One may think that Jobs juggled lots of massive projects at once to reach the pinnacle of success. But he actually credited much of his success to one word: focus. At the 1997 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, Jobs shared this brilliant piece of advice:
"People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done."
Business should not be confused for busyness. As our productivity increases, and we spread ourselves thin in an attempt to accomplish all our goals, Steve Jobs had a different approach. He said, "Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things. You have to pick carefully."
Without focus, your ability to think, problem-solve, and make decisions will suffer. You just can't maximize your efficiency if your mind is wandering off into multitasking land. Rather, the focus should be on single-tasking -- placing your full attention on one thing, one business problem, one big task, one important conversation.
Say no to these things.
Jobs' advice of saying no mirrors my own counsel to coaching clients who struggle with productivity. To simplify, I often tell them to say no to these things in particular:
Doing all the work themselves
Getting as much done as possible in a day means delegating. This may be challenging for controlling types to take on, but it's absolutely essential.
To Jobs, the first step is to surround yourself with bright people. The next is to step back and let them work: "It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do," he said. "We hire smart people, so they can tell us what to do."
Interruptions and distractions
Technology is one of the greatest gifts of productivity and one of the biggest obstacles to maintaining good focus. The constant distractions from notifications can easily take you off track.
One study found that if all interruptions were eliminated, workers would recapture three to five hours a day every day, which equals 40-60 percent of the standard workday.
Instead of letting tech manage you, manage your tech by avoiding jumping into email when you start your day; you may get sucked into a whirlpool of others' needs, so do this last. Then, when doing work that requires flow and sharp focus, go airplane mode or turn off notifications, and place your smartphone in another room nearby.
Setting unrealistic goals
As you think of the countless tasks you're likely to face this week, avoid setting goals you won't likely be able to accomplish or you just can't take on. Be realistic about what and how much you put on your plate.
For example, while planning out your day, come up with one or two primary goals you want to accomplish before close of business. These should be goals that will propel you forward, not sidetrack you from your MO.
To ensure success, break these down into smaller tasks in support of those goals, so it doesn't feel like you're staring up at Everest when you begin your day.
As Jobs reminds us, "Focusing is about saying no." It isn't easy, but the payoff can be quite rewarding. As Jobs said, "I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done."