I’m a self-proclaimed generalist. I’ve never met a skill or a craft or a discipline I didn’t want to dabble in… at least to say that I tried it. I’ve resisted suggestions to focus in on a specific area – I’m OK with being good at lots of things, and not being expert in any particular thing… Focus seems to mean doing less… and my ‘fear of missing out’ doesn’t like that idea too much. Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, by David Epstein, suggests I may be onto something…
'In an age of specialization people are proud to be able to do one thing well, but if that is all they know about, they are missing out on much else life has to offer.' ~ Dennis FlanaganClick To Tweet
But as I become more determined and defined in the overall goals I am seeking in my life – and the things I want for my family – I have to say that specialisation is starting to become a more attractive proposition.
So I thought – as much for me as for you – I’d run through the benefits in a methodical way to see whether I can convince myself!
Focus reduces overwhelm by…
…requiring fewer decisions
Imagine you’re walking in the dark with a flashlight. You can only see a handful of steps in front of you. Then you arrive at a fork in the path – you have to choose – left or right. So you choose.
Now imagine you’re walking the same path in broad daylight. You arrive at the same fork… but instead of just choosing between left and right, you can now see all the multitudinous pathways that branch off each pathway, and you become overwhelmed by trying to figure out all the permutations, instead of evaluating the two options directly in front of you.
Being focused helps you to hone in on the one or two decisions you need to make right now – not the many you’ll need to make over time.
…appearing less daunting
'I don't focus on what I'm up against. I focus on my goals and I try to ignore the rest.' ~ Venus WilliamsClick To Tweet
Even if you aren’t required to make decisions every five minutes, sometimes the sheer distance left to travel can be overwhelming. This could be macro-level (the massive business unit turn-around you are trying to engineer) or micro-level (the length of today’s to-do list).
Remember one step at a time is the only way anybody ever achieved anything.
Focus improves concentration by…
…making persistence easier
When there’s only one thing you’re supposed to be doing, you don’t have the same temptation to switch tasks – or worse… multi-task.
Persistence requires you to be prepared to try and try and try again. It requires an uncommon level of patience and determination.
And the more dedicated time you spend in a concentrated area, the better you become at that thing… and the easier it becomes to deliver great results consistently.
'One way to boost our will power and focus is to manage our distractions instead of letting them manage us.' ~ Daniel GolemanClick To Tweet
Focus means there is no squirrel. Squirrels are for other people. Not you. You’re focused.
A definite example of when doing less means doing more…
Focus increases specificity by…
…enabling you to target your ‘offering’ more clearly
Whether you’re climbing the corporate ladder, working for a small business, or building something of your own, you need to be able to articulate what you have to offer so that the people you can most help can find you quickly. Easy to say, harder to do.
But the more focused you are, the easier the task becomes.
This is still very much a work in progress for me…
…making it easier to get the help you need
One of the hardest things about having a new-born baby is that they need your help but cannot really tell you what they need.
But as verbal and non-verbal communication skills develop, your kids get good… very good… at telling us exactly what they want.
We’re no different. When we’re stuck and need help the more focused we are, the easier it is to articulate exactly what we need help with… and the more likely it is that someone will lend a hand.
Focus improves clarity by…
…helping you figure out which opportunities are a good fit for you
'Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus.' ~ Alexander Graham BellClick To Tweet
When your focus is crystal-clear, the opportunities that are right for you are too. They jump off the page at you. You can’t miss ’em.
Have you ever noticed that when you buy a car, from that point onwards you see the same make, model, and colour car everywhere?
There hasn’t been a magical increase in the numbers of that car on the road… They were there all the time but your focus has changed.
The exact same thing happens with opportunities.
…helping you figure out which opportunities are NOT a good fit
This might be even more important than finding the good opportunities. Like squirrels and shiny things, bad opportunities aren’t always bad per se. Sometimes they are perfectly good opportunities that just aren’t right for this season of your life. They might have been great last month. And they might be great again next year… but right now, your laser-like focus let’s you be a bit more discerning.
Let it go.
Focus aids specialisation by…
…helping you get better
'Natural ability is important, but you can go far without it if you have the focus, drive, desire and positive attitude.' ~ Kirsten SweetlandClick To Tweet
You only have so much time in your day. The thinner you spread it, the less time you have for any one thing. And for the things that matter, practise matters. Deliberate practice with meaningful feedback is essential to improving your skill at anything… including the thing you are focused on. If you are trying to do too many things at once, you have less time for practise. Simple arithmetic.
Doing less means more time to practise.
…getting you recognised as an expert
Nobody became known as an expert for everything. There is, by definition, no such thing.
So if you’d like to be expert at anything… or be known as an influencer or a thought leader in a particular area, you need to focus – doing less of the other things, and more of that thing.
Do it for long enough, and people will start to seek you out for your knowledge.
I think the hardest thing I’ve had to grapple with is that having more focus doesn’t mean I can never do other things. It just means I can’t do everything at the same time…
The best way to stay up-to-date with the latest news, articles and a weekly challenge is to join i3 Insiders.
I’d love to see you there.
Can you imagine what would happen if all the high achievers in the world actually stood up and were counted? Little problems, big problems, global problems, local problems… they’d all become things that could be solved. Not quickly, but gradually,
To whet your appetite, I’ve created a little sneak peak of the system I’ve created to do just that. It’s an ebook called Leading From Within: Getting Started.
You can get it in three different ways, depending on your preference:
But whatever you do, don’t settle for another year of feeling unfulfilled. It’s a massive waste, considering your talent, skill and experience.
Let’s make a difference, and get something happening!