What to do when you don't know where to focus

"Focusing is about saying 'No.'"Steve Jobs


For the past couple of years I've been inundated with ideas.  When you're starting a new business, this probably comes with the territory.

However, recently I'm convinced that having an idea shouldn't be enough to get my attention. Many ideas are too cheap, too distracting to warrant my time. Even GOOD ideas aren't necessarily worthy of my attention if it means other projects suffer.

Still, there has to be some way of letting ideas flow both in AND out of consideration without derailing critical momentum. My friend Stephanie names filtering good from great the process of "qualifying" activity.

Set a bar for what is worthy of  your time, money, and energy, then measure whether the opportunity QUALIFIES for an investment.

The principle is simply grasped, but challenging to live by.

As I've thought through the ideas in my own life, I've settled on a few questions to help me qualify where I focus. Maybe these will come in handy for you as well.

Is this a long walk for a short drink?

This is my handy way of asking if the payoff is worth the effort.  This ratio rules all others and if the activity isn't significantly "hydrating" (am I pushing the metaphor too far?), I need to pass! This is why I generally don't make my own pie crusts...heresy, I know.

Does the t-t-t-timing work?

Even if the effort/payoff ratio holds, how does the timing impact my life? We all know we can't say "yes" to one thing without saying "no" to something else. So does this trade work IN THIS MOMENT?  There are hobbies I'd like to have, skills I'd like to develop, trips I would enjoy taking, but is now the best window for focusing on these things?  Sometimes the answer is yes, but often it's no.

Why me?

There are many things I COULD do, but when it comes to qualifying events, I need to consider whether I am the best person to be doing this project. Is there someone else doing it better, faster, cheaper, or with less hassle? If so, then the idea shouldn't qualify.

What's the direction?

Is this forward movement on the path to my goals? Or is it sideways energy?

There's a popular kids book called "If You Give A Pig A Pancake," where there's a cascading flood of events which leads to ridiculous layers of distraction upon distraction. ("If you give a pig a pancake, she'll want some syrup to go with it. You'll give her some of your favorite maple syrup. She'll probably get all sticky, so she'll want to take a bath." You get the idea...) When I consider the direction my activities are taking me (forward or sideways), I can easily see if the action will "qualify" for my time.

How do you decide what does and what does not qualify for your precious resources?