Why Focus is What You Should Focus on in 2018

February 1, 2018

Editor’s Note: This guest post was contributed by Steve Goldhaber, Founder and CEO of 26 Characters.

Being a marketer today is fun. Through technological advancements, we’re able to tell stories in a livelier manner, communicate with our co-workers easier, produce work faster, and optimize programs in real time.

But along with these advances come setbacks: we struggle to find work-life balance; it’s hard to keep up with everything; and we’re bombarded with more things every day such as AR, VR, and AI … just to name a few.

Even though technology has done a great job advancing everything, one of the consequences is that it’s harder to focus. And when you can’t focus, your work suffers.

Years ago, when we opted in to our “always on” workplace, we unknowingly took an oath that went something like this:

“I love technology. I need it. I want it. I promise to always ask for more. As soon as it catches up with my high expectations, I will double down and ask for something that’s better and faster. If I forget this oath, I will be reminded by a 1-second ‘ping’ from the technology gods. Upon hearing it, I will stop what I’m focused on and become distracted.”

When we’re not focused, our marketing plans are not as cohesive. Annual plans don’t follow the same pattern. And we find it perfectly normal to be thrown daily curve balls. We justify it by saying “that’s just how it is today.”

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

I recently read “Deep Work” by Cal Newport. In the book, he outlines the phenomenon I just described. He says that in our hyperconnected world, we’re unable to disconnect effectively. As a result, we’re unable to get to a relaxed state where we perform our best work. Some people never get to this state of “deep work.” If you don’t, your odds decrease at being productive, successful, and having an impact.

We can all relate to the need to re-think our bad habits, but how do we improve? The solution lies within our ability to do two things. First, we need to better focus our team. Second, we need to get smarter at how we work individually.

In this spirit, I’ve outlined 8 ways in which we can all focus better. Some are quick and easy. Others require more effort and patience.

Some tips for how your marketing team can better focus:

1 – Force Yourself to Agree on 3 Key Goals/Metrics for the Year.

We live in a world that is overwhelmed with information. This has created a more complex narrative and analysis paralysis. Try to pick thre key things that are important to your team. Make them as clear as possible (i.e. Generate 250 leads that bring in $X in revenue). In every status report or results recap, focus on how the program had an impact on those three goals. Yes, you still need to look at more than three metrics. Just remember the other metrics add deeper meaning to the bigger picture.

2 – As Part of Your Planning Process, Agree on How You’ll Handle Incremental Requests.

Almost every department wants something from marketing. Think twice before you say “yes” to a random, unplanned request. You really need to ask yourself if the request is aligned with the mission of your department. One thing that will help you say “no” is to map out all the projects you’re working on for the year. Socialize your plan with other leaders. Ask them for their support by letting your team focus. And later on, when the requests flood in, reference the document you’ve already shared with them. Obviously, you need to make some exceptions to this rule based on the circumstances.

3 – Start Saying No!

Great leaders know how to protect their teams by saying “no.” This is one of the hardest things to do, but it’s essential to keep your team focused. Steve Jobs said it best: “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

Some tips for how you can focus as an individual to have a bigger impact:

1 – Turn Off the Email Notifications and Rely on the iPhone VIP Feature.

For years, I used a default setting that shows email notifications on my desktop. I’m convinced this is the biggest focus killer. Here’s my tip: Step 1) Turn off desktop notifications. Step 2) If you have an iPhone, use the VIP setting in your Contacts to flag people who might require an urgent response. Once your VIP sends an email, it shows on your iPhone home screen (similar to a text message). Place your phone near your computer so you’ll know when you get a VIP email. You’ve just saved yourself from being distracted 10-20 times per hour.  

2 – Block Multiple 2 to 3-Hour Times Each Week on Your Calendar

Start blocking time on your calendar where you can carve out two or three hours at a time. Set this up as a recurring meeting so people can’t book over it. This helps you manage your time vs. giving everyone the ability to schedule your day.

3 – Try to Schedule Meetings Back-to-Back

If I had four or five meetings in a day, I would try to space them out with a 30-minute cushion in between, just to be safe. Looking back, this wasn’t the best way to do it. What I try to do now is stack them back-to-back. This helps me focus the meeting (I start by saying “I have a hard stop in 30 minutes”). Meetings are usually more productive, and then you have a block of two to three hours of uninterrupted time at the beginning or end of the day. If you want to take this tip to the next level, if your meetings are in person, schedule them in the same conference room. That way, when your next meeting shows up, the person you’re meeting with knows it’s time to go.

4 – Use the “Sneak You In” Technique to Shorten Unnecessary Long Meetings

We all know someone who thinks they need an hour-long meeting, when they really don’t. If you don’t think it’s justified, schedule the original meeting for an hour. On the next day, tell them you have a 30-minute window that opened up. Ask them if they want to meet sooner. Chances are they will, and you just saved yourself 30 minutes.

5 – Use Your Out of Office Message When You’re in the Office

If you’re looking for an alternative to tip #1, try this. Use your out of office message to manage any urgent emails. You would say something like “Hi, I’m in the office today but I have limited availability to email… please call my cell phone if it’s urgent.” This does a nice job setting the expectation that you’re not checking emails that often, and it’s on them to reach out if they require an immediate response.

There’s nothing more exciting than starting a new year. But it’s important not to let this excitement spiral out of control by jumping into everything. Make a bigger impact as a team by focusing on your key goals, sticking to your annual plans and saying “no” when you need to. Individually, refine how you work so you can free up more time for tasks that have the most impact.

Focus your team.

Focus yourself.