Focus on getting a few meaningful things right



Photo by Constantin B.


Effective leadership focuses on doing a few things right. Trying to do too much is a recipe for failure.

“I can’t be involved in 50 or 75 things. That’s a Noah’s Ark way of investing – you end up with a zoo that way. I like to put meaningful amounts of money in a few things." – Warren Buffett

How a leader spends their time and money reveals what matters to them, it reveals their focus. . . or lack thereof. Effective focus requires that you understand the outcome you’re looking for. Can you describe the outcome that you want in a clear and concise simple phrase? Without a clear understanding of your outcome you will be unable to lead effectively.

What’s your focus and is it clear? A leader who is chasing many things, he too end’s up with a zoo! A leaders most precious commodity is his or her time and attention and it should be well spent. Leader’s should focus on putting meaningful amounts of time into a few key things. Meaningful things. Things that matter.

I liked the approach taken by the top selling author of “Built to Last” and “Good to Great”, selling about seven million copies combined, Jim Collins who maintains a disciplined focus to ensure he gets the most out of each day. In an interview with the New York Times, “For This Guru, No Question Is Too Big” Mr Collins provides the following insight into how he manages his time:

“….in a corner of the white board at the end of his long conference room, Mr. Collins keeps this short list:

  • Creative 53%
  • Teaching 28%
  • Other 19%

That, he explains, is a running tally of how he’s spending his time, and whether he’s sticking to a big goal he set for himself years ago: to spend 50 percent of his workdays on creative pursuits like research and writing books, 30 percent on teaching-related activities, and 20 percent on all the other things he has to do.

These aren’t ballpark guesstimates. Mr. Collins, who is 51, keeps a stopwatch with three separate timers in his pocket at all times, stopping and starting them as he switches activities. Then he regularly logs the times into a spreadsheet.

He has a good jump, too, on another overarching goal he’s set for himself: to produce a lasting and distinctive body of work.”

In addition to maintaining a focus in his purpose and on relentlessly managing his time, he also understands when to say “no” to the good to focus on his personal great.

“Mr. Collins also is quite practiced at saying “no.” Requests pour in every week for him to give speeches to corporations and trade associations. It could be a bustling sideline, given that he commands a top-tier fee of ,000 to dispense his wisdom. But he will give only 18 speeches this year, and about a third of them will be pro bono for nonprofit groups.…. Book tours? No. Splurging with the millions he’s earned from his books? No, too…. 

This orientation — a willingness to say no and focus on what not to do as much as what to do — stems from a conversation that Mr. Collins had with one of his mentors, the late Peter F. Drucker, the pioneer in social and management theories.

“Do you want to build ideas first and foremost?” he recalls Mr. Drucker asking him, trying to capture his mentor’s Austrian accent. “Zen you must not build a big organization, because zen you will end up managing zat organization.”

Therefore, in Jim Collins’s world, small is beautiful.”

It’s clear that Mr Collins is focused on his purpose and manages his life accordingly. In an HBR blog post he goes on to say that…

"As a great teacher, Rochelle Myers, taught me, you can’t make your own life a work of art if you’re not working with a clean canvas,"

As he elaborates in an article on his website…

“Rochelle spoke to me repeatedly about the idea of ‘making your life a creative work of art.’ A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally important, what is not.”

So, how about you?

  • Do you have the clarity of purpose and the discipline of execution required to ‘make you life a work of art? Or are you just trying to keep up with the frantic pace of 21st century life?
  • What are your key focus areas? How much time should you be spending on each?
  • What should you stop doing? you need the discipline to discard that which does not fit!

Related posts:

  1. Keeping your goals in focus
  2. Focus your communication on the why and less on the how….
  3. Simplify and Focus on Meaning!
  4. Persistence: The key to the achievement of meaningful goals
  5. Are you executing on your highest priorities?

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