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What Lion Tamers Know About Focus

Running a business can feel like a circus, juggling tasks while trying to maintain balance. Here's how to stay in control.
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My family has a long-standing ritual of going to the circus when it comes to town. One act in particular always fascinates us: the lion tamer.

The lion tamer has three tools to control the prowling beasts: a whip, a stool, and a handful of tasty snacks. But which of these tools is most valuable? You might think it’s the whip, but it’s not. It’s the stool. When the lion tamer lifts the stool to face his snarling companions, the lions see all four stool legs and don’t know which one to focus on. As a result, they stand frozen, enabling the tamer to keep them at bay.

Unfortunately, the same can happen to you when you try to focus on too many things at once--you become unable to take action on any of them. Lack of focus significantly impairs your ability to lead and stick to your plan.

Here are two simple tricks to help you clarify your goals:

Sharpen Your Priorities by Thinking in Threes

Thinking in threes is a powerful way to simplify priorities, and the resulting clarity trickles down to your team. I routinely ask clients to reduce their strategies from perhaps six to three, or to consolidate their values from twelve to three, or to select the three most important business metrics from their laundry list of twenty. You can think in threes to simplify your values, measures, strategies, action plans, or message points.

Truth be told, the precise number is less important than the clarity this process creates. Let’s say you’re starting with a list of twelve core values … that no one on your team can remember, let alone apply. If you settle on four values, it’s not critical to eliminate one more to get down to three. The benefit was realized--now you have a few clear values that your team can remember and apply.

Sharpen Your Focus by Deciding on One

Your most important decision today is to decide what is most important: your "one thing.”

Each day, week, month, and year, you have one task that has a disproportionate impact on your goal for that day, week, month, or year. Your one thing is the task that most directly helps you achieve your goal. In other words, if you complete your one thing for today, even if lots of other tasks are not completed, your day is still a victory. By the same token, if you don’t get it done, your day is a failure, no matter what else you’ve accomplished.

So figure out your one thing for today by asking yourself, “What is most important thing I can do right now?”

Decide on your priorities and narrow your focus, and you will see the results.

IMAGE: Shutterstock
Last updated: Jul 19, 2013

LEE COLAN | Columnist

Lee Colan is founder of the L Group, a consulting firm that equips and inspires leaders at every level. He is a leadership adviser, presenter of practical ideas, and a Thinkers 50 nominee for Top Management Thinker.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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