How To Cultivate Focus And Execute Better

Focus is mission-critical, but most companies don’t lower the gravitational forces pulling on attention.

As a result, large companies with too much mass have a hard time navigating and adapting to the quickly changing organic growth landscape:

  • Google’s algorithm updates have struck hard and left casualties.
  • Even small rank changes in top positions have an outsized impact.
  • Consumer behavior on the internet is messy and hard to track
  • Teams are shrinking: 80,000 tech workers have been laid off in 2024 so far.
  • Marketing budgets were slashed on average by 10 to 20% over the last two years and only slowly started to recover.
  • Tech workers spend two out of five days per week on meetings and email. Only 43% of the time is spent on actual tasks.

No platform has as many changes of requirements. Over the last 3 years, Google launched 8 Core, 19 major and 75-150 minor updates. The company mentions thousands of improvements every year.

As individuals, we live in a distracted world, where one of the most important skills is managing attention. How did we think teams are any different?

How To Cultivate Focus And Execute BetterImage Credit: Lyna ™

Boost your skills with Growth Memo’s weekly expert insights. Subscribe for free!

No Win Without Focus

Sir Isaac Newton realized that the sun’s gravity causes planets to orbit it in an elliptical path. Gravity in the workplace is a distraction from the focus of individuals and teams:

  • Meetings.
  • Fire drills.
  • Red tape.
  • Strategy pivots.
  • Too many goals.
  • Alignment overhead.
  • Too many cooks in the kitchen.
  • Procurement and legal rabbit holes.
  • Non-critical emails and Slack messages.

The larger a company gets, the stronger its gravity.

Taken to an extreme, it takes companies forever to launch even a single feature, and they fall behind the competition.

For individuals, gravity is even more consequential: Scattered attention means getting nothing done, having no impact, and likely being fired. Worse, people get exhausted and burned out in the process.

“Tranquility comes from doing less,” (Ryan Holiday), but a lot of teams execute scatter-brained like a teenager multitasking between Netflix, TikTok, and texting.

Individual and team focus are connected at the hip. When a team is distracted, it transfers to individuals. Two-thirds of people struggle to find the energy to do their job.

Whenever I get overwhelmed, my brain tells me to open my email inbox and look for a quick dopamine hit. But finding quick tasks and busy work is no achievement.

Real impact comes from working through tedious, complex problems.

We cannot erase gravity, but we can do five things better:

  1. Communication.
  2. Prioritization.
  3. Strategy.
  4. Red Tape.
  5. Meetings.

Better Communication

Unclear communication is one of the biggest attention drainers. We waste a lot of time deciphering what other people mean.

At Shopify, we had a very high bar for what internal communications went out to the Growth org and how they would be framed.

It’s easy to @ your whole team on Slack, but what people really need is key information:

  • What’s going on?
  • How is it relevant to me?
  • What do I need to know/do?

Lazy communication has massive speed cost. In the book “Smart Brevity,” the authors provide a simple framework for writing clear statements:

  1. Start with a muscular tease that grabs attention with six or fewer strong words.
  2. Explain what recipients need to know in the first sentence.
  3. Explain why it matters.
  4. Offer a choice to go deeper by providing more optional context.

Most important: Think about one thing you want people to remember – not more. Nobody has time to read a Slack novel.

Better Prioritization

At PayPal, Peter Thiel established a culture of hardcore focus. He would only discuss their No. 1 priority with managers and hold them accountable for just their one main contribution to the company.

Focus is a forcing function to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to what to spend time on.

No one could be a better example of hardcore prioritization than engineers. If you want to get something on the ENG roadmap, something else has to give.

An effective roadmap operating system has only a few lines of code:

  • What’s the goal?
  • What are the top 3 things that get us there?
  • For those three things, what do we need in terms of people, assets, time, support from other teams, and tools?
  • For those three things, who does what, by when?
  • Defend yourself and your team as much as possible from anything else.

You never look back at your time at a company and say, “Man, my fourth, fifth, and sixth priority back then really hit home,” but you might remember the impact of priorities one, two, and three.

Cal Newport’s new book, “Slow Productivity,” mentions doing less as one of the top ways to do better work.

But the advice I like the most is doubling the time you think a project takes.

Doubling automatically trims your roadmap by probably 50% but makes it more likely that you deliver on time and deliver well.

A big part of moving ourselves into an overcommitment corner is underestimating how long projects take (I think I wrote the last sentence at least as much for myself as for you).

Better Strategies

Poor strategies are hard to follow and confuse the team.

In my experience, managers want to get fancy, but they miss the most important point: A good strategy means doing something different from the competition.

Instead of outworking contenders, you want to do something that’s unique and leans to your competitive advantage.

Pairing differentiation with prioritization, your three most important projects should underline how you achieve the same goal in a different way as your competitors.

For example, instead of writing 100 blog articles, can you build a programmatic play or a list of tools? Or can you leverage contributors who write the content instead of a large in-house team?

I also found that most strategies simply aren’t clear. A simple test for clarity is to up or downsize the surface you have to explain it: Can you express your strategy in one paragraph (TL;DR), one page (high-level), and one doc (in-depth)?

Less Red Tape

Red tape in the form of excessive bureaucracy kills execution. I’ve seen many companies that take many weeks and endless alignment meetings before being able to sign up for a simple SaaS tool.

Procurement and legal teams can slow companies down and frustrate teams beyond means.

The key to having speed and a good evaluation process is clear guidelines when legal or procurement steps in.

With one of my former clients, the fastest-growing fintech startup in history, we sat down with the legal team and got a full download on guardrails. What can we say and what not? When do we have to get legal approval, and when can we move forward without it?

This is a task for the team manager or org leader. While tedious, the good news is that once the borders have been established, teams can move forward faster and focus on execution.

Fewer Meetings

Tobi Lütke, founder and CEO of Shopify, called meetings a “bug.” The leadership team regularly deployed the “Chaos Monkey,” a script that deletes all recurring meetings with more than two participants. Other companies set guardrails around time. Calendly restricts meetings to noon until 5 p.m.

Most meetings are poorly run, unnecessary, or simply a way for people to socialize.

Besides an agenda, every meeting should have a clear purpose. There really are only three types of meetings: socializing, information sharing, and decision-making.

Building relationships in the workplace is important, and there is nothing wrong with socializing. It’s important to be explicit and avoid meeting to “talk about Project X” while really wanting to socialize.

Information-sharing meetings are best done async. Instead of getting a large group of people together, record your message in a video or write a memo.

Decision-making meetings should be led by the decision maker and come with a pre-read.

The problem with many large organizations is that decisions are poorly framed; it’s unclear who makes the decision, and the decision-maker doesn’t have explicit criteria for how to make the decision.

Outlook: Can AI Help Us Regain Focus?

Show me how focused your team is, and I’ll show you a team that will win.

High gravity in large organizations, on the other hand, is an ask to be disrupted by a smaller, more agile player. The good news is that technology is working against gravity – at least in the workplace.

AI has the potential to help us find fragmented information, force clarity, and take over bland admin tasks that drain time so we can focus on things that matter.

Microsoft’s Future of Work report concludes:

“Organizational knowledge is fragmented across documents, conversations, apps and devices, but LLMs hold the potential to gather and synthesize this information in ways that were previously impossible”.

In the future, we’ll be able to ask LLMs questions about any internal process, like “What are our top goals?” or “Does this need legal review?” The freed-up time allows us to refine our strategies and get work done.

That future still seems a few years away. Until then, we can do a lot to improve our attention.


Marketing spending shows signs of growth, but AI adoption is slow: report; Beyond belt-tightening: How marketing can drive resiliency during uncertain times

Will AI Fix Work?

Workers Now Spend Two Full Days a Week on Email and in Meetings

Microsoft New Future of Work Report 2023

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal


أنا مطور ويب HAKAM. من هنا ستحصل على الكثير من المعلومات القيمة مجانًا ودعوة لتحديث WordPress وBlogger حتى يتم قبول مواقعك في Google AdSense وأيضًا إتقان SEO بشكل صحيح والأفضل للأسهل.

اترك تعليقاً

لن يتم نشر عنوان بريدك الإلكتروني. الحقول الإلزامية مشار إليها بـ *