I’ve had a hard time focusing lately.
The world is moving too fast and I can’t stop thinking that there’s more I should be doing. Just reading a single issue of INC Magazine I get bombarded with 10 Next Big Things: from iPad apps and organic chocolate bars to video streaming and radiation-free nuclear power.
Each seems like a great business to be in, and they all sound better than the business I’m in now.
What’s an entrepreneur to do?
I’ll tell you what to do: Nothing. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Come back to reality.
Unless you are in the publishing business, INC Magazine is probably not really that helpful in growing your business. Put the magazines down. Put down Entrepreneur and Wired and Forbes. Put down HBR too. The answers you need are not in there.
But lets get back to me.
My business has been hammered by the recession. It’s about break even right now, but could go south in a heartbeat. So I’ve been out looking for new ideas and new businesses to start. I’ve allowed myself to lose focus on what got me here and where I was going.
Bad move. Its not that I’m spending a few hours day-dreaming or getting a fresh perspective… its that I’m wasting days and weeks and sometimes months trying to change my existing business to fit the new new thing.
Quick! I’d say, Tell the sales team to sell some iPad apps. Quick! Tell engineering to work up drawings for radiation-free nuclear plants. Quick! Tell accounting to source some organic chocolate chips from South America.
Pretty soon, my carefully assembled team is a train wreck of twisted bodies and crossed wires. That’s no way to run a railroad.
My wife says I need to be more neurotic. And, of course, she’s right.
Neurotic entrepreneurs focus obsessively on a goal and drive relentlessly forward.
Neurotic business builders don’t worry about what other people are doing or saying. They don’t get distracted by the next big thing or the new new thing. Neurotic people win because they don’t trip themselves up thinking about what might be around the next corner. They are here. Now. And they know where they are going.
That’s why neurotic people will win, and “balanced” people like me will wobble through mediocrity.
My new favorite blogger, David Shedd writes a lot about focus. He recently had this to say:
“One of the most demoralizing and exhausting aspects of business is the wasted time, attention and effort on initiatives or programs that are hot and heavy for a few weeks or a few months and then ignored as leaders move onto the next “sexy” idea. If you have committed to a course of action, be consistent and follow-up, seeing it to its end.”
Its impossible for you or anybody else in your company to produce anything of real value when your focus is shifting from one “sexy idea” to the next.
So I’m taking a vow… I’m not going to be sexy any more. I’m going to be neurotic.
In fact, I’ve made myself a little bit of a neurotic reminder tool. It’s a list, with just 3 things on it. These are the 3 things I have to do to grow my business. They are the three legs of my stool, so to speak. If I can do them, I will end up with a profitable, healthy and sustainable business.
But the list is only 3 things. There is no #4. In fact, there’s no room for a #4 on the paper. Just 3 things and a big black line under #3.
Its an easy visual reminder that my life is full and there is no room for distractions. When someone suggests that we add a new thing to focus on, I can look at the list and think, “which of these 3 things can I afford to take off the list in order to make room for the new thing?”
And of course, the answer is pretty easy. “None” of the 3 things can come off the list. My life is full. I have no room for distractions. I am choosing to be neurotic. I am choosing to win.
It took me a while to get back to basics. To remember why I am in this business and not making organic chocolates or nuclear power stations. But when I remembered, I knew that I had to get more neurotic about the business I was already in, and leave the distractions to someone else. Finally, I can see the finish line. Its still a ways off, but the path is straight, and I am neurotic.
Dedicated to your (focused) profits,