The Art of Focus: Why Entrepreneurs Need ‘Focus’ More Than Anything Else

Josiah Humphrey
Jun 22, 2017 · 6 min read
Image for post
Image for post

I’d like to make the argument that FOCUS is the most critical component when it comes to achieving goals.

When Steve Jobs famously came back to Apple in 1997, was his first mandate to make the iPod or iPhone? No!

How many people know that Jobs spent FOUR YEARS cutting unsuccessful products, reducing costs and improving operations with Tim Cook, Apple’s COO (now CEO) — before he ever released the iPod?

He got EVERYTHING else out of the way before Apple could start innovating again.

This was all for one CRITICAL reason.

The need for FOCUS.

“Sooner or later, you get what you focus on”

My own journey co-founding Appster has been the same.

I remember the first 3 years as a complete struggle. We started the company when we were 18 & 19. And boy were we enthusiastic.

We were “focusing” on a million things at once. My co-founder and I (no joke) had been using the app ‘Things’ and had OVER 100 projects each.

Image for post
Image for post

How can you work on 100 different projects at the same time?

We were filled to the brim with enthusiasm — but certainly lacked on the execution side of things.

It felt like we were doing so much but in actual reality very little was getting completed and about 3 years into building Appster, I learnt about OKRs.

What OKRs are is not important. There are plenty of articles on that, and if you practice OKRs enough — you’ll figure it out.

However, what I REALLY want to get across is…

Learning how to ‘FOCUS’ completely revolutionized our company.

You may think I am exaggerating. Well, I wish I was.

We went from being a complete mess as a company — and barely making progress on the 530473854 projects we were all doing — to each of us tackling no more than 3 core objectives for a period of 90 days.

No lie — we started getting more done in 90 days than we used to get done in an ENTIRE YEAR. I don’t need to tell you how valuable that is.

Image for post
Image for post

I’ve used ‘FOCUS’ in my personal life as well.

From the age of about 17, I’ve been writing down my goals ALMOST daily. (note: I’m no perfect butterfly. I have slipped on this habit MANY times in my life. Funnily enough — those have also been the times where I’ve lacked the most clarity, direction and drive).

The habit is simple: I write down my major life goals once in the morning and once at night.

That’s it.

I can go back to my old journals where I’ve been writing these goals down as a kid — and it is SPOOKY the things that have ‘come true’ so far — maybe a better way to put it is that I — *ahem*… ‘focused’ on them.

I also use ‘FOCUS’ to REVIEW what I want to get done in different time periods of my life:

What do I want in my life? (review quarterly)

What do I want this year? (review quarterly — with a 2–3 day annual planning session)

What do I want this quarter? (aka next 90 days — review quarterly with a 2 day planning session)

What do I want this week? (review weekly on a Sunday night)

What do I want today? (review before I go to bed the night before, or first thing in the morning. This tip ALONE will set your productivity on fire!)

Image for post
Image for post

9 other things to try when it comes to ‘FOCUS’:

There are a million different things you could be doing with your time. I am in absolute amazement at the calendars I see of some startup founders.

If it doesn’t relate to what you’re focused on in the current 90 day window then why the HECK are you taking the meeting!!!?

This is why I regularly say NO to the dozens of requests I get each day for meetings or other things.

This is also why I barely answer the phone. (hot tip: my voicemail says “hey you — I don’t listen to voicemail, please send me a brief 1 sentence email with your request”. This will save you HOURS per week alone.)

Don’t get me started on the amount of pointless “networking” I see first-time founders doing.

I roll my eyes at people who think they’re “getting things done”, when in reality they are just making sure their competitors absolutely trample them for their lack of execution and prioritizing the wrong things.


Stop bullshitting yourself that you’re being productive when you know that you’re not. If it doesn’t align to what you need to achieve in the next 90 days, then you are fooling yourself.

Talked about that one above, mentioning it again because it’s that darn powerful!

You can read about it elsewhere but for tasks where I can’t always time box something (things like writing), I will put on my to-do list do ‘3 pomodoros’

Often the hardest thing to getting started on a task is that initial resistance. So forcing yourself to sit for 25 minutes on ONE THING can open up a bit of a ‘flow state’. I find when I do this — I’ll forget to take breaks at this point because I don’t need to.

Studies tell us that the biggest killer of productivity #1: Conversations in an Open Office environment

BLOCK THAT SHIT OUT. I can’t reiterate how good headphones are for focusing. Bose QC35s are the most AMAZING for this — but if you’re on a budget, any headphones will do.

Just try it. It works for me and gets me buzzing tbh.

If you don’t like try song anchors… which is just listening to one song on repeat like a maniac for a few hours on end. Some people say don’t use songs with lyrics in them — I find it doesn’t make a difference.

Here is my ‘song anchors’ Spotify playlist you can follow here.

I put this last because I’m horrible at it and not consistent at all — but I do notice the times when I do — my productivity is waaaaaay better throughout the rest of the day.

That’s it.

Now quit reading this article, because I’m pretty sure reading this article is not relevant to what you need to get done in the next 90 days now is it?

Get to it! :-)

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

Originally published on

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +669K people. Follow to join our community.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store