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You can’t do everything. In fact, you shouldn’t even try. The business machine has perpetuated the false idea that if you don’t capitalize on every new idea and trend, you won’t grow. To feel like you’re tracking everything you see on your social feed is pushing your business in so many different directions that you can’t speak clearly about what you’re doing, let alone know what your time should be and what is not allowed.
Because if everything has 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.
Related: You Can’t Do Everything, And If You Try, You’ll Do Even Less
Do everything “grow”
I walked into a software company with a CEO of a firecracker 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, the 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 get a handle on any of them.
I knew that without a more conscious approach, the company would either start in the trendiest direction, stray from the path and then start over with a new idea – or try to do all things at once and keep going until it’s fully came to a standstill with his team frustrated and burned out.
Running a business that tries to drive in all directions doesn’t make for productive steps forward, and it certainly doesn’t allow for long-term growth. No team wants to spend their time and effort on projects that lead nowhere or are so full of competing priorities that they frantically try to cross things off the list. And they certainly aren’t going 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.
Related: Most of what you’ve read about business purpose is wrong
Filter out the noise
Your focus comes from your purpose. As a business, you have to 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 rode for what you do. And it’s one that your entire team can use as a filter for the choices they make.
In the case of the software company, they have dug deep into what matters to their customers and formulated their goal: to advance the way we communicate complex information. They then evaluated their list of ideas and priorities to determine which ones delivered that value. They removed everything that didn’t fit.
Once you’ve filtered options based on your goal, you also need to filter them based on your unique capabilities, because you can’t effectively be everything to all people. The software company had a long history of developing much-loved graphics products, forming deep relationships in vertical markets dealing with complex machines, and providing excellent support.
After eliminating some items that didn’t match their purpose, they examined what was left through the filter of their unique abilities. Of all the ideas and directions they considered, developing software that would allow everyone in a company to work with the same information on the same platform, in a visual format that made it easier to understand, would have the most impact.
Now you can add another filter to get even more specific and strategic: how you do things in this team in this culture. The software company placed great value on speed. That led them to set up cross-functional teams with writers. They were able to develop features and associated support documentation simultaneously and in smaller bursts so their customers could start using them faster.
Once you know why you’re doing something and that you should be the one doing it, you can filter your options down to one last question: does it create the world we’re supposed to build here? Suddenly not every idea is a good idea, even if you have SO MANY. Not every priority is actually a priority — and not every task is worth doing.
You have eliminated the noise. Left alone with the right pieces on the table, you can use all your efforts and creative juices to spring into action as effectively and fully as possible.
Related: Staying on track: why startups need to stay focused
Then work backwards to keep it out
Part of the reason we get stuck in idea overload and priority competition is that we start our work in the wrong place. Most of us start with the tactic or idea, “We should make a podcast.” Sometimes we justify it: “Everyone has one, so why not have a podcast?” Or even, “If we don’t have a podcast, we won’t be successful.”
Sometimes we skip justification and pressure from above or outside makes us do things, even if we don’t know why we’re doing it. Instead of starting with the tactic, start with the point: “Is this action fulfilling our purpose? What is the result I want to achieve?” Then you can strategically assess whether a podcast is an effective solution.
When I pushed the idea of a podcast, a member of the software company’s team said the idea was to reach out to people launching tech products to show them why visual communication makes them more efficient and effective. And that matched their goal of advancing the way we communicate complex information, as they spread the word and got more people on board.
Starting with the point, they determined that a podcast was a poor choice due to its audio-only nature. They finally decided to speak at relevant conferences where they could showdon’t 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 pin-sharp focus you need to be deliberate about what you’re doing and determined to eliminate anything that isn’t worth your time.
Related: 4 key principles for staying on track and maintaining focus
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Jumping on every popular trend and saying “yes” to every shiny idea will get you busy, but it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything productive to grow your business. And what’s worse, you’re probably wasting your team’s time with aimless meetings or projects they never needed to launch.
Instead, start by asking, “What’s the point?” Knowing what matters—from why your business exists to what to do in this meeting—will focus on cutting through the noise and moving your business forward in a way that makes the most of everyone’s time. Because running an effective business isn’t everything; it’s about doing the right things and doing them right.