Concentrate on This

Recently one of my good friends, Bob, experienced a family emergency. Like many ETR readers, he is now responsible for the medical care of a parent, while still having the responsibilities that go along with trying to grow a business.

Perhaps you are facing a similar dilemma of priorities in life. Hopefully it’s one of greater joy. Maybe you have welcomed a newborn at the same time as earning a new promotion at work. Or you might simply be trying to hold on to your current position while being saddled with more work as the company cuts back.

Whatever your situation, it can be made better with three simple steps. It all starts by learning to concentrate on what counts. That must be the number one focus point in your life.

Let me give you the same advice I gave to Bob.

Now that his family emergency is over and the situation has stabilized, Bob must begin integrating his new caretaker role with his current responsibilities. To do this, he needs to plan his work day better than ever. This all starts with a review of what he does on a daily basis, combined with a renewed focus on what really matters.

That’s the big lesson we can all take from this situation.

You Must Concentrate on What Counts

Bob, like many of us, has taken on too many projects in the last few months. To be harsh, the majority of his daily tasks simply don’t matter. He should not be doing them. They do not move the needle in his business in a significant way. But like you and me, Bob has gotten caught up in the minutiae of daily work. He is doing many things that should be delegated to his team members that have more time for these tasks and are better skilled to handle them.

Yet he’s reluctant to change. Bob is hardwired to hold on to these tasks. You probably act the same way.

Are you doing $10 an hour tasks when your goal is to make $100,000 a year?

If you are, then I encourage you to quickly do the math. You can’t make that kind of money annually working for so little daily. Something’s got to give.

I’ll admit I’m also guilty as charged. As I was helping Bob identify the critical few tasks that he needed to focus on in his limited time each day, I found that I was also sweating too much of the small stuff.

My main goal each day is to produce excellent content. My writing time is sacred to me. Or at least it should be. However, as I helped Bob remove the small stuff from his plate, I realized that my own plate was crowded with too many appetizers and not enough meat.

Focus Starts with Awareness

After doing a time journal for an average day, I realized that I was barely writing for a full hour. Worse, instead of carving out more writing time, I was wasting my precious time formatting the finished articles on websites.

What was I thinking? This needed to stop.

The reason I kept on doing this was because I felt that it only required a few minutes to format the blog post. Worse, I felt “bad” asking one of my team members to do this for me. That’s a classic self-limiting belief that many entrepreneurs have, including Bob.

He was majoring in the minor. He was getting caught up in the 95% of stuff that someone else could do, and not focusing on his 5%.

Your 5% Unique Ability

The 5% Unique Ability system comes from the combined wisdom of my friends and mentors, Dan Sullivan and Bedros Keuilian.

Sullivan, the leader of Strategic Coach, recommends that we spend the majority of our workday on our “Unique Ability.” This is the vital skill or task in your business that you can do better than anyone else. It is what makes you the money.

Keuilian takes it a step further. In order to spend more of your time working on your Unique Ability, he suggests you identify the 95% of tasks that you should not be doing each day.

As you go through your day, write down every task that you are working on. Decide whether or not you could have someone else do it. Your goal, over time, is to get rid of 95% of the little stuff in your life that someone else can be doing for you.

Yes, it might take thirty minutes now to teach another team member or a virtual assistant how to do a task that you should not be doing. But if that task takes you 10 minutes each day, five days per week, it will still save twenty minutes this week alone by getting someone else to do it. Imagine if you could do this with even more of those time-sucking tasks that you do each day. This could open up hours of valuable time for you to concentrate on what counts.

Add an Old-School Trick to Make It Even Better

Now here’s a little twist I added to this system.

The idea comes from Cal Newport in his book, “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.” Newport, a computer scientist, identified a valuable skill in his life that he wanted to improve. For Newport, it was spending time studying advanced mathematical formulas. He knew that the more time he could spend on this task, the better his research skills would become.

However, he realized he was spending very little time on this activity each week. To solve this problem, he simply set aside blocks of time for deliberate practice on improving this skill. Each day he’d record how much time was devoted to this act, and it was added up for a monthly total. This kept him concentrating on what counts.

My twist on this solution was to buy a stopwatch. I like the look and feel of the old watches your high-school gym teacher would use. Each morning, after changing into my writing clothes, I sit at the kitchen table, hit start on the timer, and write. I force myself to avoid distractions and having the face of that little black stopwatch staring up at me reminds me to stay focused and concentrate on what counts.

Finally, when my output is all put out, I hit stop and record the time on a chart. At the end of the month the cumulative time is noted. The goal is to spend more time in this critical task each month.


Like Bob, you have a lot going on in your life. You have family to take care of. You have serious responsibilities at work. You have a family budget to balance. You have miscellaneous appointments to keep. And you have your own health to take care of.

But like Bob, you are probably doing too much busywork, and not enough of the things that matter.

If you feel that your time is slipping away from you, then do three things. Identify your Unique Ability. Delegate the 95% of work you shouldn’t be doing. And then track the amount of time you spend working on Unique Ability each day, and try to improve the total cumulative time each month.

Once you’ve made these adjustments, you now have a new goal of increasing the amount of time you spend working on your Unique Ability. The end result is that you’ll focus more on what matters.

It’s a liberating exercise, and one that we should all do immediately before an emergency demands it.

What is the #1 activity that counts in your career – the one that deserves your focus?

[Ed Note: Craig Ballantyne is the editor of Early to Rise (Join him on Facebook here) and the author of Financial Independence Monthly, a complete blueprint to helping you take control of your financial future with research of proven methods in your career, in your business and in your personal life. He has created a unique system to show gratitude and appreciation to stay on track for these goals each and every day. Click here to follow the exact 5-minute system you can use to improve your life.]
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  • I call myself a writer, but, if I added up the time I did solid writing – say, last week – I would look at myself in the mirror and think …

    “Really, you call yourself a writer? You only spent two hours writing quality content last week. You spent four times as much time using your mediocre design skills to revamp the website your content is hosted on.

    “What’s more important to you, really? What is your Unique Ability? What should you dedicate the majority of your time to?”

    The answer is simple – writing.

    Thanks Craig.

    • ttcert

      Thanks Robert, stay strong!

  • Abe Esther

    A nice write up

  • Helen

    Hello Craig.

    INCREDIBLE ARTICLE… I have read that there is an advanced system of time management that is not really time management. It is priority management. Billionaires that have thirty companies (etc) use this system. It costs around four hundred (?) and has a video that helps you learn it. I am not quite ready for it, but know I will be soon. I cannot thank you enough for this contest, your very high ethical, caring, and wise posts, your compassion, and your desire to help so many people. Your contest has literally saved my life. I have found some wonderful people I will LOVE to continue connecting with. Do you have some type of website that continues this type of program that someone can subscribe to? I find the information and stories here VERY HELPFUL AND INSPIRING…I have been in a FOG with my illness, and now that it is in rapid recession my mind is clearing, and I am able to get back to the work I really want to accomplish with the time I have left here! MY HEART IS VERY HAPPY NOW….thank you!! FOR ALL YOU DO FOR ALL OF US….YOU ARE CHANGING LIVES………..WHAT A BLESSING!!

    • ttcert

      Thank you!

  • Your post is the perfect reminder – continue to evaluate the tasks I do all day and track my progress, including time spent on each ( I let this task slip sometimes).

    Thank you for your post Craig!

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Happy to help, thank you Shelly.

  • Michael

    Thanks Craig! Appreciate you sharing. I’m grabbing a stop watch and carrying around a time journal for the next week. Thanks again!

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Nice work Michael!

  • priyabrat

    Thanks Craig for the nice article..

    • ttcert

      Happy to help!

  • Ron K

    Just what I needed this morning. Faced with too many things to do and tugged at strongly by the urgent but not important, I was tempted to do some of the 95% stuff first. I know my unique ability and spend too little time on it. Thanks for the reminder and the motivation to focus on the important.

    • ttcert

      Stay strong, Ron!

  • Teri Skinner Chadwick

    This article made so much sense to me. I just don’t know HOW to delegate the 95%. I’m a homemaker and personal trainer at a local club. I’m sure I can spend alot less time with social media (my “downtime” pleasure) to clear my plate a bit, but I do not know how/where to get started in handing out other tasks to others. It’s just me and my hubby, and he owns a business AND does quite a lot around here as it is. Anyway, I’m thinking out loud here, but if you have any tips specific to this, I’m all ears! Thank you, Craig!

    • ttcert

      Hi Teri! Everything is easier when you get up earlier. I know you get up early now, but start getting up another 15 minutes earlier and that little extra “alone time” will make a HUGE difference.

  • My #1 activity is working with my coaching clients and talking with potential clients. Numerous things tug at me and try to divert my attention daily, but I work hard to keep my eye on the big picture.

    The rise of social media makes it even more difficult to focus on our #1 activities, so I try to restrict my time on those networks to small chunks of time (not always an easy thing to do!).

    Great article, I enjoyed it!

    • ttcert

      Thanks so much, Marc!