Focus is a new company value for Polar (the business I lead). Here is a copy of a memo that we shared with our team explaining how to find focus.
While we believe that we can do anything, we have learned that we cannot do everything. It has been an important lesson for us over our ten year journey together so far. To focus is to choose what we will do and what we will not do. Choosing to focus is one thing but staying focused is another thing. And this is what we are most interested in strengthening in our culture.
This memo is organized around a few beliefs and offers tools to help you practice focus.
Less is more
Culture has conditioned us to believe that more is more, however we have come to the understanding that less is more. It may sound counter-intuitive at first. A few examples:
Our high-value-partner strategy is the reason we doubled core revenue last year. We decided to not focus on new deals and focus on growing core partners. It worked beautifully.
Earlier this year, we described our platform as having many solutions. People (internally and externally) got confused, and now we have simplified it into two business lines. People have appreciated the simplicity.
On a personal level, I’ve adopted a minimalist lifestyle in the past few years, which I have found to be more meaningful than a previous consumerist lifestyle that I once led.
“Top 3” is a focus practice we have been experimenting with for the past 6 months:
All of our priorities, objectives and plans have been explained in 3 bullets.
All of my own personal intentions for the year are grouped into 3s.
Every morning for the past six months, I’ve written down my top 3 actions for that day.
A few things we have learned as a result of the “top 3” practice this year:
More thought up-front and asking the hard question, “what is most important?”. And when we don’t know, it triggers deeper conversation or reflection.
The difference between “top 3” and “any 3”. At times, we would pick “any 3”, but once we became aware, there was more rigour on challenging ourselves to make sure it’s “top 3”.
My behaviour throughout the day can noticeably change. For example, if I have a 30 minute window, I will look at my daily top 3 list instead of naturally looking at email/Slack.
Here are the signs to watch for, to know if you have really internalized “top 3”!
Your answers to questions a friend, partner, or child asks you are structured with 3 points.
Your meals, workouts, journal entries, cleaning or other routines are structured in 3s.
You remember at the end of the day what your top 3 intentions were for that day.
We invite you to find you own ways to practice less is more. Top 3 has been one useful tool. You may develop your own. Our hope for you is that at the end of this year, you can point to visible examples of something that has shifted in your life thanks to adopting a less is more belief to help find greater focus.
Distraction is the enemy
The flood of information hitting us has flourished at a faster pace than our brain’s development to manage it. This gap is why we can lose control of our attention and become unfocused.
In the past few years, I have become obsessed personally with reducing distractions. I started with a focus on learning how to better manage external distractions. After I felt I had a good handle on those, I started to focus on internal distractions. That is why I have taken to mindfulness practices. They help me manage the flood of internal distractions.
Let’s start with understanding common sources of distraction:
Technology: our current culture is designed to keep you addicted. Smartphones, social media, notifications, email and Slack are all designed to steal our attention (by giving us dopamine hits which “feel good” and leave us wanting more).
Environment: people and loud noises interrupting our flow are obvious distractions. Clutter in our physical spaces leads to clutter in our minds. And object association (e.g. bed = sleep, patio = relax, couch = rest) influences our energy and intention in a space.
State: our physical, mental and emotional states are common sources of distraction that make it difficult to be focused. Common states may include:
Physical: sleep, hunger, pain, lethargy
Mental: stress, fight/flight, anxiety
Emotional: anger, fear, worry
There are few moments that we are not distracted. To bring awareness to how many times in a day you are distracted by technology alone, reflect on:
How many times a day do you “pick-up” your phone in a day?
How many times do you check email/Slack in a work hour?
How many notifications do you receive on your laptop, phone or watch per hour?
Multitasking is a myth. When we believe you are multitasking, we are actually switch tasking. Multitasking is when we are doing multiple tasks related to the same objective. Like cooking or driving. Many micro tasks that are effortless as they are all aligned. Switch tasking is when we are switching between unrelated tasks, like checking email while in a meeting, eating while watching something, checking Slack while working on a task or looking at notifications.
Switch tasking is the slowest and most inefficient way to work. Please stop doing it on our dime!
Use it or lose it
Focus is a skill. And like any skill, it has to be learned, practiced and trained for it to be useful to us. We have to use it otherwise we will lose it.
This is why focus cannot be discussed only in a work context. If we believe in the value of focus and are truly committed to it, then it has to be practiced in our personal lives as much as our professional lives. This is the only way we can make it a skill.
I used to think of focus as a light switch. ‘Okay, now I’m going to focus on X’ and think that some “focus switch” would get switched on inside. While that may have given me a temporary boost in focus, it was always short-lived and I would find my attention wander easily.
Focus is a skill that has to be both trained and practiced, with:
Awareness and curiosity. Awareness of when we feel focused and unfocused, and then becoming curious to understand why.
Flow by design. When in a flow state, focus is effortless. Creating the conditions to flow is the effortful process. That means paying attention to our physical space, our body, our mental and emotional states, and being deliberate about them.
Fun vs Force. It’s fun to flow and fun to focus. When we feel we are doing something meaningful, focus comes with ease versus force.
Focus is a skill to be practiced, over and over again. That is the only path to get strong at it. And then it will start to serve us and become part of how we show up in every walk of life.
Ownership. Growth. And now, Focus.
These are our core values that we will continue to practice to help strengthen our culture.