It's ironic that I am writing an article on being laser focused, considering that most of my life my parents, teachers, friends, and business associates have been convinced that I have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). While I have never been clinically diagnosed with the disorder, I have the classic symptoms. But I am clearly not alone in the business world. Many successful entrepreneurs show the same signs. (Maybe we should call it "EADD" -- the "E" for Entrepreneur?) And many admired CEOs have even publicly talked about it, including David Neeleman, the founder and CEO of JetBlue.

So, in a world where focus has become a mantra, how are people with focusing issues becoming successful entrepreneurs and great business leaders? Why do so many of those fidgety, short attention span, not-able-to-sit-for-more-than-a-minute people succeed? The truth is "EADD" can be a blessing -- or a curse. It can create success -- or guarantee failure. It all depends on how and where you direct your focus when you need to.

For instance, a few years back, a psychologist friend told me that ADD children love to play sports, are often good athletes, and especially like the role of being goalies in soccer or hockey. Why? Because when the ball or puck is on the other side of the court, and out of their play, they enjoy the "down" time by wondering about things other than the sport they're playing at that moment. However, when the ball or puck comes towards them, they are the best at being intense protectors of their team's net. No one can focus like ADDers when they put their minds to it.

The lesson for entrepreneurs: Focus when it is important. Not everything demands the same amount of attention. Here are few tips you can use to help you gain better focus when you really need it.

  1. De-clutter. Write it all down. I used to use Post-It® notes everywhere. Now I use my Blackberry. I keep it with me at all times and type any and all tasks, appointments, numbers, goals, and ideas into it. Once it's in the Blackberry I don't need to be concerned that I will forget and then can move onto the next business issue or challenge.
  2. Set goals. Create a list of goals that you constantly refer to. I am a believer that one-, three- and five-year written goals are critical. Review them religiously.
  3. Question new opportunities. Question all opportunities as they arise. Ask yourself or your coworkers these questions: Does this fit where we really want to go? Is it distracting? Will it take away energy or manpower from the core opportunity we are pursuing? What is the risk of paying attention to this idea or opportunity? If it doesn't fit or isn't as attractive as what you're currently pursuing, then table it.
  4. Know your strengths. And conversely, know what you're not good at. Surround yourself with people who can fill your weak spots and who can fortify your strengths. This way you'll have people to lean on when it's time for you to be laser focused.

Whether you're afflicted with EADD or not, it's important to realize that starting a business often presents a flurry of opportunities that can push you to distraction. Taking a few steps to regain your focus -- and play the game at your best when you need to -- can help you build a company that will succeed.

Published on: Sep 1, 2005