It’s that time of year where budgets are committed and targets negotiated. Early in the new year you’ll have the annual kick-off and the Exec at the front will say "This year we're going to have a laser-like focus on…"? Everyone in the room knows what they actually mean is "as well as everything else you're doing".
Deciding what to focus on is relatively easy. The hard part is sticking to that decision - and it's hard because you need to be disciplined about what you’re not going to do. Without that discipline, your new focus is just another ball for your team to juggle. The really tough thing about focus, and the reason so few people are good at it, is that it's about deciding which balls you're going to let fall and being OK with the consequences. Can you avoid the daily clamour of the urgent over the important? Or is it the fear of missing out that’s distracting you?
The Cambridge Business English Dictionary defines focus as "the central or most important thing for a company or organisation" and "the ability to give all your attention, time and energy to a particular activity". When you decide on the focus of your energy and resources, you're making choices and trade-offs. Your resources are limited. You can't do everything. And if you try, you'll fail.
If you're going to focus on this particular thing, what will you gain and what will you have to give up? Is the desired outcome worth the required sacrifices? If it is, then go all in. If you're not certain, then try it on a manageable scale first (being disciplined about scope, time and measures of success). As a minimum, you should have a clearly articulated reason why and you should have a list of things you'll need to start, stop, and continue doing in order to be successful.
Whether you're focusing on a short-term goal or on something perpetual that is core to your business, like customer intimacy, your focus needs to be absolute. There's an old proverb that says "if you chase two rabbits you’ll catch neither". If you watch footage of a lion hunting, it'll single out one animal from the herd and chase it down, ignoring the rest. If it chased whatever was closest at any given time, switching its attention from animal to animal, it would quickly get exhausted and go hungry.
The next time you think about focus, ask yourself “What will you stop doing?” – without stopping something you are unlikely to create the space, or maintain the discipline, to stay the course.