“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” –– Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs convinced me to say 'no' to opportunities in my life. I even themed this new year around saying no. I'm calling it the year to Accelerate with Intention. Here is why.
Every year, lists of New Year resolutions circulate on social media. It excites people to list 16 different goals. From starting a side business to mastering yoga, these lists are as long as Terms and Conditions agreements. But when you clink glasses a year later and remember the list at the bottom of your drawer, guilt kicks in. Another year has gone like the rest. Two years ago, I stopped accumulating lists of goals that sound good but aren't really important. Instead, I give each year a theme. Last year, it was energy. I was dull and unexcited about my days, so I decided to find ways to increase my mood and vitality. From cold showers to a specific three-ingredient breakfast, I discovered several ways to sustain excitement throughout the day. This year, I want to work hard on projects and habits that positively impact my future. Remember that list at the bottom of the drawer? Energy and time are limited. Deciding to master everything will leave you feeling burnt out and disappointed. Focus is the only way to make lasting progress.
To learn how to develop focus, let's look at Apple. Focus is Apple's competitive advantage. When building a new product, a team is assembled of designers, engineers, and marketers. When developing something new, Apple cuts off product teams from the business. Other jobs and projects won't distract the product team so, members can give all their attention to make the best product. This prevents Apple from working on a variety of new projects and updates. But this is their advantage. By exclusively working on delivering the highest quality products to customers, they stay ahead of competitors. Most other businesses don't think long-term. They worry about current financial issues and push out products to keep the profit margins the same. Apple doesn't let its engineers and designers price products. The costs don't matter. Creating value for customers does.
Intention forces you to make decisions on what to pursue. People are scared of focus. It means blocking out many other options to move forward on one. Committing to a decision means going all it. It's holding yourself accountable for staying on track and not let distractions get to you. But being intentional doesn't have to be a grand act. It can be deciding what you are going to say before you do. It can be arranging your day in a slightly different way. My favorite method is called the 'daily highlight' from the book Make Time. A daily highlight is something you want to do that solves the most urgent matter and brings you satisfaction and joy. Schedule 60-90 minutes of this task into your day. Putting what you want before what others want from you creates a feeling of liberation and freedom. A simple life kills distractions. What's left is time to do the things you love. Most of us can't quit everything, pack our bags, and leave to live in the mountains. I still have to go to school. But each class or studying period, I think about what I want to accomplish. For example, when I'm studying for a precalculus test, I will set the intention to correctly solve ten difficult problems in a row. It gives me the motivation to get started and to keep going. When you demonstrate more control over your life, more things turn out the way you want them to. You gain motivation because you see change happening. Your decisions have the power to compound and change who you are in a year. Intentional living can create an impact that will last a lifetime.