One day, Jesus and his disciples were eating in a tavern in Phoenicia, relaxing from their exhausting schedule of traveling and preaching. As they were enjoying the tasty flavors of hummus, baba ghanoush, and roasted lamb, a woman holding the hand of her daughter entered. She fell at Jesus’s feet and said, “Have mercy on me, Master, Son of David! My daughter is afflicted by an evil spirit.”
Jesus remained quiet.
“Please help!” she insisted.
Peter said, “Rabbi, send her away.”
Jesus sighed and said to the woman, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you. I’ve got my hands full dealing with the lost people of Israel.”
But she did not give up, repeatedly asking Him to heal her daughter. Her faith impressed Jesus so much that he finally relented and placed his hand on the girl’s head. The evil spirit immediately left her, and she smiled.
Jesus’s initial response to the woman in the tavern surprises me every time I read this story. The Son of God, who came into this world not to be served, but to serve, refuses to help a woman in despair. That doesn’t correspond to my image of the Savior.
How can He ignore her need? The one who commanded, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” said “no” because he was too busy?
I struggle to wrap my head around that since I’m a person who tries to help anyone at any time. And in doing so I often become overwhelmed.
Through this story, Jesus teaches us the importance of having a radical focus, which means concentrating on those things in life that matter the most.
During His short ministry on Earth, He had a big vision to fulfill: to raise a group of followers who then would make disciples all over the world and extend mercy to all people. That’s a tall order.
To achieve such an ambitious goal, Jesus remained hyper-focused. He knew He couldn’t do everything for all people, and He avoided spreading Himself too thin.
When multiple media channels bombard me with incessant bad news such as reports of earthquakes, a worldwide pandemic, starving people, and a bloody war in Europe, I want to immediately solve all these problems.
But I realize that’s not possible, and I remember a piece of valuable advice a former boss once gave me: “Choose your battles wisely.” In other words, learn to focus on what’s most important.
Brian Tracy, the author of over 70 self-improvement books, writes, “The ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task, to do it well and to finish it completely, is the key to great success, achievement, respect, status, and happiness in life.”
To accomplish big things, you must remain hyper-focused.
In the 19th century, the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto observed that about 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.
Throughout the years, this same ratio has repeated itself many times: 20% of the products produced account for 80% of the profits, and 20% of Americans pay around 80% of total federal income taxes. In all cases, a small percentage of the people—20%—controls a large percentage of the outcome—80%.
Many effective people have adopted the Pareto Principle—also called the 80/20 Rule—to gain a competitive edge, and you could benefit from it, too. Instead of investing equal amounts of time and attention in a variety of tasks, the 80/20 Rule suggests you concentrate on a few high-value tasks, the ones that get you the best results.
In the words of Richard Koch, an expert on the Pareto Principle, “The few things that work fantastically well should be identified, cultivated, nurtured, and multiplied.”
Let’s look at some other tips to help you focus your energy more effectively.
In our world of distractions, it is often difficult to discern what matters. In my corporate work, I received dozens of emails every day. Were they all important? Certainly not. Instead of concentrating on my purpose, I allowed myself to be sidetracked.
As self-improvement author Brian Tracy says, “Your ability to choose between the important and the unimportant is the key determinant of your success in life and work.” You must learn to focus on what is important.
When America committed to going to the moon within seven years of Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the Moon” speech, their space engineers needed radical focus to develop all the technology necessary for a moon shot. They didn’t have time to allow themselves to be distracted by unimportant details. Such an ambitious objective forced the engineers to dedicate their entire focus to what mattered.
Jim Collins, the famous author, and business consultant realizes the importance of radical focus, too. He says, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.”
My future business plan used to list five priorities I wanted to accomplish in the next three years, but I found I wasn’t able to focus enough of my attention on any one of them.
Heeding Collins’s advice, I redesigned my plan to include just three items. To do this, I had to make tough choices. For instance, even though I wanted to learn the Cambodian language, Khmer, I put that on hold to focus on my three most important goals necessary for me to get my rocket off the ground.
Focusing on what matters also applies to your daily tasks. Author Brian Tracy cautions us to resist the temptation to start the day by working on trivial things. Instead, he suggests we develop the habit of beginning with high-value tasks—the ones that take us closer to our goals. That way you are working on what’s most important to you when you are at your best, earlier in the day. And make sure to continue with that task until you complete it.
When the NASA engineers were designing the Apollo 11 rocket, they realized that every ounce counted. To overcome the pull of Earth’s gravity and reach outer space, the rocket had to attain a certain speed called the escape velocity, which required the engineers to minimize the weight of the rocket. They had to reduce the spacecraft to its bare essentials.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, the company was on the brink of failure. Reviewing the company’s output, he saw they produced multiple versions of the same product. He revitalized Apple by having the company focus on four products. Just four. Jobs understood the power of essentialism.
Leadership and business strategist Greg McKeown explains the concept this way: “Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”
I invite you to assess your priorities. Are all of them essential? Are there any priorities you could remove to redirect your energy to your truly essential ones?
In my search for essentialism, I found leadership expert Robin Sharma’s 90/1/1 Rule to be instrumental. “For the next 90 days, devote the first 90 minutes of your day to your most important project—nothing else.”
When you focus on one thing, magic happens. For instance, Pixar focused for three years on one single movie, and that movie became the blockbuster hit, Toy Story.
Extreme achievers like Buffet, Jobs, and the folks at Pixar show us that high productivity is about subtraction—boiling things down to their bare minimum—to determine what is truly essential.
An essential tool needed to make a big difference in this world is the ability to say, “No.” As Warren Buffet says, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” To provide yourself time to concentrate on your essentials, you need to say, “No”—often.
In the late 1990s, the British rowing team decided to reach for the stars by setting the goal of winning the gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. This was an ambitious goal since the Brits had not won a gold medal in rowing since 1912.
All through their training, they used one criterion to decide whether to do something. They asked themselves, “Will it make the boat go faster?”
Practice on a rowing machine for 90 minutes? Yes.
Go to the pub for a few beers? Unfortunately, no.
Jog five miles a day? Yes.
Eat delicious fish and chips?” Definitely, no.
Whenever the answer was “No,” the athletes would say, “No, we’re not doing that.” As a result, the British rowing team outpaced their competition and won the gold medal. The will-it-make-the-boat-go-faster filter gave the team substantial clarity and informed them when they needed to say, “No.” Hence, you must learn to say, “No,” to non-essential things.
Having a clear, radical focus for your life enables you to maximize the return on your efforts. By concentrating on what is essential to achieve your goals, your chances of success will multiply.
As you say, “No!” to distractions and enlist the help of others, you’ll free up your time to work in your Zone of Genius. While working, concentrate on one thing at a time—no multitasking—and surround yourself with great people.
Achieving radical focus will build momentum toward accomplishing your mission.