Focus “means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are…innovation is saying no to 1000 things.”   Steve Jobs, 1997

We are a naturally giving people. Those of us working in the nonprofit world, or volunteering on boards, are preconditioned to saying yes.

“Of course we can help with that.”
“That sounds like a great idea, how can I help?”
“They’re doing such great work, we should help them.”
Can you do this? Yes.”
“We need more staff next week, can you send over some people? Of course.”
The city needs more day care centers, can you put one in? Sure.”

Working in this arena such a pleasure – we are among people who, like us, are naturally giving. It is a joy to be surrounded by people whose first impulse is to say yes.

Unfortunately, it also means that we have to take care to not dissipate our own energy and resources, leaving less for the programs and work which we have declared to be OUR focus.

SAYING “NO”

When Steve Jobs said that focus “means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are,” he was talking about his own company. When Brené Brown called focus her word of the year, she expanded the meaning to personal focus. What can we do if we set our own goals, and minimize the extraneous pulls on our attention? Inc. Magazine also expanded on these ideas, with specific guidance on ways to maximize focus.

What does this mean in the world of nonprofits? It means the same thing.

We naturally want to help the world; we naturally want to do everything that will contribute to our mission. But we can’t. At least not all at once.

The important thing is to decide what it is you – all of you – your board, staff, volunteers —  will focus on right now. Then stay focused on doing that. Listen to other ideas, and be ready and willing to say ‘no.’ If you can’t say ‘no,’ say ‘not now.’

There’s a reason you decided on your course of action. Bolster your resolve by reminding yourself and others what those reasons are.

  • Analyze
  • Decide
  • Remind

Focus – and success – means saying no to the rest.

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