As entrepreneurs, we are inherently busy people. We have a ton on our plates at any given time and our to-do lists can seem out of control - and that’s not just in our professional lives! But how many of those to-dos and tasks align with our goals and our top priorities in life? How many will truly help us, and our businesses, become more successful?

This is where focus and the ability to say no come into play. No one, not even the smartest, most organized people in the world, can have 150 priorities and expect to attend to all of them, let alone move forward with them. Instead, you need to teach yourself to focus on the top three to maybe five things that are the MOST important to you. And no one can tell you what those priorities are or should be. You need to figure that out for yourself - let’s talk about how.

The Focusing Question

‘The focusing question’ is as follows:

What is the one thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

The first step to determining what your top priorities are is to ask yourself this question. And you might think that this is impossible - with so many things to do each day how could you narrow it down to just one thing that should stand above all the others? It all boils down to focus (surprise!). If you look at everything that you do in your day to day life, you will be able to find one thing that if you took action on it consistently, would make everything else easier or even unnecessary. Take action on what is important so that you can give yourself the most leverage to keep moving forward. So, what is your one thing? 

Now, this begs the secondary question: can you have a ‘one thing’ in more than one area of your life? For example, your professional life and your personal life? Of course you can, however, you still need to prioritize and focus on the few rather than the many. So ask yourself what the most important area of your life is that you wish to see improvement in. The focusing question, applied to that area of your life, then allows you to start using your energy in a way that is aligned with your most important priorities. Just remember, you can’t focus on everything at once, even if you segment your life into different areas or categories. We’ll talk about this more below when we get to the Wheel of Life exercise.

Allocating Your Time

Once you have asked yourself the focusing question and determined your priorities you need to be able to allocate the right amount of time towards them. A really great article on how to work smarter, not harder, by managing your time in a way that aligns with your goals and priorities is found here in the FS Blog. I encourage you to read the article, it’s quite interesting!

Essentially what the article shares is a strategy (and the reasons behind it) that will help you to truly focus on what matters. The strategy encourages you to think of your day in terms of chunks of energy. Write down a list of goals that you have, then select your top three in order of importance. Once you have these top three goals, you can allocate those chunks of energy (essentially small blocks of time) accordingly. You will quickly see that if you wanted to focus on more goals at once, you would have less and less time available to dedicate to each, making it harder to make progress. Using this time blocking method enables you to ensure you are giving enough energy to your top priorities to allow you to make a difference. Makes sense, right? 

This leads into a similar story about Warren Buffet and his personal pilot who was looking for a better way to reach his goals. Warren simply advised him to write down a list of goals and circle his top three to five. Everything else that remained uncircled was to be avoided at all costs. This sounds extreme. Why would you want to avoid something that you have indicated as a goal, even if it is lower on your list? Well, like we saw in the FS Blog article above, spreading yourself too thin is not going to result in success. Instead, you will continue to juggle tasks and to-dos as if you are merely treading water. To put it a different way, lacking in focus causes you to essentially rob yourself of the ability to reach those top goals. Once you focus and reach one goal, you can reallocate time to the next and continue to make forward progress.

The Wheel of Life

The wheel of life exercise is simply another way to get focused that takes a more wholistic approach to looking at your life. Instead of writing down a list of goals and determining which are most important and then dedicating appropriate chunks of time to those goals, you start by drawing out a circle, at the centre of which is yourself.

In the example above you will see how around the outer edge of the circle there are segments that represent different areas of your life. Leading into the center of each segment is a scale from 1 to 10. What you need to do to complete this exercise is to rate your current happiness within each segment (you can come up with your own segments in terms of what matters and is relevant to you). Once you’ve rated each segment you are able to see which are in need of improvement. In this example, Family and Finance are the areas where this person is the least satisfied. You are then able to think to yourself what actions you need to take in those areas in order to reach a heightened level of satisfaction in the next 3 months.

Now, as with the focusing question, you will not be able to take action and improve every area of your life simultaneously, so ensure that you are choosing segments that align with your values and your priorities. For instance, if this person in our example is ok with being less satisfied with their financial situation and would rather focus on improving their health first, that is their choice. The wheel exercise simply gives you another way to visualize your life as a whole and enable you to plan what you need to focus on in order to reach a higher level of overall satisfaction, happiness, and success.

The Ability To Say No, Comfortably

We’ve discussed a number of ways to map out your priorities and allow yourself to focus on goals that are in alignment with those priorities. So where does saying no come in? Well, that’s simple. Remember those other goals and areas of your life that you chose not to dedicate your energy towards? They still exist! And because they exist, they will constantly try to find ways to steal away a bit of your focus. It could be an extra half hour chatting with a friend over lunch before you head back to the office, a quick and dirty task that should only take you 15 minutes and then you’ll be right back to focusing on your priorities, or maybe splurging on a fancy new car or some furniture upgrades instead of sticking to your personal budget. There is nothing wrong with any of these actions, they are merely examples of things that could steal time away from focusing on goals.

When a goal is important to you, you need to learn to say NO to everything and anything that will distract you from reaching it. Last week during the latest session of the Online Peer Group Resource Centre that I host each Wednesday we had some fantastic discussion about how to say no to distractions, and how to do so with a level of comfort (i.e. not feeling guilty!). To hear everyone’s advice and strategies that they use to successfully say no, simply register for the group. You’ll receive instant access to replays and resources from all of our sessions to date as well as an open invitation to join us on future calls. Learn more and register here.