There are all kinds of things that you might think are fundamentally important in terms of your ability to run a thriving business. To a large degree, what you deem most important will be a matter of who you’re listening to.
According to people such as the former U.S. Navy SEALs Jocko Willink, and Leif Babin, founders of the company Echelon Front that offers leadership training to companies, the most fundamental thing for any company might be the quality of its leadership, and the willingness at all levels for people in the company to accept “extreme ownership.”
A hedge fund manager will likely tell you that the most important thing for any company is the start-up capital it can leverage. Then again, you’ll also hear that the most important thing a company can have is integrity, a clear vision, good “systems” rather than “goals”, and so on.
As a general rule, it makes sense to assume that there is something to just about all of these ideas. But it’s clear that, whether it’s the “most important factor” or not, your capacity to be attentive can make or break your business, all other factors aside.
Here are a few reasons why that is the case.
The ability to pay attention is essential for keeping things running properly
If your company relies on large volumes of purified water to be delivered and accessible on a routine basis, you need to understand that water treatment plants require regular maintenance. Failing to invest that regular maintenance – and just as importantly, failing to perform regular checkups to determine the state of your tools and systems – can result in the kind of catastrophic mishap that causes not just financial and legal turmoil for your company, but that might even cost lives.
The first way in which attentiveness, and the willingness and ability to pay attention, is integral to your businesses success, is in its function as an early warning system.
No matter how enterprising, innovative, and brilliant your company may be, it is still subject to the same laws of entropy that govern the rest of the universe. Over time, things will fall apart, suffer as a result of wear and tear, or implode due to dysfunctional systems. As the owner of a company, your job is largely to keep an eagle eye out for all these potential mishaps, and to nip them in the bud before they come to a head.
This means, of course, that you yourself have to constantly be asking the difficult questions of your staff, and co-workers. You need to have the best possible picture you can at any given time, about the state and quality of your systems, tools, and so on. You also need to be able to take the initiative in these areas, when other people may be less forthcoming.
The worst thing you could possibly do here would be to bury your head in the sand, assume that “everything is just going to be alright,” and keep moving along in blissful ignorance until something breaks or collapses in monumental fashion.
The more focused and attentive you can be, the better able you will be to perform “deep work”
Cal Newport is a professor and writer, who has made a name for himself partly through writing about the concept he refers to as “Deep Work.” This is also the title of one of his bestselling and most well-known books.
As Newport sees it, many of us have fallen into an incredibly detrimental trap these days. We’ve been seduced into thinking that the “busier” we are, the more productive we are, and the more meaningfully we are spending our time.
The thing is, it’s incredibly easy to look busy – even to be busy – without really achieving much of anything whatsoever. Or, as an old saying would have it, “it is not enough merely to be busy. The ants are busy, too.”
According to Newport, this rush to multitask, and to always appear “busy,” means that we are constantly liable to underperform, and to be superseded by new computer technology that does the “shallow work” better than we do.
What we should really be focusing on – and what the market really rewards – is “deep work”, he argues. So, what is this “deep work?” Put simply, it is the ability to focus on a given task, in an undistracted manner, and without disrupting your “flow state” to check your email, pick up your phone, respond to a message, or do anything else at all.
The idea here is that this kind of deep, undisturbed work, is a skill. We develop our capacity for “deep work” through practice, and this, in turn, allows us to be infinitely more productive, master skills far more efficiently, and simply outperform the competition on a variety of different levels.
And the key to achieving this deep work is, of course, focus.
Focus allows you to properly utilise and invest in your most valuable resource – time
A business will have many different resources to utilise, in its quest for dominance in its industry, and the drive to provide value to prospective clients.
Money is the resource that we most commonly think of when we consider the whole array of resources that a business will need to be proficient at leveraging. Of course, money is a big deal. But money comes and goes, and there are some things that money can’t buy.
While your competitors may have infinitely more money at their disposal to throw around then you do, they do not have more hours in the day to commit to improving their business, to nurturing client relationships, or to anything else.
Time is a finite resource, and there is a good argument to be made that it is perhaps the most fundamental resource that any business has access to.
No matter how much capital your business has acquired, and no matter how many brilliant and pioneering ideas you may have, if you are incapable of utilising your time effectively, you should not by any means expect to succeed in your professional endeavours.
Focus helps you to properly utilise and invest this most valuable of resource – your time. Focusing on the most important task at any given moment will help you to remain on track, and will prevent time waste.
Focus helps to reduce the stress present in your working life – it turns down the “noise” that you have to contend with
The material quality of life of the average person has clearly risen dramatically over the last century or so, and yet, polls frequently find that people are more depressed, anxious, and stressed than ever before.
One factor that some people think contributes to this, is the fact that there are just so many distractions out there today, all vying for our attention.
This is certainly true in business. When you do not focus your attention and your energies down certain narrow avenues in your professional life, you will find that there are literally an unlimited number of things that you could conceivably be working on at any given moment. Try to focus on them all, and you will go mad.
Focus helps you to reduce the stress present in your working life, by turning down the “noise” that you have to contend with, from various competing possibilities, and avenues.