How Successful People Focus On What Matters
A few years ago, Raphael Vitón and I wrote Free the Idea Monkey…to focus on what matters most!
These two personalities are naturally at odds and, when out of balance, will kill any hope your company has to consistently innovate. So finding the balance between ideas and execution is absolutely critical to building a culture that knows how to create new products and services consistently. (I like to say that every Walt Disney needs a Roy Disney; every Steve Wozniak needs a Steve Jobs.)
In many ways, the Idea Monkey book is a humble reflection of my arguably destructive tendency to let my imagination and activator style get the best of me. When I am out of balance, I will instinctively start so many things at once that teams will often work on what seems important while missing the essential. My bad.
Over the years, I’ve watched as other imaginative leaders have experimented with a whole bunch of techniques to help them focus on what matters most. Here are three that work for me and other business leaders whom I respect.
The Tomorrow List
How many times have you woken up in the middle of the night thinking about what you have to do the next day? Study after study shows that a good night’s sleep is critical to happiness, creativity, proper brain function, sanity and keeping your spouse from hitting you over the head with a frying pan. If any of these seem important to you, then solving this disruptive sleep pattern is a huge opportunity.
Years ago, Tom Cain, a friend and mentor suggested I end the day with a mental purge. Thus started the practice of ending each day with a to-do-tomorrow list. The list is simply the three of four things I need to get done the following day. I leave it on my desk and go home. I know it will be waiting for me in the morning. I don’t have to spend time at home thinking about tomorrow because I know the list will inform my essential actions.
I’ve found that whenever I stray from this practice, I wind up waking up in the middle of the night going over the next day in my head and wondering if my skull is going to be dented by a cast iron skillet.
Leaving work at work is a noble goal, and for entrepreneurs, it often feels impossible. This very simple practice has really made a difference for me.
The Stop-Doing List
We all like to make “to-do” lists. Some of us have pages of them. But the greatest leaders, like Warren Buffet, learn to say “no” to almost everything. Not only do they refuse to do anything that is not absolutely essential, they spend a lot of time looking around their companies for things that can be eliminated.
This practice creates clarity and alignment and frees up resources to get the most important stuff done.
Be honest. How many things on your list are important and how many are essential? The best leaders seem to have figured out ways to say “no” to the nonessential items.
The One-Page Strategic Plan
My friend Verne Harnish, CEO and Founder of Gazelles, a consultancy for fast-growth businesses, authored the book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits. The book contains the most useful, strategic planning tool I’ve ever encountered.
Drawing on how his favorite Titan of Business approached things, Verne created a one-page overview of the essential things a team needs to accomplish in a three-year period.
The page outlines everything from cultural imperatives to quarterly and yearly goals. Each essential initiative is supported by simple metrics and assigned to a single person for accountability. Working through this document with your team will help solidify vision, goals and alignment.
Imagine, a single sheet of paper that aligns your entire company. Now that’s a powerful list.
As I said, these three lists work for me. Please let me know if they work for you. (I think they will.)