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How to Focus so the Big Things Get Done

This article was based on episode 226 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Members of the Modern Manager community get two months of Fast Forward membership for free. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

In an increasingly frantic world, focus is a team’s most precious capability. Yet how do we decide what to focus on? Erik Qualman joins me to discuss his keen insights into taming our busy nature to focus on the things that matter most. Erik is a five time #1 bestselling author and keynote speaker. He has performed in over 55 countries and reached over 50 million people. He was also voted the 2nd Most Likable Author in the World behind Harry Potter's J.K. Rowling! In addition, Erik is the host of the popular Super U Podcast.

Here, Erik shares why failure disrupts our focus, the four different kinds of focus archetypes, and how to remain firm in our destination but flexible in our path.


The fear of failure stops us from taking action and drives us towards distraction. (You can’t fail if you don’t try!) But failure is part of every journey. The trick is to see failure not as a setback but as building momentum. We need to learn from our mistakes to make our future different. To fail well, try to (1) fail fast so that you can quickly move onto something else that might work better, and (2) fail forward so that you’ve learned something useful that will help you make better decisions in the future. Embrace failure, because it happens to all of us!

We also fear failure because, deep down, we fear that people won’t like us if we’re not perfect. That’s just ridiculous. People love us not in spite of our flaws but because they make us who we are. We are perfectly flawed. So let’s embrace our flawsome selves.

Being flawsome even makes for good business. As Erik has seen, if you make a mistake or something doesn’t go well with a client or customer, but you fix the issue and make things right, you create a Superfan who is three times more likely to come back for more. Our clients respect and trust us more when we acknowledge our failures and respond quickly to fix them.


Erik has identified four archetypes that approach focus and distraction differently. By understanding your archetype, you can make adjustments to better set yourself up for success.

Army Ant

The army ant is always trying to take on too many things at once. They’re parallel processing like crazy, running in all directions.

To help focus: Consider looking at all of your projects and trying to put one of them on hold. Or try to make one a “major” focus as a way of prioritizing.


The squirrel loves their shiny, new objects. They have difficulty completing tasks because they’re moving on too quickly to the next.

To help focus: Remember to surround yourself with people with different qualities to complement your work. Make a commitment to yourself not to move on to the next thing until you’ve reached a certain point with your current project.


The chameleon is a people pleaser, who finds it difficult to figure out what they want to do versus what will make others happy.

To help focus: Learn the valuable skill of saying no. Find little wins. Ask yourself: Is this something I should/want to be doing? And remember not to guess what you think people want you to do. You may often discover you’re wrong.


The hedgehog is someone who is very cautious about taking risks/action.

To help focus: Don’t wait for everything to be perfect before stepping into the arena. Do the superhero pose (feet wide, shoulders back, hands on fists on hips, deep breath). It’s actually been proven to reduce cortisol levels up to 15%!


Good focus takes dedication, understanding, and practice. Here are some of Erik’s top tips for focusing on what matters most.

Be Firm in Destination but Flexible in Your Path

Unexpected personal and world events will inevitably disrupt our plans (hello, COVID!). In a hyper-connected digital world where things change quickly, it’s unreasonable to expect a linear progression towards reaching our goals. Know where you want to go, but be flexible in how you get there. Consider Disney; their movies and theme parks were unstoppable. But when streaming shows became the newest rage, they pivoted and created DisneyPlus. Being flexible means going where the market is. Shift your focus from what’s working now to what future opportunities could bring.

Let Go of Sunk Costs

It can be hard to let go and move on, especially if you’ve invested time, energy, and money into the thing you’re letting go of. Allow yourself to question why you’re holding on so firmly and whether it’s still serving you. Consider role-playing these conversations with a colleague so the situation doesn’t feel as personal.

Find That One Thing If you had to prioritize one thing you do at work, that if you did it well would make everything else easier or unnecessary, what would it be? For example, Erik would choose his speaking gigs. If he speaks well, people want his books, then his board games, etc. Think about that one thing that would change everything if you did it well. Consider how you can spend more time and energy focusing on that.

Remember to Subtract Take the advice my husband gave me with my shoes; if I add a new pair to my already full closet, I’ve gotta take an old pair out. Just like my closet, I have limited capacity and everything has to fit. So if you add three new tasks at your next meeting, remember to subtract three things you’re already doing. Don’t overstuff your drawers or your life. When you add, subtract.

Focus is a lifelong journey. While that sounds simple, it’s definitely not easy. As managers, we can role model what focus looks like. Plus, we can help our team focus on their individual and collective goals so we all accomplish great things.


Super U Podcast contact:

Get a BOGO Free deal on Erik’s game, Kittycorn, and book, The Focus Project, when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at

This article was based on episode 226 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.




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