Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus. – Alexander Graham Bell
An old proverb tells us that if we chase two hares we will catch neither one. Your efforts have to be focused on one thing at a time if you want to succeed.
My PhD supervisor described the process of working towards an award like this. You probably have a large wardrobe with lots of clothes – different wear for different weather, shoes and boots and trainers. Shorts and jeans, jumpers and jackets.
If you’re packing for a trip, however, you don’t take the whole wardrobe with you. You pack a small suitcase with just what you need. The things that are right for the place you’re going to. And that’s what a PhD is. You select from the collection of research and interests that you have a small, specific problem where you can make a contribution and write that up.
This is a model that works well for life in general, especially now. Most of us don’t have simple goals. If you’re a sportsperson the aim is simple – get to number one in whatever you’re doing. But outside of that narrow space where competition is everything and you have clear winners and losers life is more complicated. There is no dream job, great promotion or wildly successful startup model that is going to work if you just apply yourself and work hard. You need a different approach.
Take starting a business, for example. If you want to go from zero to one the most important thing is to create a customer. You have to do something or make something that people want. You don’t need a product range or a massive list of services when you’re starting out. You need a small suitcase filled with the essential elements with which you create value. In a consulting business, for example, you can go far with just a spreadsheet and office software. For the first five to ten years you can do everything from sales prospecting, proposal writing, project delivery and invoicing with very few tools. But you can’t do anything without a product or service that obviously creates value for a customer, making or saving them money.
So, there’s more to focus when you want to achieve something than having a goal and a daily routine. It’s more like getting to a particular point, a milestone. Making a journey to a particular place. That’s the way to think about the next decision in your life. Where could you go – what are the options – one, two and three? What are the outcomes, what could happen – and knowing that, what direction are you going to take? And finally, what do you need for the journey – what are the essentials you are going to pack for this trip – leaving the rest behind for another time?
The secret to success, then, is thinking small. Small steps, one after the other, will get you anywhere.