Maximize Your Impact

Struggling to stay focused? Feel like you’re always flip-flopping between periods of high productivity—and complete exhaustion?

Let’s explore ways to maximize your impact, and how to focus your time, energy, and attention on what really matters, so you can accomplish more without burning out.

[Full Transcript]

Struggling to stay focused? Feel like you’re always flip-flopping between periods of high productivity—and complete exhaustion?

Let’s explore ways to maximize your impact, and how to focus your time, energy, and attention on what really matters, so you can accomplish more without burning out.

Defining Focus For Maximum Impact

Focus is all about making conscious choices. About staying awake and aware rather than slipping into sleepwalking mode.

By maintaining your awareness:

  • You maintain your self-control, consciously guided by your intention and values.
  • You get to choose what’s important to you (your intention), rather than allow the noisy world to choose for you.
  • You’re able to maintain agency over your own life, your own focus, and your own impact, rather than be constantly pulled away by shiny objects, “urgent yet not important” activities, and other common distractions.

Better self-control leads to greater impact. While you might not be able to fully control the outcome of your effort, you can influence it. How? By eliminating the 80% of activity that contributes just 20% of your results. Instead, you focus on that sweet spot of the 20% of activity that contributes 80% of your results.

The Pareto principle, or 80/20 rule, states that roughly 80% of outcomes come from 20% of causes. The exact ratio itself may be 90/10 or even 99/1 depending on the situation. Whatever the actual numbers, the point is that we tend to spend a lot of our energy on things that don’t really make that much of a difference.

One example of the 80/20 rule in action is your customer base:

  • 80% of your profits, referrals, and most interesting projects likely come from around 20% of your clients.
  • 20% of your clients are likely taking up around 80% of your time, energy, and focus.

Focusing your attention on those top 20% clients would likely free up about 80% of your energy, while still retaining 80% of the benefits (cash flow, interesting projects to work on, etc).

Here are some similar examples to consider:

  • 20% of your marketing will bring in 80% of your leads.
  • 20% of your employees or contractors will contribute 80% of the value toward your business’s success.
  • 20% of your problems are creating 80% of your stress.

Again, the specific numbers will vary. What’s important is that you don’t look at your business as an “all-or-nothing” situation. Shooting for 100% of the benefits may be tempting. But you need to consider the real costs associated with those benefits, as well as the opportunity costs for every extra percentage point of effort.

Let’s apply some overly-simplified math to the customer base example above:

  • Imagine you’re earning exactly $100,000 a year serving 10 recurring clients. According to the 80/20 principle, roughly two of those clients are responsible for $80,000 of that revenue, while the remaining eight clients are responsible for just $20,000.
  • Each client requires the same amount of time investment every week—4 hours per client, for a total of 40 hours per week.
  • Your top two clients take up just four hours a week each, yet bring in an average $40,000 each per year. The remaining eight clients also take up four hours a week each, yet only bring in an average of $2,500 each per year.

The real cost of serving each client includes things like your time, your energy, the emotional ups and downs of dealing with client issues, and the number of staff needed to serve each additional client.

The opportunity cost is what you’re giving up by not letting go of the bottom 80% of clients. Your top two clients bring in $80,000 per year, yet take just eight hours a week to serve. Focusing on those clients would free up 32 hours that you could use for higher value goals like:

  • Finding more of these top 20% types of clients.
  • Providing more attention to your existing top 20% clients in order to increase satisfaction and long-term retention.
  • Developing additional streams of revenue like productized services that aren’t as time-intensive to deliver.

By staying aware of these trade-offs, rather than just reacting to your circumstances, you’ll be able to make more conscious choices about where and how to focus your energy.

Maybe you’ll choose to keep every client. Maybe you’ll choose to keep five, or even just one. Either way, you’re making the choice based on your guiding intention and values—whether it’s maximizing your profits, minimizing your time in the office, or serving as many clients as you possibly can.

What’s Blocking Us From Being More Focused

Addiction to Busyness and Distractions

The current work culture worships at the altar of “busyness.” Being overworked, overwhelmed, and on the edge of burnout aren’t seen as weaknesses to be avoided at all cost—they’re actual status symbols. Visible proof to others of our success and value.

This is especially true with entrepreneurship, where the prevailing formula for success is: Building a Business = Long Hours + Hard Work

And while long hours and hard work can certainly lead to business success, this reductive formula misleads us into believing that any work worth doing must be “hard.”

Earning success becomes about hustle. About packing as many hours as possible with as much activity and effort as we can muster. We become obsessed with the quantity of activity, rather than the quality of activity.

Instead of having a priority, we have 17 priorities—which means we don’t have any priorities at all. We have no idea what to focus on or what activities will have the biggest impact.

So instead of focusing on any one thing in particular, we try to focus on everything all at once.

  • We multitask during meetings, when we should be completely focused on the people in the room or on our Zoom screen.
  • We fill every moment consuming new content, when we should be spending some of our time digesting and reflecting on the content we’ve already taken in.
  • We chase every new shiny object and trend, when we should instead be focusing on mastering the fundamentals.
  • We constantly keep one eye on our Slack, email, texts, and social media alerts, when we should be engaging in the deep, impactful work that requires 100% of our focus.

And as a result of all this frenetic doing, we wind up unable to focus on any one thing for very long. We literally train our brains to resist doing intentional, focused work—the 20% of effort that gives us the 80% of results. We’re too busy focusing all of our energy on the noise—the social media scrolling and email checking and multitasking that doesn’t really bring us squat.

That doesn’t mean we should stop checking our Slack or email or LinkedIn feeds. But do we really need to be checking them while someone else is sharing their thoughts and ideas during a meeting, or when we’re working on solving a complex problem, or when we need to finally finish that sales page draft for our website?

How to Turn Things Around

Simple awareness of the tendency toward distraction can go a long way toward boosting your focus on the areas of highest impact.

We’ll dive into more details about focus and impact in future posts. But for now, I’d like to invite you to reflect a bit on your specific focus and distraction patterns.

  1. How clear are you about your intention and vision?
  2. Do you tend to focus your energy and time on making real progress toward that vision, or do you tend to allow external “urgent yet not important” stuff to distract you from your most important goals?
  3. Do you spend most of your time in that sweet spot of 20% of activity that contributes 80% of your results, or the 80% of activity that contributes just 20% of your results?
  4. Does your definition of “being successful” mean maximizing the quantity of activity or the quality of activity?
  5. How many high-priority projects do you tend to tackle at once? If it’s two or more, which of those projects would have the biggest impact on your business? What would happen if you focused on just that one high-impact project first, instead of trying to do everything all at once?

In the next post, we’re going to move on to the topic of problem solving. We’ll explore ways to quickly analyze and reframe challenges so you can overcome them more easily.

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