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focus - a simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction by Leo Babauta

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the power of a smaller work focus

3: the power of a smaller work focus

“Success demands singleness of purpose.”
– Vince Lombardi

When you set your sights on a large target, broad in scope, you spread yourself thin. This is why the best companies are those with a laser focus. They do less, but they do it better.

Apple is a good example of this — they don’t try to tackle every computer niche. They don’t make netbooks or low-end PCs, for example. They have a very small product line for such a big company. And yet, they do extremely well — they make beautiful, well-made, high-functioning devices that customers absolutely love. And they make billions to boot. That’s just one example of many.

A narrower focus allows you to do a better job — to be better than anyone else, perhaps, at the narrower thing that you’re good at.

The Danger of a Broad Focus

One of the biggest problems many people have in their careers, with work projects, with their businesses, is too broad of a focus. Just a few examples:

  • Working on too many projects and trying to juggle your time between all of them.
  • Adding too many features to your software and creating a bloated application.
  • Trying to do everything for every customer, and spreading yourself too thin.
  • Trying to be everything for everybody, but ending up being nothing good.
  • Trying to please all your bosses and coworkers and forgetting what’s important.
  • Communicating all the time via email, several social networks, phones, text messaging, cell phones, faxes and more … and never communicating with any depth.

Again, there are lots of other ways to have a focus that’s too broad. In the end, it’s a choice between trying to do everything but doing it poorly, or doing only a tiny amount of things really well.

Take Stock

What’s your current focus at work? Are you a writer involved in a whole range of writing projects at once? Are you a developer trying to offer something that appeals to everyone and solves every problem? Do you try to satisfy every possible customer, even if most of those possibilities are the exception rather than the rule?

Whatever your focus, take a closer look at it. What do you focus on that’s absolutely essential, and what isn’t as important? Figure out your top priorities, and also think about how much time you allocate to each of these focuses.

What are the possibilities of narrowing your focus? Of dropping some features or catering to a smaller group of customers or doing fewer things for fewer people? How hard would that be? What would need to be done to make that happen?

Narrowing Focus

Now that you’ve identified your top priorities, the hard part is done.

Not that narrowing focus is always easy — especially when you have team members or management involved who don’t quite get it.

In that case, it’ll take some convincing. Show them examples of companies or projects that excelled with a smaller focus, and the problems of too broad a focus.

Be unrelenting.

If you have control over your focus, and the focus of what you work on, you’re lucky. Now it just takes some guts, and perhaps some time. You don’t need to change everything overnight. That’s the power of small changes — you can slowly narrow your focus. Slowly do less, one thing at a time, and you’ll see how it can transform your work.

When you drop one feature at a time, do one less type of service, do one fewer project at a time … it’s not so hard. And the improvements that come with the smaller focus will encourage you to continue to simplify, until you’ve found the smallest focus that works for you.


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