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The Inverted Relationship of Focus and Impact

(Photo by Steven Wright on Unsplash)

Here’s a problem, my brain is always thinking about possibilities. What else could be done? What new projects could I tackle? What new goals would be amazing? What improvements are needed?

The problem is the depth of your impact is directly related to the narrowness of your focus and focus is about doing fewer things not more.

Let me say that again. The depth of your impact is in direct proportion to the narrowness of your focus.

Remember playing with a magnifying glass as a kid? I remember discovering that when I could manipulate the glass to reduce the light of the sun to a pinprick, the result was intense heat. Especially a fun trick with ants--albeit a little sadistic.

Impact happens the same way. By taking the world of possibilities and focusing your energy on one specific thing, you burn with a greater intensity and impact.

For most of us, process of saying no to new ideas or to expectations of other people is the critical path to greater focus. The freedom to say yes to your bullseye comes from saying no to everything that isn't leading to that bullseye. Focus is not just what we do, it defines what we don't do.

Habitual drivenness flavors the waters of leadership that many of us swim in. We feel an invisible pull to say yes to more and more and more. And if your wiring is at all like mine, some of those possibilities and projects dangling before you emanate from your own creativity or tougher yet, from an identity-based longing to impress people.

Wise leaders are constantly clarifying and focusing their personal “DO and DON’T DO LIST.” That is, they continually focus their activities and commitments in order to direct maximum energy on the one contribution that matters most. They maintain clarity about what they should say yes to, and what they shouldn't. (For more on this insight, see "The Power of One Thing.")

I suggest there are at least three major areas of vulnerability that lure leaders into an over-committed out-of-control un-focused life. In these areas, saying no does not come naturally.

#1: Passion: Passion is familiar real estate for leaders. They long to make a difference, to leave the world a better place, and gladly give themselves away to make it happen. And this is where the trouble lies. When you are passionate about making a difference, it is easy to yes to that one more responsibility or one more opportunity. By the way, Charlatans masquerade as cause-driven leaders but are actually concerned about recognition, self-advancement, and personal glory.

#2: Competency: Over time every one of us develops legitimate competencies. Some of them extracted a great price to learn–even pain and heartbreak. When someone appeals to our hard earned competencies to meet a need they have, the seduction of being valued causes leaders to say yes. This is ego fueling stuff. When it happens, we find ourselves saying yes to something far afield from the contribution know we should focus on.

#3: Relationships: You know how this one works. Someone you care about asks you to do something because they need your help. You know you are already overly committed, but how can you disappoint this person who you care about. it is really just one more thing.

The whole point: Less really is more. Until you own the fact that the impact of your life is directly connected to the narrowness of your focus, you will want to rationalize away your reasons to say to no to those nice things that will keep you from the essential things.


1.) Define your personal DO and DON’T DO list. In light of the focus of your life – your most important contribution make a list of the responsibilities and behaviors you must do and a second list of those things you must (even painfully) say no to.

2.) Schedule time for monthly recalibration. An appointment with yourself where you review everything has climbed onto your plate. Identify what need to be renegotiated and what got omitted that needs to be added as you enter the month ahead. Block time to work on the essential and time to renegotiate those things to be eliminated.

1 Comment

Wish I'd learned that a lot earlier, Gary!

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