How To Narrow Your Focus To Get More Done

By Leslie Samuel
32 Comments

Today Leslie is talking about productivity, revealing to you what tasks he has stopped doing in his business and what three core tasks he is now focusing most of his time on so he gets rapid results. If you’re not getting things done, reading this article will help you prioritize.

Multitasking

When it comes to growing an online business, it is easy to think that you should be able to do everything. With the whole world almost at your fingertips, there really isn’t anything that you can’t learn to do.

Want to know how to write a php script? Google it, Learn it, do it! It’s that simple.

The problem that then arises is that the online entrepreneur ends up with a lot of stuff on their plate. With so much information out there, it’s easy to end up suffering from information overload and being overwhelmed with the many tasks that need to be done in order to have a thriving business.

Every individual has a limited amount of time in their day. Since that is always the case, it should be expected that if you want to excel at any particular thing, or in any particular niche, you need to have a narrow focus. This is the same reason why Higher Education starts with an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree that includes a number of classes that aren’t necessarily related to your field of interest and can get up into the pHD where you are spending a ton of time focusing on one topic that you are specializing in.

When I did my Master’s degree in Neurobiology, I spent 4 years studying one specific Nerve Cell in 1 species of cricket (I know, I’m crazy).

In this article, I want to address the issue of narrowing your focus, and show how I’ve used techniques to help me narrow my focus and be more productive.

Why It’s Important To Narrow Your focus

Allow me to get all scientific on you for a brief moment and give you a quick physics lesson. If you apply a certain amount of Force to a large area, it will result in a certain amount of pressure. However, if you decrease the size of the area significantly, there will be a significant increase in pressure, even if the amount of force remains the same.

Allow me to get more graphic. If I hit your leg with a reasonable amount of force, you might say “Ouch”. However, If I apply the same amount of force to a needle that is pointed directly to your leg, you will DEFINITELY scream from the pain. There will be a significantly greater impact because I focused on a significantly smaller area of your leg. I hope you can forgive me for using such a harsh example, but I really want to drive home that point.

This same principle applies to how we spend our energy. Everyone has a certain amount of energy available on a daily basis. You can take that energy and apply it to a ton of different things and have a moderate affect, or you can focus all of your energy on a limited number of important things and have such a great impact that the world will “scream”. Having a narrow focus allows you to cause as much damage as possible in the shortest amount of time, and I do mean that in a good way.

How To Decide What To Focus On

If you are reading this post, it is more than likely that you have an entrepreneurial spirit and a love for online business. If that’s the case, I’m betting that you do a wide variety of things when it comes to growing your online business or accomplishing your goals (especially if you are crazy like I am).

The first thing I would recommend for you to do is to jot down a list of all the things you do when it comes to growing your business and approximately how much time you spend doing those things on a daily basis. Write down as many things as you can. This is a very important step because it allows you to get a more accurate picture of where your priorities actually are. We are often surprised when we sit down and take inventory of our time.

Once you have identified where your time is spent, the next step is to look carefully at that list and determine what the three things are that have the greatest impact on what you are trying to accomplish. These are your High-Value Tasks (HVTs) and are the things that you want to focus the majority of your time on.

How I Decided What To Focus On

When I sat down to take inventory of the things that I do, I realized that I was being very inefficient. My list of tasks were as follows:

After looking at that list, it was extremely easy to realize what my top 3 were.

I’m in the business of providing others with useful information. Since that’s the case, I narrowed down my HVTs to making information products, writing blog posts and making videos. These are the high-value tasks in my business and the more time I spend on these tasks, the faster my business grows. When I do those things, I get great feedback from my subscribers on how much those things have helped them. If I don’t do these things, I have nothing to sell, and thus no way of making money (which just sucks). I then decided that I needed to focus on these things.

How To Focus On Your 3 High-Value Tasks

Once you have decided what those 3 HVTs are, the next step becomes obvious. You’ve got to focus on those tasks as if your entire business depended on it. Why? BECAUSE YOUR ENTIRE BUSINESS DEPENDS ON IT! It takes a lot of work to grow a successful business, and if you are going to put in the work, it might as well be as focused as possible so that you can be as effective as possible.

Decide how much time you want to devote to your business on a daily basis. Once you have made a decision, 80% of that time should be allotted to your three high-value tasks. If you decide that you want to work two hours per day on your business, you automatically know that approximately 1 hour and 36 minutes should be spent on your high-value tasks. Please understand that the 80% is not a fixed value, but is intended to show that it should be a majority and it does go along with the 80/20 rule.

How I Focus On My 3 High-Value Tasks

When I identified my HVTs, I decided to get to work. In the last year, I had developed exactly ZERO information products, although that was obviously among the tasks that contribute the highest value and is probably the most important of my three. After giving myself a kick in the butt, I decided to take action.

The next two weeks were spent making one of my best information products to date – a 7 Day training series teaching people how to get started building an online business. In those 2 weeks, I outlined the product, started recording the videos and setting up the website for that product. I didn’t spend any more time than I had been spending in previous weeks on my business. However, I was more productive with the highest value task on my list than I had been for the entire year.

After those two weeks, I launched the product, provided a significant amount of value for my readers, and got some great feedback. Was it worth it? HECK YEAH. I now have an asset that can help grow my business and it didn’t take much extra effort on my part. All it took was for me to narrow my focus to increase my effectiveness.

I’ve also decided (obviously) to spend more time writing. This is why you are reading this right now. When I wake up in the morning, after I take care of some preliminaries, I spend my time writing because this is the time that works best for me, and I see that I write my best content early in the morning. The result is more content and more value.

What To Do With All Other Tasks

Ok, the truth is, although some of the tasks aren’t your HVTs, some of them are still crucial to the growth of your business. These tasks need to be done. Here are some options on how to deal with these tasks.

  1. Spend the other 20% of your time on some these tasks. You might have noticed that these less important tasks take up a majority of your time. If that’s the case, think of ways to minimize the amount of time spent on these tasks. For example, use batch processing and deal with a large majority of the same type of tasks in a short, focused period of time, instead of doing little bits all throughout the day.
  2. Outsource. There are many people willing to help you out at an affordable cost. Why pay someone to do something when you can do it yourself? Because you need to focus on the tasks that will help you reach your goal the fastest. Outsourcing helps you get much more done and the benefits outweigh the cost significantly, IF you do it the right way.

All other tasks should be eliminated. It’s very possible that some of the things you are doing don’t bring you closer to your goals, and are just a waste of time. Identify these things and ELIMINATE them.

What I Did (And Do) With All My Other Tasks

I’ll be the first to testify that when I looked at my list, I realized that I was spending most of my time being unproductive. I checked email maybe 20 times a day (no exaggeration), wasted a ton of time on Facebook, spent a considerable amount of time tweaking the design of my site and even looking for the next design that was going to “propel my website to the next level”.

Then I took a hard look at the people I was following who are where I want to be and realized that they weren’t focusing on what I was focusing on. So this is what I decided to do:

  1. Check email twice daily (AND NO MORE). This has been the most difficult habit to break away from for some reason. I love being constantly connected, but I’ve realized that in being constantly connected, I was wasting a ton of time. This change was the most necessary for me. I also decided to remove my email addresses from my phone, because I’m always tempted to pull out my phone and go back on my decision.
  2. Turn off my Instant Messenger. Too often, I’d be writing a blog post or doing something important, and would be interrupted by a popup window saying “You there?”. Then I’d start chatting with that person, and when I realized what happened, a half hour would be gone (or even more). So I turn my Instant messenger off more often than I’ve ever done in the past.
  3. Work disconnected. I love browsing the web. It’s what I do. However, checking on something “really quick”, easily ends up being hours wasted looking at pictures on facebook, reading “interesting articles” online and finding out that Google is taking world domination to the next level (btw, did you see that they are trying to develop a system where your car can do the driving for you? Those guys ROCK!). I now shut off my wireless connection whenever I’m working.
  4. Develop efficient outsourcing material. One of the main problems I see with outsourcing is that it’s often done inefficiently. I’ve hired outsourcers in the past and have not had enough tasks for them to do, or haven’t had the right kind of training to provide them with. I’m working on developing significant training materials to help me outsource effectively. Once this is done, I will be outsourcing on a more regular basis.
  5. I removed some junk in my life. When I open up my browser, I have my Bookmark bar set with a bunch of junk sites that I check often, just for fun. I deleted a bunch of those and no longer visit those sites.

The TRUTH About My Efficiency

I’d like to sit here and tell you that I’ve solved all of my problems, there is no more junk in my business, and I’m the essence of productivity. HA! That’s not true at all. However, I’ve made some significant strides. To be honest, to a certain extent, writing this article and sharing it with so many of you, is something that I’m using to help me reach my productivity goals.

By putting this out there, I have a bunch of people now looking at me to see if I really practice what I preach. Not only that, but I will be reporting back to you every so often to keep you updated about how things are going with my productivity goals.

So time for you to do the same. Here are my questions for you:

  1. What are your 3 most high-value tasks in your business?
  2. What things do you find yourself wasting time on?
  3. What steps are you taking (or going to take) towards narrowing your focus and having the greatest impact?

About Leslie Samuel

Leslie Samuel is a blogger who believes that the internet can change the world. He runs an Interactive Biology website that Makes Biology Fun and teaches people how to grow their online business in his Learning With Leslie podcast. He also runs a Become A Blogger - A blog dedicated to helping people Change The World with their blogs. Follow Leslie Samuel on Twitter.

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32 Comments

  • Dia

    Hi Leslie,

    Very nice post! We often waste our time on trivial things and doing things that are non-productive. We have to eliminate those and focus on what is important. Thanks for sharing

  • Well-written post about the essence of time and task management Leslie. As entrepreneurs we’re only worth the work we put into our business, it’s not like sitting in an office somewhere getting paid to watch the clock tick.. I’ve been there and it’s a completely different mindset. Well done.

  • Wow that was quite descriptive with the needle, must admit I kinda of felt a sharp pain as I read that statement, but nonetheless it did a great job of driving home the point. I do believe that I spend most of my time being unproductive and ironically I know what it is in my mind that I need to change but it’s all about my personal action, I need to start and make the changes mentally in order to get all the important things I want to do done.

    Till then,

    Jean

  • I really like your post and it is wonderful. It is really very useful for the beginners. It is very difficult for any entrepreneur to decide the target market so your post will be helpful to all of them.

  • Hey Leslie,

    Great post! Losts of eye-opening points. Thank you!

    If one works a 9 to 5 job while trying to launch a business at the same time it is of utmost importance that he/she focuses on a very few selected task. I know because I do work at a job, and I do try to build a business on the side. You either focus on a few core tasks or forget about building a profitable business. Period.

    By the way, I love biology too. Used to go to medical school, but ended up being a psychologist (still lots of biology). I have a soft spot in my heart for anything biology. :) I don’t know about you, but I get really turned down when some successful entrepreneurs shout out into the air: “Forget university, just start a business!” I love learning new things, love sciences, love reading. :)

    • I hear ya man,

      I bet you none of those that say “Forget University, just start a business!” would go to a doctor that had the same perspective. I think what it boils down to is this – Everyone has a different path to travel. For some, university is the way, for others, it isn’t.

      However, I do share their sentiment that it is not necessary to have an academic degree in order to succeed. I think that sometimes, we overemphasize the importance of formal education.

      Anyways, enough of that before I get on my soap box. You are right on when it comes to the importance of being focused especially when having a 9 to 5 job. I have one of those too and I find myself having to really be disciplined about narrowing my focus.

      All the best in your pursuits.

      Leslie

  • Great in-depth article Leslie.

    For my business:

    What are your 3 most high-value tasks in your business?

    1. Creating long term strategies
    2. Creating how-to videos for VAs
    3. Setting aside time to learn specific, high value things

    What things do you find yourself wasting time on?

    – Checking stats & earnings – huge waste of time and mental energy

    What steps are you taking (or going to take) towards narrowing your focus and having the greatest impact?

    – I’ve started turning off my email on my iPhone during my ‘off’ days so I can truly recharge. I’mm focusing more & more on training VAs versus doing tasks myself.

    • Devin,

      Your #1 Task is a great task to put in there. Creating long term strategies is essential to any online business.

      Checking stats and earnings is definitely a waste of time and mental energy. One of the things I’m doing to help me not to do that as often is I’m putting together a spreadsheet and taking 5 to 10 minutes daily to update all of my stats and have them in one place. I actually just started doing that today to see if it helps me discipline myself better where that is concerned.

      I have yet to venture into turning off my iPhone. That’s just going a little overboard, don’t you think? LOL. j/k.

  • It’s important to stay focused but I think it’s not good to be too focused. This is because if your too focused you blind yourself to other opportunities.

    Say you are trying to be an Actor. You’re focused so much on being an Actor you miss an opportunity to be an assistant producer which may lead to you being a successful producer instead of an Actor.

    Also, The Seed Blast helps Entrepreneurs find funding.

  • Wow. That’s an excellent post. I can relate to many of the powerful tactics and non-productive habits that you shared (specially the one about emails!!)

    It made a huge difference when I limited checking my email only twice a day.

  • Mantra: “One step at a time, with the specific outcome in mind.”

  • One thing that makes a leader, and this would include business operators, is knowing what to give work to someone else. Outsourcing is an important part of business today.

  • Yeah…, yaro great post!

    That’s exactly what I recently also realised, that I was cramming a lot of little tasks into an hour, doing Blog Posts, Blog Comments, Reading other Blogs (‘educate’ myself thinking that’s gonna be ‘productive time’), commenting on other Blogs, Forum Posts, -Replies etc. etc. In an hour about 5 % on each taks! resulting in hardly anything. Spreading myself much to thin.

    And worst not getting very motivated about hardly ever getting
    any spectacular results that I can feel really excited about.

    (that way not enough Having
    “the Force” with me :))

    Infact I also noticed an other ‘slight problem’,
    I hardly ever did write any actual posts for my Blog(s)!!!

    So recently I changed it a little and aim to focus more time on only one
    specific task instead and I do think that recently my Posting Productivity
    ((PP) how about that :)) does seem to increase lately.
    Especially since I now also aim to make my posts more like a
    ‘Continuing Posts’ instead of ‘Isolated Posts’. I discovered that
    with having my WordPad Screen next to one of my latest posts
    I simply write a new post kind of like commenting on my own post.
    Somehow this seems to work a little better for my
    Productivity.

    Thanks for this reminder, and focussing on the
    HVTs is exactly what I need to do.

    All the Best,
    To your Happy – Home Business – Inspiration,
    HP

  • Hey Leslie:

    This is a great post!

    I do not know anyone that does not need more help on focusing or refocusing on their daily tasks to grow their business.

    Some days it seems easier to focus than others. There are some days that I waste too much time checking email or Tweeting or just surfing the Internet. Then there are days that I am laser focused on the tasks at hand. I need to channel that focus on a more regular basis.

    My 3 most high valued tasks are: Blog content writing, article writing, and ebook creation.

    My 3 biggest times wasters are: Email, Tweeting, and some time just plain ole procrastination.

    Some of the steps I am taking are: Ensuring I write a daily to-do list at the end of the work day for the next day. Some days I do the most important items first and other days I do some of the simple tasks so I can just get them completed and checked off. I also try tracking what I am doing with a daily did list.

    Take care!

    – Rick

  • Awesome post leslie! Am always fond of that act. Checking my mails, chatting with friends and also surfing the web and am always complaining! Lol. Well my top 3 are 1.writing a post. 2.promoting my blog .3. Networking. Thanks for sharing. Have fun.

  • I like your example of narrowing down the area to put more pressure with the same force.
    I think your method will be useful to put more focus and getting things done but a big problem is that no matter how much things you list and prioritize. After couple of days priorities get changed. Isn’t it?

  • Hi Leslie:
    You really hit the nail on the head for me. Although I manage to get quite a bit accomplished in a day, I’m still wasting way too much time.

    I love the post.

    Thanks.
    Janie

  • Isnt it funny that people stuggle online, but when you get to that point like I did and stay up till 3am and still see no sales come in, you start to wonder what the hell you are doing wrong.

    I can tell you, you keep reading, you keep dreaming,, you keep believing and you keep saying to yourself you are going to make money. But you never take any action!!!! Once I started staying up till 3am in the morning but action using my time wisely and focusing then I started seeing money roll in. Infact I went from a few hundred a month to over 5k all by just taking action.

    The moral of this story, stop thinking, dreaming and reading, and start doing. Start implementing what you have learnt. That is when the true raw power of marketing runs through your veins and you will see results. I am living proof.

  • Beautiful walkthrough and pragmatic example!

    I’m a fan of limits and the 80/20.

    I use The Rule of 3 each day, each week, each month, each year … to focus and prioritize … and I use stories to connect to my values to light the fire from the inside out (for example, I don’t “call a customer” … I “win a raving fan” … I don’t “lead a project” … I “direct a blockbuster.”)

    On a weekly basis, I use Monday Vision, Daily Outcomes, and Friday Reflection to establish a rhythm of results and a cadence for flowing value to myself and others.

    I use Hot Spots for life (mind, body, emotions, career, financial, relationships, and fun) as a way to invest my life force across a meaningful “heat map” and to set boundaries … for example, a minimum of 3 hours a week on my body, and a max of 40 hours on career, etc.

  • Great post Leslie. I have a real problem with focusing on just one thing so I end up getting very little done. Some great ways to narrow our focus, thanks for sharing.

  • I think Tim Ferris book 4-hour work week will be a great read for anyone who would like more information in the same style. I think that is one of the best book I have picked up in the last couple of months..

  • Great post Yaro / Leslie. Your article makes a lot of sense. When I did my MBA (while working at a big 4 accounting firm) I was working/ studying 16-18 hours a day. I was forced to prioritise. The biggest benefits came from disconnecting from the internet and checking email twice per day. I couldn’t agree more with your “Work Disconnected” advice–definitely helps to get more done faster.

    Look forward to your next video in your 7 day programme.

  • Oooops!

    – talking about focus –

    I mean great post

    Leslie.

    Thanks Leslie, I Like.

    All the Best,
    To Your Happy – Home Business – Inspiration,
    HP

  • Truer words were never spoken! I can attest to once being at a point where I had five promising frontiers in my life that were mostly unrelated to each other. I kept trying to juggle all the balls until I could figure out “which one is best.” But the reality was I just kept doing an inferior job of each and was basically sabotaging my future prospects. It wasn’t until I dropped all but one and put my total focus on it that things took off. It was a major turning point in my life and income and happiness increased enormously. So it’s not just that you get more done – you can transform your life.

  • This is one of my biggest problems – focusing. I’d have to say e-mail and checking my online earnings stats are two of my biggest issues overall. I’ve recently started to cut down on checking stats to twice daily (once in the morning and once at night), because that stuff can get addicting quick. Before you know it, you find yourself refreshing your stats every 10 minutes to see if any more money has rolled in. Big time waster.

  • Very well written post. This is a predicament we all face. I sometimes wish there were 48 hours in a day. For the most part, I’ve managed to introduce a reasonable semblance of order and planning in my daily routine so I have adequate time and energy to do justice to all my tasks. But all it takes is a few unplanned interjections here and there to throw it in disarray. I try to account for those as an extra hour on my schedule and plan the rest of the things around it. If it doesn’t end up getting used, I use that hour to advance my work for the next day.

  • Yep, that is exactly my problem. I need to focus on a few core activities instead of thinking of all the stuff I want to do. I am taking action but I need to spend more time on the core activities.

  • This is a very important concept. Narrow your focus to get more done? absolutely!
    There are many temptation on the virtual world to drift away from our task. Multitasking is more an impediment than an advantage. We should learn how to prioritize and organize instead of doing n things together. If we do to many things at the same time, we end up doing nothing. There is that theory i can’t remember the name of one accomplishes much more if one choses one task for 3 weeks than if one chooses to do 3 tasks together for one week. So true!

    take care!

  • I have been much better off since I decided to get rid of projects and ideas that I don’t have time to follow through with.

  • :) Oh….how I needed to hear this!!!! Thank-you! I recently left an 11 year teaching career to do exactly what your doing. This week….I’m really going to try and focus a little harder ….thanks for your timely message!

  • Focus, focus, and focus some more on what’s important. Well Leslie. I’m doing just that. I set up Aweber through your link and I’m half way through the videos. They are awesome…Much Obliged!!!

  • CK

    Just what I needed to hear/see. Shuttin down the facebook right now, cheers :)

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