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Many people's lives are spent trying to figure out the key to success. Some would say that there are multiple, and one person's answer might differ from the next. But one night at a dinner party hosted by Bill Gates's mother, both Bill Gates and Warren Buffet gave the same response when asked about "the single most important factor in their success through life." The answer wasn't a dramatic speech or even an antidotal phrase; the most crucial factor in their success was one word – focus.
Though that one word may seem simple, there are many ways to interpret how focus can help you succeed in your workplace. You don't have to be a famous billionaire philanthropist to attain a deep sense of focus, either.
See Focus as a Verb, Not a Noun
According to writer Greg McKeown, you can't think of focus as a noun in the sense of having one singular goal. Yes, you may have one goal in mind, and you need to concentrate on that one goal, but you can't be so focused that you relentlessly concentrate on only one thing. Take Toys R Us for instance. The bankruptcy of its U.S. division lead to the downfall of Toys R Us, but it's not because people weren't buying gifts for their children. The brand was unilaterally focused on selling toys in the store and didn't foresee the explosion of online shopping and digital toys. They didn't plan to compete with stores like Walmart and Amazon until it was too late.
The same goes for the way you operate at work. If you're so focused on one thing, you won't see that your focus should be on adjusting. Say you want a raise or a promotion. You could focus on sitting at your desk and lamenting the fact that your work isn't being seen, or thinking that if you work harder, you'll get the promotion. Or, instead, you can focus on the growth of your business and try to foresee changes. Everyone is disposable to a certain degree, but if you direct your attention to how you can help your team succeed through changes, then you'll be deemed an asset.
Don't Be Overly Reactive
If you're focused on one thing so much, sometimes you may want to see the outcome happen quicker than it should. If you're working on an important project at work and are not focusing on the bigger picture as a whole, you may make decisions hastily and hinder any real momentum from happening. Millenials are operating in a world where being "busy" – always working and having something to do – is seen as upward mobility, but most of the time that's just noise. All momentum isn't good momentum.
No matter how much you rush to the end goal of a project, promotion, or switching roles, if you're not focusing on the task at hand, then you may not complete it to the best of your ability. To do this, you have to develop two different types of strategy when executing your tasks.
According to Professor Henry Mintzberg, a Canadian academic and author on business and management, these two types are Deliberate Strategy and Emergent Strategy. Deliberate Strategy is when people develop a clear vision and a map of their goals. Emergent Strategy is when people respond to unanticipated problems and opportunities. You have to operate with both of these strategies to focus on the task at hand. So at work, it's not enough to continually develop plans, you have to also be nimble in foreseeing the problem or opportunities for movement.
As CEO of Microsoft, Gates was able to do what IBM couldn't and maintain long-term success because he took the time not only to create a clear map of what he wanted to accomplish but in tandem, he was able to foresee the changing landscape of the digital world.
Know How Valuable Your Time Is
Gates is considered one of the smartest, most innovative people of our time, but he regularly takes off time called "Think Week." Twice a year during his "Think Week," Gates creates a time and space to seclude himself for about a week. During this week he reads articles and books, studies up on the changes in technology, and thinks about what his next step is, the bigger picture for his company and his personal goals.
It's important whether you can invest a week in the year (or at least a quick five minutes in your morning) to escape from your day-to-day life. This is similar to the saying "work smarter not harder." If you take the time to think about what you want, without any distractions, this is only going to help your work performance. There are 24 hours in a day, but what millennials fail to understand is that you need to access what is important, and focus on how to monopolize the 24 hours that you are allowed in one day.
- Quartz: Why Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are so successful, in one word
- Bloomberg: Lessons Learned From the Downfall of Toys 'R' Us
- Business Insider: This story about Warren Buffett and his long-time pilot is an important lesson about what separates extraordinarily successful people from everyone else