Focus or Fail: The Ultimate Productivity Tip for Entrepreneurs

Why specializing and doing what you do best will lead you to success.

Young partners discussing business ideas

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There is a common figure of speech in the world of business, "jack of all trades and master of none."

This refers to a person who is competent with many skills but spends so much time learning each new skill that he or she can never become a true master in any particular one. They're a generalist, not a specialist.

As an entrepreneur, you sometimes feel that you need to be a “jack of all trades.” You can always find something that needs to be done—and your natural instinct, particularly in the early days of business when money is tight, is to do it yourself.

However, you need to resist that urge with all your might. Don’t give in to the temptation of doing everything yourself. Your ability to focus on doing only what you're best at will have a strong impact on how successful you'll become within your business.

Why You Should Focus Your Activities

To be truly successful, an entrepreneur needs to be ruthless with their time management, opportunity management, and resource allocation. One of the most important, yet hardest skills of management is learning to say “no."

You never seem to have enough time to do everything that you feel you should. You could be a workaholic, devoting nearly every hour of your day to doing important business tasks yourself. The problem is that the human body is not built for that type of stress.

You can only pull extended work hours for so long before your performance suffers. An extended workweek does not help your relationships in your personal life, either.

In a recent post chronicling my “Just Say No” Time Management System, I discussed a recent study that determined that the optimal amount of hours you should work each week—for maximum productivity—is on average, just 35 hours. While people are typically less productive when working longer than this, they feel that they are more productive, which confuses them when they look back at the actual results and see a drop off in productivity after crossing the 35-hour threshold.

This study emphasizes the importance of effective time management. When time is your most valuable resource, you cannot afford to waste it on activities that are not your strongest suit. You need to develop a system that best uses your limited time, while at the same time “farming out” tasks that others can do.

In Developing Time Management Skills, Beverly D. Flaxington states that “time management is not about having all of those things done; it’s about having enough time for what matters most to you.” You need to determine where you should prioritize your time to ensure that you do the most good.

Flaxington also proposes that you should get rid of your to-do lists entirely, as they do not take into account what matters most to you: your values and your priorities. Instead, she believes you should identify your values. Focus on what’s most important to you. You should then look at what needs to be done and only then create a priority item list. Place items in order of importance that connect back to your values.

Why Multitasking Is Not the Answer

A few years back, the textbook productivity tip and answer to how a busy entrepreneur should allocate their time most efficiently would have been to multitask.

For a few years, multitasking was the in-favor buzzword.

With time, however, people have discovered that multitasking is not the elixir of productivity that the gurus initially portrayed it as being.

Yes, multitaskers can change tasks quickly. They are flexible. Multitaskers can be great team workers, who can adapt to take on whichever roles the team needs.

However, there are serious downsides to multitasking, which more than compensate for those advantages. Advanced Life Skills weighs the pros and cons of multitasking and definitely concludes that it is not the way to go, to ensure successful productivity.

Firstly, as much as every mother claims to be a multi-tasking expert, humans are inherently poor at multitasking. It is not a skill that comes naturally to us.

We perform at our peak when we have an uninterrupted flow of work. It is very difficult to accomplish a task efficiently if we face constant interruptions. It is very hard to perform at our peak if we are constantly having to pick up a job and go through the thought process yet again, determining where we have to restart.

We may not consciously realize it, but each interruption adds to our stress levels. This becomes even more evident the closer we come to a deadline, particularly if it is likely that we may fail to finish the task on time. Over time, with our stress levels accumulating, our inability to focus becomes more evident, and both our productivity and ability to cope suffers.

Another problem with multitasking is that it affects our memory. When we multitask, we cannot focus on things closely enough. As a result, they do not get processed in our brains properly. This leads to forgetfulness. Productivity and your effectiveness as a business owner suffer immensely as a side effect of consistently forgetting what you're working on and what should be getting your most urgent attention.

How Can You Compensate?

You cannot do every task that you need to do. You cannot, in the long-term, successfully multitask. So, what can you do to improve your productivity as an entrepreneur?

Hire someone who has the skills that you lack. Stop wasting your valuable doing the wrong things yourself.

If you can justify hiring a full-time employee, do so. Go through the process of finding someone that you can trust, and whom you can easily work with. Just make sure that you do show confidence in them. If your employment practices are sound, you will hopefully someone who is far better at that job than you are. You will fritter away any savings you make if you spend time micromanaging them.

If you do not have enough work to justify hiring a full-time employee, consider hiring a freelancer. Freelancers specialize in those tasks you may find difficult. You could use a freelance market such as Upwork or Fiverr.

Alternatively, many freelancers have their own portfolio websites. Take for example Andrew Loader Writer, a freelance writer and editor I've used to help me with big projects over the years. By taking the time to research, you'll find sites for many different types of freelancers with many skills ranging from writing to graphic design, coding, and video production.

Sometimes you need specialist help on a large scale. One possibility here is to join up with a new partner. The combination of both their strengths and yours could create an enormous array of opportunities that would not exist if you simply operated in a vacuum, doing everything yourself. It is possible that your new partner could also bring additional contacts, partners, financial resources, and other benefits to the business, too.

The bottom line is that there are times when you simply need to learn how to say “no.” You need to be able to turn down opportunities that would otherwise distract you from your ultimate goals.

Google has discovered this. They have started and supported businesses in dozens of different industries over the years, but they have learned that there is a point when you have to decide on the actual value of something; even something as established as Google Reader, which they closed down last year.

You too, have to realize that there are limits to what you can do yourself. You need to decide upon and follow your priorities.