challenges faced in an ever changing business landscape however many of the ideas captured will benefit anyone wishing to progress in their careers.  I truly believe that if you are armed with the right tools, techniques, attitude and a well executed game plan you really can become incredibly successful.  I get that you are ambitious and whilst overnight success is found at the other end of hard work and commitment if you are focused motivated and relentless and prepared to develop and evolve your skills, knowledge and personal brand you will secure the very best roles or gain internal promotion and recognition in your pursuit of executive level status.  This is about being ultra effective, optimising time, understanding that by applying a growth mindset, structuring your working day correctly and executing with purpose and passion you can and will become unstoppable.  I’m here to help you contentiously improve in pursuit of becoming the very best version of yourself.  Let the journey being…