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You can’t do it all. In fact, you shouldn’t even try. The business machine has perpetuated the false notion that if you’re not taking advantage of every new idea and hot trend, you won’t grow. To feel like you’re keeping up with everything you see on your social feed, you push your company to drive in so many different directions that you can’t clearly talk about what you’re doing, let alone know what should get your time and what shouldn’t.
Because when everything is a priority, nothing is. To run an effective business, you need to focus on delivering value to the people you serve — and deliver that value better than anyone else.
Doing everything ≠ growth
I walked into a software business with a firecracker CEO who had all the cylinders lit, ready to grow, grow, grow. After a few conversations with members of her team, I asked, “So, why are you all here again?” Between the CEO, advisory board, investors, consultants, and senior members of the team, the company had so many priorities, new ideas and different directions that it couldn’t gain traction on any one of them.
I knew that without a more deliberate approach, the company would either start in the trendiest direction, drift from the path, then restart with a new idea — or try to do all of the things simultaneously and push until it stalled completely with its team frustrated and burned out.
Running a business that’s trying to drive in all directions doesn’t allow for productive steps forward, and it certainly doesn’t enable growth over the long term. No team wants to put their time and effort into projects that go nowhere or have their plate so full of competing priorities that they’re frantically trying to cross things off the list. And they certainly aren’t looking to sit in any more pointless meetings in the name of getting on the same page. To cut through the noise and actually be productive, you need to focus.
Filter out the noise
Your focus comes from your purpose. As a business, you should exist to deliver value to the people you serve. Delivering that value is the point of building that new product, running more educational webinars or adopting the latest technology. Delivering value is the reason for what you’re doing. And it’s one your entire team can use as a filter for the choices they make.
In the case of the software company, they dug deep into what matters to their customers and articulated their purpose: to advance the way we communicate complex information. Then they evaluated their list of ideas and priorities to determine which ones delivered that value. They eliminated anything that didn’t fit.
Once you’ve filtered options through your purpose, you also need to filter them through your unique capabilities, because you cannot effectively be all things to all people. The software company had a long history of developing well-loved graphics products, forming deep relationships in verticals that dealt with complex machines and providing outstanding support.
After eliminating a number of items that didn’t align with their purpose, they examined what was left through the filter of their unique capabilities. Of all the ideas and directions they were considering, developing software that enabled everyone at a company to work with the same information on the same platform, in a visual format that made it easier to understand, would be the most impactful.
Now, you can add one more filter to get even more specific and strategic: how you do things on this team in this culture. The software company valued speed. That led them to set up cross-functional teams that included writers. They could develop features and the related support documentation simultaneously and in smaller bursts, so their customers could start to use them faster.
Once you know why you’re doing something and that you should be the one to do it, you can filter your options through a final question: Does it create the world we’re here to build? Suddenly, not every idea is a good idea, even though you have SO MANY. Not every priority is actually a priority — and not every task is worth doing.
You’ve eliminated the noise. Left only with the right pieces on the table, you can put all your effort and creative juices into taking action as effectively and completely as possible.
Then work backward to keep it out
Part of the reason we end up trapped in idea overwhelm and priority competition is that we start our work in the wrong place. Most of us start with the tactic or the idea: “We should create a podcast.” Sometimes we justify it: “Everyone has one, so why shouldn’t we have a podcast?” Or even: “If we don’t have a podcast, we won’t be successful.”
Sometimes we skip justification, and due to pressure from above or outside, we do stuff even if we don’t know why we’re doing it. Instead of starting with the tactic, start with the point: “Does this action fulfill our purpose? What’s the outcome I want to achieve?” Then you can strategically assess if a podcast will be an effective solution.
When I pushed on the idea of a podcast, a member of the software company’s team said the point was to reach people launching technical products to show them why visual communication makes them more efficient and more effective. And that aligned with their purpose to advance the way we communicate complex information, because they were spreading the word and getting more people on board.
By starting with the point, they determined that a podcast was a poor choice because of its audio-only nature. They ultimately decided to pursue speaking opportunities at relevant conferences where they could show, not tell, through presentation decks and demos.
Starting with the point — whether it’s the point of your business or the point of a meeting, email communication or presentation — gives you a reason for what you choose to do and how you choose to do it. It provides the laser-sharp focus you need to be deliberate about what you choose to do and decisive about eliminating everything that isn’t worth your time.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Hopping on every hot trend and saying “yes” to every shiny idea makes you busy, but it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything productive to grow your business. And what’s worse is that you’re likely wasting your team’s time with aimless meetings or projects they never needed to launch.
Start instead by asking, “What’s the point?” When you know the point — from why you exist as a business to what you need to get done in this meeting — you have the focus to cut through the noise and move your business forward in a way that makes the most of everyone’s time. Because running an effective business isn’t about doing everything; it’s about doing the right things and doing them well.