Any entrepreneur will admit that it's important to focus. The task of the entrepreneur is intense and mentally demanding. The surefire way to fail is to lose focus. You've got to focus.

But focus on what?

It's one thing to know that you should focus. It's another thing to know how to focus. But unless you know what you're supposed to focus on, this knowledge is useless.

Entrepreneurs don't need to be told to focus. They need to know where to turn their focus, and then how to achieve that focus.

Hey entrepreneur, you're doing focus wrong.

Pop open any of your preferred business publications, and you're sure to find something about focus.

  • Focus on SEO!
  • Focus on motivating your employees!
  • Focus on understanding your target customer!
  • Focus on reducing churn rate!

This grab-bag of focus items is useless. It leads to confusion. What the entrepreneur holds in her mind is a medley of distractions, not a single focus.

Think you can focus on a lot of things? You probably can't, and I don't recommend you try.

Scientists have determined that the act of multitasking doesn't hold up under scrutiny. The same holds true for the idea of focusing on multiple tasks simultaneously. It's an appealing but illusory superpower.

The mental act of focusing calls on the brain's executive system. Positioned in the frontal lobe, the executive system has been called the brain's air traffic control system.

The executive system tells the brain what to think about. Whenever you solve a problem, make a decision, think analytically, and order your thinking, you are summoning the powers of your executive system. The executive system is responsible for holding focus and eliminating distractions.

In spite of its power, the executive system is limited. It's good at doing one thing and suppressing all competing mental tasks. In other words, you can't focus on several tasks at once. Instead, the executive system burns its energy by switching rapidly between the two tasks.

The entrepreneur's brain is no different, remarkable though it may be. Trying to focus on multiple tasks is exhausting, ineffective, and unnecessary.

What entrepreneurs need is not one more thing to ocus on, but the humble admission that they can focus on only one thing at a time. From this point of humility, we're ready to dive into the real strategy of focus.

You can focus on multiple things, but you have to focus on focusing.

It may be a mental impossibility to concentrate on several tasks simultaneously. Don't lose heart, though. There are ways to overcome.

The task of starting, growing, and running a business makes unstopping demands. A business can't sustain itself unless you're covering all your bases--product, marketing, development, funding, customers, meetings, payroll, reports, phone calls, and email.

Yes, you have to focus on a lot of things. Since it's impossible to focus on all of these at once, you must divide, prioritize, and schedule.

This is what I mean by focus on focusing.

Focusing doesn't come naturally. It takes focus to focus. That's why you need a method, a strategy, a process for focusing. This is what I suggest.

1. Divide up your focuses.

The first step is distilling the sticky mess of competing focuses into a collection of discrete focuses. I can't dictate to you what these focuses should be in your specific situation, but I can give you a nudge in the general direction.

Choose focuses that build your business. If it doesn't grow your business, is it worthy of your focus? Activities such as planning, preparation, research, and visioning are, for me, strategic work that build my business.

Creating a list of focuses forces you to understand what a focus truly is. Demands to focus on your SEO sound important, but such activities ought not to be the central preoccupation of the entrepreneur or business leader.

An activity like SEO may fall under a broader focus on marketing, which itself is a focus on business building.

2. Prioritize your focuses.

Once you've listed out your focuses, it's time to prioritize them. Not every focus is important or necessary. Filter your focuses by asking the question "Will this build my business?"

If the answer is no or maybe, then the task may be either not necessary for you to do, or something that you can assign to someone else.

3. Schedule your focuses.

Once you have a small handful of focuses--three to five--you need to schedule your work hours around those focuses.

If they truly areyour focuses, then they deserve your time and attention. We cannot focus unless we first eliminate distraction. To eliminate distraction, schedule an hour or two each week to focus on each focus.

4. Define your tasks based on your focuses.

A focus is not a task. Your focuses produce your tasks.

For example, if you focus on learning more about your customers,then a logical task may be to interview a customer, create a customer survey, or do some customer research.

The beauty of focuses is that they help you to truly understand what it is that you need to be doing. Many entrepreneurs waste precious time and energy on unnecessary tasks and an unfocused hodge podge of duties.

The focused entrepreneur knows what his focus is, and what to do as a result of that focus. Use your focuses to build out your task list. Don't allow your task list to shut out all your focuses. Focuses come first, then your tasks.

Final thoughts

One of the highest compliments that an entrepreneur can receive is to be recognized as focused.

Focus doesn't come easy, nor is it a natural response to business demands. Most of us are reactionary, more likely to rush from task to task instead of defining, prioritizing, and scheduling our focus.

When you learn to focus, you will learn what it truly means to thrive in business and life.

How have you learned to focus as an entrepreneur?

Published on: Jul 23, 2015