Laser-like focus!

Some things are so obvious that they sound stupid. But I forget them so often, and see so many people forget them so often, that I prefer to say something seemingly stupid than to shut up.

When working alone, the actual amount of work you can accomplish is tiny, and the time it takes to complete anything is enormous. Putting it roughly, compared to what you’d like to think, and to a first approximation:

you can do nothing today


it will take you forever to do anything

When carried by a lot of energy, desire or ambition, you will try to accomplish huge goals without realizing how actually enormous they are. Sooner or later, one of these three things happens: (1) you redefine your goals, (2) you redefine your timeframe, or (3) you become depressed.

If you start noticing you’re advancing slowly, you will lose motivation. If you lose motivation, your advance will become slower. It’s not easy to break this cycle, but you’d better try.

For each task you tackle, ask yourself exactly what its goal is. After you know that, ask yourself if the goal is necessary, or whether there is a simpler way to achieve the goal. Reduce the task to the bare minimum required for the stated goal. Assume it’s going to take much longer than it seems it will.

I call this “laser-like focus”: you need to focus your very limited productivity in a tiny target area for it to have any effect. Only do the things that are strictly necessary, and do them one by one. Only expect to achieve the minimum each day, expect to be in the current stage for a long time, and learn to be happy that way.

When you have a list of things to do, before you do anything, trim, and trim, and then trim some more. Ask about each item: is it strictly required? Can it be postponed? Remove items, simplify them, substitute them by cheaper alternatives, offload them, try to remove everything. There’s always time to attempt the extras once the core is complete.

This is not only workforce management, but motivation management too – by simplifying the goals you pursue, you will be rewarding yourself with the satisfaction of results more often. That is a tremendously important goal by itself.

I recommend you to try to do less, and slower, rather than more, and faster.

You will almost certainly be more successful.

And happier.

Some things are so obvious that they sound stupid. I think I only said that one should check before doing, and then do it with calm. I feel today is the kind of day this was worth saying.

7 Responses to “Laser-like focus!”

  1. Kalle Says:

    As someone that just launched his first mISV, this resonate with my situation.
    Very well said, I’ll print it and put it beside my monitor!

    Thank you!

  2. Gavin Bowman Says:

    I’ve made it through almost 10 years (1 month to go) trying to do absolutely everything every single day… why should I change now?

    Oh yeah… more successful, and happier… good point… Tomorrow, I shall aim to achieve NOTHING!!!

    Nice article Jon, always good to see you blogging :).

  3. Gautam Jain Says:

    So true.

    Every time I try to do more and faster, I end up messing up things (can’t get work done, frustrated and irritated).

    I am taking things slowly now. I am enjoying every moment. The best part is that I can see work get completed quickly without much force.

  4. Jon Says:

    Kalle, Gautam, I’m glad the post was enjoyable and/or resonated with you.

    Gavin, I wouldn’t dare give you advice on that! Maybe the post should have been a bit more tongue-in-cheek, as, indeed, working like crazy *sometimes* works. It used to work for me when I was 25, but not now that I’m 35. My health suffers too, stress is terribly taxing on your mind and body. I need much more focus now. I also need to exercise almost daily, etc… I guess I need to pick my battles now.

    Anyway, I wanted a nicer way to break a too long blogging break.

  5. Tim Says:

    Hi Jon,

    Keep up the blogging, I like to hear what you have to say. Can you give us a status update on what is happening at NGEDIT? Does this post come with experience? :)

  6. Jon Says:

    Tim, thanks for the kind comment. Actually, in retrospect, the post / advice above is only valid for some situations, I will post a follow-up.

    After I get some of the posting groove back, I will post about all my projects. Short-version: all of them are and have been advancing, albeit at a slow pace. I hope to fix that, at least partly, in 2009 — difficult times require more work!!

  7. The growing pains of NGEDIT » Blog Archive » About my blogging customs Says:

    […] The growing pains of NGEDIT A blog on the development of the NGEDIT text editor « Laser-like focus! […]

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