I’ve worked with and observed hundreds of entrepreneurs over the last 5 years. One of the biggest factors that predicts future success is the ability to focus. Focus is not just the ability to block out distractions but to create the right conditions for uncompromising progress towards one’s goal. That probably sounds exhausting. Yet one of the key conditions for that kind of productivity is to discover what energizes and motivates you, then leverage it to your advantage.
There are many enemies to this kind of focus today. Beyond the usual suspects of technological distractions and ever-shortening attention spans, there’s a silent killer: too many goals. Manifold goal setting has become a panacea for a lack of clarity and purpose. The more goals you have the more productive you can be, right? Wrong.
Hyper goal setting is similar to the curse of busyness; they are both highly desirable yet completely useless states of modern living. If you find yourself answering, “I’m busy” every time someone asks how you’re doing, you know this well. Modern life asks us to wear busyness like a badge of honor. Yet the busier we become, the less we’re actually creating.
Tim Kreider, writing in the New York Times, claims that while we’d expect to hear complaints of busyness from ER doctors or minimum wage workers pulling back-to-back shifts to make ends meet, “It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve ‘encouraged’ their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.” What do we face in the absence of busyness? The imperative to create, innovate, or transform. Busyness as usual is far less frightening.
We keep busy and set more and more goals because we’re bored. “To be bored isn’t to be indifferent. It is to be fatigued. Because one is exhausted,” writes Umair Haque, an economist and thought leader on the next era of capitalism. We’re exhausted by the relentless pace of keeping up with the market, others’ expectations, and evolving “norms” that leave everyone feeling less than normal. We constantly layer more and more “work” onto our calendars, our kids’ schedules, and our doggy’s day books to find meaning in a world where there seems to be none. Keeping busy feels more comfortable than trusting a strategy or opening yourself to the space that fosters creative possibilities.
We search and search for fulfillment, purpose, and meaning. But meaning—usefulness, even—isn’t found. It’s created.
While we quest endlessly, we put up with a reality that falls short of what’s possible. Haque continues, “[We want to be] liked, not loved … clever, not wise; snarky, not happy; advantaged, not prosperous.” It looks good on paper—your résumé, your Facebook profile, your brochure—but it doesn’t fulfill you.
In your business, hyper goal setting and chronic busyness results in innovation taking a backseat to getting stuff done and meaningful marketing losing out to the hot new thing. Of course, it’s not that getting stuff done and learning new methods are bad. That’s what’s so dangerous about this problem. Yet if you haven’t stopped and focused on what you’re really trying to create and how you’d really like to connect with your customers, you will lose out on the opportunity to do something truly beautiful, wise, or prosperous.
Focus is what allows us to inhabit the quiet spaces where power resides.