I have a lot of weaknesses. A basket full. Over the last year, one has stood out more than others—my lack of focus. It comes it many forms, but the most common is having good ideas. That doesn’t sound so bad, right? In essence, having good ideas is wonderful, but following ALL good ideas isn’t. Let’s look at the cost of lack of focus.
There’s an emotional cost.
We have a surprisingly low amount of emotional energy each day. That’s why supermarkets put candy at the front, by the checkout. They’re banking on you having made so many decisions throughout your shopping experience—detergent, tortilla chips with scoops or without, which brand of frozen pizza—that you have decision fatigue and just buy the dang Snickers.
When you’re unfocused, you have to make too many decisions about too many agendas. Because of this, you’ll experience decision fatigue. This causes you to either procrastinate on a decision that you should make, or make a hasty decision (i.e. buy the candy) because you’re tired. I’m learning more and more that emotional energy may be the most valuable thing I have, and so it deserves to be violently protected. The best way to protect it is to have fewer decisions.
Let’s use arbitrary numbers in an example. Let’s say you have to make 3 big decisions a month for your band: 1) where to tour (east coast, west coast, etc, 2) how to get more placements in film, and 3) what manager to hire. That’s a big month. I’m sort of tired thinking about it.
On top of that, let’s say you have a side project with some friends that requires three big decisions: 1) whether to get a different bass player because Ted can’t make a lot of the gigs, 2) what songs to choose for the up coming record, and 3) which ideas to pursue for the music video for the new single.
That’s just a simple example, but as you can tell, it’s crazy to think you can really move the ball forward on both of those. Plug in whatever two or three things are dividing your attention. Lack of focus is why so many people don’t make decisions. In the two bands example, you’ll barely have enough emotional energy to book the tour (with all the rejections that can come with that), and get placements in film (again, extremely taxing). Then, you'll half-way do some of the other tasks, which can be really costly because you may look lazy or unprofessional to those you’re working with.
Lack of focus punishes the narrative. (You could also call this marketing.)
When’s the last time you told someone how awesome Walmart’s music section is? Nope. But you certainly can think of the last time you told a friend about T-Bone’s Record Store (Hattiesburg, MS). Because it’s focused, it’s specialized. There’s nothing to brag about at Walmart, because it’s unfocused. The same is true for your brand, for your music. People will brag on you and tell your story when you make it easy for them by being focused.
Let me drive this point home by describing Walmart’s music section to you. Hang in there.
Yeah, you can get records at Walmart. To get to the music section, you walk in, pass the deli meats on your right, and the make-up counter on your left. Keep going a little further passed the fishing section, and finally the automotive section, with the tires and such. When you arrive at the music section, it’ll be tough to find anything outside of the Top 40. If you, hypothetically, wanted to buy one of those records, you’ll have to search because everything will be unorganized and likely out of its genre.
Why the hell would I want to tell a friend this story? I’d sound stupid and bore the crap out of them. But T-Bone’s, on the other hand, has a super cool vibe from the moment you walk in the door. You know they’re not pushing what the major labels are paying the big chains to feature. It’s just damn good music. Oh yeah, and if they don’t have something you’re looking for, just ask one of the workers behind the counter, and they can special order what you need, or advise you about something similar that you may like even better.
So I can tell that story to my friends, and they won’t fall asleep. And it’s likely the story will be told again and again, further spreading the idea. Focused ideas are easy to spread.
Lack of focus kills creative thinking
Most of your good ideas will come in your down time. For me, it’s when I’m taking a walk, driving, or the classic, taking a shower. It’s that relaxed state when we think our clearest.
I just finished a 100-day goal journal that encourages you to just move one ball forward for 100 days. Each morning and night you journal about that one goal, and it has some helpful questions you answer each day that help you process what you’ve been doing. I learned so much through this process.
What stood out to me the most was what happened in the white spaces in my life. My down time was crazy powerful because I had a clear focus. Instead of thinking about the three or four things I was trying to move forward, I found powerful and deep thoughts about the one thing. When you focus on moving one thing forward you’ll have much more creative and powerful ideas. You’ll feel the creativity that pours out from focus.
On the flip side, we must pursue new ideas. That’s what being creative is about. That’s why we do this. For me, it’s been really helpful to create boundaries for new ideas. Usually early in the week when I’m mixing and meeting with folks, I’ll schedule some time to flesh out new ideas. Then, if the idea seems viable, I’ll talk it over with a friend or someone I trust. Lastly, I’ll do some type of small test with the idea to see if there’s something there. At that point, ninety-eight percent of the time, I kill the idea. Over the last few years, there have been 3 ideas I’ve pursued out of fifty or more that seemed genius in the moment. Give yourself permission to explore new ideas, but put them on a leash until they’re worth the precious few hours you have on this earth.
Kill stuff that’s sucking your emotional energy. I had something that I said yes to over the last year, because it was really financially helpful (we have a kid now, it’s scary ha), but in month ten of our commitment, I realized that I was dreading the time I had to spend on that project. It was starting to affect my creativity. So at a pretty significant financial cost, I cut that off. You know what happened? I made that money back pretty quickly doing stuff I love to do. What I should have been focused on in the first place!
Lastly, being focused is beneficial in the long term, but costly in the short term. To truly focus on something, you have to say no to a ton of other things. And that sucks. But in the long run, over years, focus pays off. Big time.
I want to see myself focusing more over the next few years. I’ve been thinking about it this way, I have a double barrel shotgun each year. So, two shots. I really only have time to shoot at two targets each year. To move two things forward. I can do that with quality and create real impact. Two really good shots. If I start reloading, or taking a machine gun approach, the quality drops dramatically. But if I will carefully focus my attention on one thing at a time, and carefully take the shot, I’ll be much more effective. I’ll have much more impact. Focus allows us to have significance. What do you need to be focusing on more today?