Focus and habits

In their book The Power of Focus, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Les Hewitt define habit as “something you do so often it becomes easy.” Mark Twain said, “Habit is a habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.” Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), English playwright, novelist, and short story writer, said, “The unfortunate thing about this world is that good habits are so much easier to give up than bad ones.”

Habits play a huge role not only in how we organize our personal and social lives, but also in the way we run our businesses. A friend and mentor, Joan Gillman, gave me some good advice. She told me to “focus” on our business. It’s no secret that companies that make a habit of focusing on what they want prosper!

Recently, at a networking event, the talk at my table centered on how a company’s habits, and the way it focuses on getting things done, can affect its bottom line. One person talked about “working smarter, not harder,” as well as about working “on” the business instead of “in” the business.

There was discussion about both the 80/20 rule and the Kaizen principle. I’ve been interested in those two ideas since Neil Fauerbach of Smith & Gesteland CPAs and their team introduced our company to 80/20 a couple years ago. The 80/20 rule is based on the Pareto Principle, which says that 20% matters and 80% is trivial. Working on that theory, we need to be focusing 80% of our efforts and time on the 20% of tasks that are really important. In other words, we shouldn’t just “work smart,” we should work smart on the right things.

Kaizen principles work on the mindset of continuous improvement. Kaizen has become a big word in management since it has been shown to work, because any company, or any person, can make small improvements over a period of time. It’s the focus and attention to small things that help create the improvement. Its overall purpose is to help eliminate waste of time, talent, products, efforts, etc. Kaizen is not a one-time thing. Kaizen is something that is done every single day. It’s said that it not only improves a company’s productivity but also the workplace environment. Wow! Who knew a simple focus on making small changes could do all that.

One of my tablemates suggested that we should all use the concept of “the most important 30 minutes of the day” when we identify the most important activities we should engage in – the tasks we should be focusing on for the day. My first thoughts were about how (and where) to find these 30 minutes, and then I realized that, just like many of you, I have some “non-essential” distractions in my early workday. Finding this time, and eliminating outside distractions during this period, would have to be the focus of a new habit – one that could make my workday more fulfilling. So now I’m challenged to take the time to really concentrate on what has to be done, 80/20 the list (prioritize for what is really most important), and prepare to devote my time and energy to the things that will be the most productive for our business. Again, wow! This could be a really good thing I couldn’t wait to get started.

I left that event feeling challenged, and determined to find the time to look at and refine my “habits.” Early June seemed like the perfect time to tackle a project like this, so I jumped in with both feet. I was excited about looking for ways to improve the way we do things, focus on things that are important to me personally and to the company I represent, and look for ways to save time, energy, and dollars while still being able to perform at my best.

A few days passed before I could find that important 30 minutes to begin. The first thing I did was make a list of the several non-essential things I was doing each day. No one had put those things on my plate – I just got into the “habit” of doing them. As I studied them, I began to wonder how many of those things that I had placed my daily focus on were really important, and then I began the process of elimination. Pretty soon, I was able to list the things that really counted … things that depended on my participation … things that are important to our daily operations. I think it will simplify the “daily grind” if energies are focused on what really has to be done.

Here are a few things I learned from my tablemate:

  • Concentrate on the most important activities that will move yourself, and your company, toward accomplishing its goals.
  • Prioritize daily for appointments, projects, etc. Do this the night before or early in the morning. In my case, I do this very early and email the list to myself at work.
  • Look carefully at personal and business life to see where to redirect strategies.
  • Keep in mind the old axiom “If you want a different result, do something different!”
  • Help the good become better. Make it a habit to spend 80% of your time focused on the 20% that really matters.
  • Focusing on the goal is not enough. We have to also focus on the process.
  • We’re more effective with tasks, and we get more done, when we focus.
  • Twenty percent of the prospects we pitch will account for 80% of the deals we close. Make a new habit of “spending” time, effort, and energy on the smaller group that brings the most business to the company.
  • Ask for what you want. Whether it’s privacy while I’m working on a project, working with numbers, or having a conference call or whether it’s asking a client for the sale, I have to ask or I won’t get.
  • Absolutely everything in life is a choice. I can choose to create new habits, focus on what’s important, and be successful or I can stay in my comfort zone all day. Comfort zones don’t bring dollars to the bank.

I’m so glad I went to that networking event. I am sold on 80/20 and Kaizen. Canfield, Hansen, and Hewitt have a chart in their book with one point that I think is absolutely perfect: “It’s not hocus-pocus, it’s all about focus.”

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