Working on 5-10 goals and not making much progress on any one?
Stop working on nearly all of them. Instead, focus on 1-2 wildly important goals.1
How broad is your beam?
Most people, most of the time, try to do too much. Accomplishing anything takes time and energy, and your time and energy are both limited resources. The more goals you’re working toward simultaneously, therefore, the less you’ll move the needle on any one goal.
Imagine being out in the woods on a pitch-black night—no moon at all. You’re carrying a heavy-duty flashlight, one of those hefty black ones with a variable-focus beam. Turn the lens one direction and the beam narrows, bathing a small patch of ground in bright white light. Turn the lens the other direction and the beam broadens, illuminating a wide swath of trees with diffuse light.
Which is more useful? Well, it depends. But if you’re failing to make serious progress, try narrowing your beam.
Who’s using this idea?
This concept is routinely leveraged by clever folks in various fields. Here’s Apple’s Tim Cook talking about it:
We are the most focused company that I know of or have read of or have any knowledge of. We say no to good ideas every day. We say no to great ideas in order to keep the amount of things we focus on very small in number so that we can put enormous energy behind the ones we do choose. The table each of you are sitting at today, you could probably put every product on it that Apple makes, yet Apple’s revenue last year was $40 billion.2
And here’s jazz piano juggernaut Bill Evans on learning new tunes:
I would rather play one song for 24 hours than play 24 tunes in an hour.3
Whatever your background and goals, narrowing your focus is a strategy you need at your disposal.
“But I have lots I want to accomplish!”
A noble endeavor! But remember that life is long. Human beings tend to overestimate how much they can accomplish in short periods of time and underestimate how much they can accomplish over years and decades. Take the long view—you don’t have to do everything right now.
Your energy and time are limited. Focus your beam.
- From the book The Four Disciplines of Execution, which has fundamentally changed how I approach goal-setting. ↩
- Apple’s then-COO Tim Cook at a 2010 Goldman Sachs technology conference ↩
- Bill Evans interviewed on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz ↩