In the recent HBO documentary, Becoming Warren Buffett, there is a scene where Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are asked to write down one thing they believe successful people need. They both write down the exact same word. That word was “focus”.
If you sit down and really think about it, whenever you have successfully achieved anything in your life, it will almost always have come about because you were completely focused on the result and you did not allow any distractions get in the way of your desired outcome.
Over the weekend, I watched the Ask Gary Vee Show, featuring Tony Robbins, and towards the end of the show, a caller asks about having too many things in the air, and both Gary Vaynerchuk and Tony Robbins explained, that focus is one of the most important factors in their success and the success of all people who have achieved great things.
If you think about it, Neil Armstrong would never have walked on the moon, had the incredibly talented people at NASA not been completely focused on getting the crew of Apollo 11 to the moon and back safely. And the famous Apollo 13 near disaster was avoided because some of the greatest minds at NASA came together with one focus and that was to get the crew back to earth safely after they lost power. One of my favourite movie scenes comes from the Apollo 13 movie where the character, Gene Kranz, played by the brilliant Ed Harris, talks to his engineers about how to get the crew back to earth safely. At the end of the conversation, he says: “Failure is not an option!” Nothing can beat that for focusing the mind on what is important.
When talking with a lot of my clients I find their biggest problem is they have so many plans, goals and ideas floating around in their minds, that being able to focus on just one of these becomes almost impossible. When they do try to focus on one, they are so distracted by all the other things going on around them, they never achieve any of their goals.
The best way to get your life focused on what is really important to you, is to align all your goals. For example, my professional goal is to be an internationally renowned productivity speaker. My personal goal includes keeping fit and healthy, and that aligns with my professional goal because I will not be able to do workshops and speaking engagements around the world if I am not fit and healthy. My financial goals also align with both of these because I will not be able achieve my financial goals if I do not do workshops and speak at conferences. Writing books, doing my YouTube channel and writing this blog all align with my professional goal.
Just as in Apollo 13, whether it is fitting square CO2 filters into round holes, or squeezing enough electricity out of the fast depleting batteries to get through re-entry, the primary goal is to get the crew back to earth safely, everything is aligned to that primary goal.
Aligning your goals requires focus and a clear vision of what you want. Focus and clarity on what it is you want to become, achieve and leave behind when you are gone.
If your goal is to become the next 400 metre Olympic champion, and your personal goal is to spend weekends hanging out with your friends, then there is a mis-alignment. To become the next Olympic 400 metre champion will require complete focus on training and health maintenance. Hanging out with your friends every weekend is not going to achieve that. You have to decide what is more important to you. The Olympic gold medal or a few beers every weekend with your friends. You can’t have both. As former Olympic 100 Metre Champion, Linford Christie said “you can’t burn the candle at both ends”
Once you do get your goals into alignment amazing things can happen. Focus is easy because everything you do is moving you closer and closer towards the goal. Maintaining a single focus on the goal brings a successful achievement closer. Incorporating tasks and actions into your daily todos means every day you are maintaining a single focus on the prize at the end of the experience.
But alignment does not stop there. Do your goals align with your family’s goals? What if, you would like to live and work in the US, but your wife is studying German law in preparation to becoming a judge? How does your wife’s goals align with your goals? (A big hat tip to Enrico Nahler for that suggestion). So knowing and understanding the bigger picture of the important people around you is essential if you are to be successful with your goals.
It does take time to get all your goals into alignment. For some of you your primary goal may be a personal goal. For me, my primary goal is a professional one. This means my focus is on my professional development and my personal goals line up with that outcome. For you, your primary goal may be your personal life, which means you will need to make sure your professional goals line up with that. An example would be if your goal is to be around while your kids are still young, then taking a job where you will be travelling a lot of the time, would not align with your personal goal. Likewise if your personal goal is to have an active retirement enjoying climbing mountains in places like the Alps or Rockies, then having a job where you spend all day sat down and eating unhealthy business lunches is not going to align with your overall goal, unless you make sure you maintain a healthy diet and include some form of daily exercise to off set all that sitting down and unhealthy drinking and eating.
When developing your goals, you need to know what kind of life you want to live. In this respect everyone is different. I love my work, I love helping people to become better versions of themselves. Everything I do, focuses on my ultimate goal of going around the world helping people to become more productive so they can enjoy the important things in their lives without the stress of never having enough time to spend time doing things that are important to them. I teach, I write, I present and I maintain a regular exercise programme to enable me to have the energy to be on my feet ten hours a day walking up and down a stage. Your goals will be different, but the need to keep all your goals aligned so you maintain your focus and clarity on them is still important.
To make sure your goals align, you do need to know what your primary goal is. What one goal do you have that you would like to achieve above everything else? That must be your first question. After that, you need to look at all your other goals as well as your family’s goals and make sure they fit naturally with your primary goal. This is not just your professional life, this is your whole life. All your goals, both professional and personal must align so they compliment one another. When you complete a task on one goal, it also moves you towards your other goals. I know this is not easy, and it will take some time, but once you have pulled all your goals into alignment, amazing things will happen.
Over the next few days take a look at all the goals you have, talk with your nearest and dearest and make sure everything aligns together so you are able to focus on achieving what it is you and your family want to achieve in your life. They say it is never too late to start, but one day it will be.
Carl Pullein is a personal productivity specialist, presenter and author of Working With Todoist: The Book as well as Your Digital Life, a book about using your technology to achieve greater productivity. Carl works with clients all over the world to help them focus on the things that are important to them and to become more productive and creative.