Have you ever tried herding a warren of rabbits?
Didn't think so. That puts us on the same boat, because neither have I. So why bring it up?
If there are nine rabbits on the ground and you want to catch one, just focus on one.
- Jack Ma, Founder @ Alibaba
It is easier to go after a hundred different things than to go after one. This is because when we go after 100 different things, we only hit surface level, and simply observe what is going on. Through observation, we may come up with some inferences, which is great if you are just starting out and doing research on a market. Yet if you are already in it, i.e. you are pursuing your vision and #hustling, observations aren't going to get you to where you need to be. You are gonna to have to get deeper.
Do you think Uber became a multi-billion dollar unicorn by observing that people like black cars, and an app that hails them would be a cool medium to do that through? NO! Travis and his team had to go through countless analyses, sleepless nights, and failure upon failure to iterate and refine. Each experiment has a purpose, and each outcome has the effect of focusing in on the optimal outcome.
A little bit of Science!
Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winning behavioral economist, psychologist and author of Thinking Fast and Slow, defined something called the Kahneman's Model of Attention. The very core of this model is that our mind, much like a computer's RAM, has a limited amount of cognitive resources, i.e. attention. With every new input, there are 2 options:
- Appropriate less cognitive resources to everything I am working on right now.
- Re-prioritize, and reallocate my cognitive resources to the new stimulus.
As you can tell by the model, there are multiple stimuli that can affect your allocation of cognitive resources.
PS Think of arousal not as the first thing that you thought of, but rather how engaged you are with what you are doing.
Bringing this back into the tangible, I am always bombarded with a continuous slew of deliverables, messages, calls, etc. All of these are miscellaneous determinants that have an impact on my available capacity to focus. The more sh#t I get thrown at me (which is a constant in my life), the more potential I have of losing my capacity to focus on anything. Thus, if I want to optimize the quality of my outcome, then I must create a system to organize, prioritize and execute on all of my deliverables. (I will go into greater depths in a separate post on what I do to organize myself and the company.)
Different Levels of Focus
The clinical model of cognitive resources breaks attention (i.e. focus) into 5 hierarchical levels:
In increasing cognitive-drain:
- Focused Attention: Your ability to respond to a specific visual, auditory or tactile stimulus. (i.e. while at your board meeting, you are laser-focused on what your investor mentioned around how you can improve your customer LTV vs CAC ratio.)
- Sustained Attention: A consistent behavioral response whilst doing continuous and repetitive activities. (i.e. nodding your head in agreement while listening to what your investor is saying about gaining traction.)
- Selective Attention: "Freedom from Distractability" (i.e. you continue to give your undivided attention to your investor, despite your phone lighting up and the fact that there is a cat chasing a dove outside the window.)
- Alternating Attention: Cognitive flexibility to effectively switch your focus between multiple stimuli, even ones requiring different cognitive functions. (i.e. you switch your focus from your investor talking to the diagram that you drew on the board, realizing how to execute on the recommendations he made.)
- Divided Attention: Freedom to Multitask (i.e. after the board meeting, you thank your investors for making time and providing valuable insights. Simultaneously, you are thinking about the discussed applicable cases for traction hacks, whilst noticing in your peripherals that your co-founder left the room.)
Regularly throughout the day, I catch myself thinking or reacting to certain stimuli, and I always ask myself "Is this the best use of my time?". The answer varies, but it is our job as founders, hustlers and generally awesome people to always be aware of our responses to the barrage of stimuli around us. If you want to dabble, then go ahead and divide your focus as much as you like. If you want to succeed, then spend as much time as you can focusing your attention on one thing.
We Are That Which We think
The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.
Jim Barksdale (Former CEO, Netscape)
How do bodybuilders get so huge? Were they born that way? Certainly not. They get that way because they focus. For a bodybuilder, the one thing that matters in the morning more than anything else is that workout. And in the afternoon? Same thing. For the evening? You get the point.
The more one does something, the more likely they will do it again, especially if there is a positive response stimulus. Furthermore, the more you do something with positive outcomes, iterations will allow you to get better every time that you are focused and present. In the same manner, if you get used to being distracted and dividing your attention across a bunch of deliverables, then your ineffectiveness at focusing and hustling will be on point.
About six months ago, my company (@shopBindo) was going through a LOT of changes. I had just hired a class of 7 new salespeople and was busy putting together new sales processes/materials to streamline their on-boarding with my Director of Sales. The goal: to get them productive in as little time as possible (I will write a post later on sales on-boarding effectiveness). At the same time, I had two large enterprise deals that I was working on with my Director Of Enterprise & Partnerships, wherein we had to put together over 500 line items of features and functionalities that were either requested or that we knew would be a good fit for their business. Asides from that, I was reviewing a tricky contract with one of our biggest resellers that involved both exclusivity and owning our IP rights (not gonna happen!). Finally, I was attempting to build the bridge over the glaring gap between the sales/marketing/product teams, which required a new process and structure to report, score, plan, execute and update requested features, deals and PR opportunities.
I planned out my week to get everything completed within the next 10 days. And so I began. But of course, nothing went according to plan. The sales team had questions, the reselling company's CEO was on vacation, and I had yet to receive a response from the product team lead. My attention was divided between all deliverables, as well as my team. But the major issue was that I was trying to do all of them at once. While I worked on the contract, I thought about the sales team figures. While I worked on the sales on-boarding platform, I thought about ways to integrate the product team's decisions with sales, etc.
Of course nothing got done! Not because I had so many things to do. Welcome to the world of startups, where added deliverables and ideas come at a breakneck speed. I am used to having change as my only constant. The issue lay in the fact that I did not give my undivided attention to one thing at a time. I spread myself thin, and didn't focus.
Reset! One week in, I sat down and redid my schedule. I allocated appropriate times for each project, and included the people that needed to be part of the discussions. For the time allocated to each deliverable, there would be no distractions. If someone in my sales team came up to me, I mentioned that there was a very specific reason why there is a Director of Sales, a whole set of doc's and videos, and Slack (what we use to communicate). Anything short of a server outage or a giant fire, there were to be no distractions.
Eight days later, everything was laid out, finalized, and signed. Boom!
There are a million different paths to success, some better than others, most different, but all awesome. Choose one. The one that you can see yourself working on for the next 5 years. Whatever it is, focus on it like you have never focused on anything before. Hustle as if there was someone else working just as much to take your vision away from you. Then, and only then will you truly succeed.
Without #focus and #hustle, you make it very difficult to succeed.
Never put yourself in a position where you rely solely on luck or any external forces. Rely on that which you have the greatest control over: yourself. Focus, Prioritize and Improve.