Drucker: Focus

This is the 6th of 10 posts in this series on Peter Drucker’s “The Effective Executive”

I hope that you have started to practice using time better by doing less. And I hope that you are asking Peter Drucker’s great question to start off your internal dialogue “How can I contribute?” Doing this will help you see strengths more clearly – in yourself and in others.

But there is more. The adventure we want to have is not so simple. Life doesn’t arrive in a package with a bow tie. Instead, we experience a steady stream of challenges and more often than not, we accept that the next challenge just appears in front of us. Very brave! And perhaps, not very smart.

You have probably heard this line — Good is the enemy of great. But you may not have thought about it. It is time that you did. The more good things we say “yes” to, the less capacity we will have to say “yes” to a great challenge. We won’t have the time or the energy.

Steve Jobs made this point rather well. In this video, he is speaking to Apple staff engineers very shortly after he returned to Apple.

Here is the take away quote

“Focusing is about saying no”.

Again — we can only do one thing at a time (multitasking is bullshit). And most of us can only build a story one step at a time too. So we need to say “no” to the thousand good stories that lure us aside so that we can say “yes” to the one great story that we want to be part of.

BTW, Peter points out that this means putting the past in context. We can’t afford to live in the past if we want to be part of that great story. It is just too distracting.

And it is totally ok that some stuff on our “to do” lists — good stuff — just will never get done. Let it go!

Most important, we need to see that this is a matter of courage not genius – having the courage to go after opportunities and say “no” to other stuff.

Csikszentmihalyi makes a stunning point on the capacity to generate focus to be happy. He argues

The universe around us is not ordered to give us happiness. It is, to the contrary, indifferent at best to our happiness, and at times it threatens us. In other words, we cannot find meaning or effectiveness by just “going with the flow” with the stuff around us (the universe). That flow will take control of us and lead us nowhere.

Csikszentmihalyi’s great idea is that instead we can and need to strive to create meaning in our lives. And in doing that we will feel happiness in the flow of what we are doing – not in what we are getting – but in the meaning we are creating.

So here is his great thought – wanting something makes us happy. Actually getting it does not make us any more happy. It is weird so here goes once again – seeing what we want makes us happy. Getting it does not make us more happy.

So the top priority is to see what we want – not mindlessly satisfy our wants. And that means saying “no” to a lot of good stuff.

I love this part of Peter’s book. It simplifies lots of tough decisions. Ooops! Did I say the word, decision? I did. And this is the last of the great things Peter talks about. How to make great decisions.


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