A general principle in any business is to maintain focus - on your core business, the work in hand, the top clients, the processes that will bring the best returns... we could go on.

In tough times it becomes even more critical.

Some simple examples:

• When we're working on a desk project, shift other work out of eye range - it's a distraction
• When we studied for school or university exams, the best results came when we pushed all distractions aside, hunkered down and applied ourselves single-mindedly
• If a sales person is spread too thin with their sales territory or has too many other non-sales tasks to do, chances are high that they won't do a really outstanding job
• If a company has too many product lines there will always be 'orphan' products that don't move


Instead of saying, 'I've always done it this way' or 'this is the best way' (without any deep analysis), what would happen if you were to reshuffle the deck of possibilities and deal out some different combinations?

Some questions to ask yourself:

• 'What would my business look like if I reduced one or more product lines?'
• 'Which are my least profitable activities, and what would be the outcome if I dropped them?'
• 'Are there any activities I struggle with and can either eliminate or delegate?'
• 'What would be the benefits to me, my firm and my family of cutting out those activities?'

Of course it's far more comfortable to keep going in the old way. But I've noticed that every time anyone starts asking questions in different ways they unwrap better quality ideas and solutions. I call it back-to-front thinking - start from where you want to go and work backwards, asking 'If I did the reverse of what I'm doing now, what would that look like, and what might be the outcome?'

I've just done this exercise on my own business and as a result have cut out two low-profit services of several years' duration. By doing so I was able to significantly reduce the number of hours needed to run the back-end of the business and have cut out a number of regular costs. Whilst I was in the middle of said activities it was quite difficult to let go. Now, only two months later, I wonder what took me so long!

Brian Tracy, well-known Canadian business educator and author, tells in one of his books about how unsuccessful his early life was. He was really excited and passionate about his work but it just didn't seem to flourish. He knew he had good product. He knew people wanted it. But the money wasn't there. Finally he realised that he was trying to be all things to all men, trying to keep a lot of diverse balls in the air and consequently achieving little.

In Jim Collins' excellent book 'Good to Great' (one of the best business books I've ever read, and very easy to read) he recommends three factors that all must overlap for true business success:

• 'What can we be best in the world at?'
• 'What are we deeply passionate about?'
• 'What drives our economic engine?'

If that's not about focus I don't know what is!

When you're quite good at a number of things, it's very tempting to try and keep all those pots boiling. We don't want to miss good opportunities. We think it's important to be flexible. Most of us have been raised on the concept of keeping our options open. But look around you. Who are the really successful people, the ones who make the most money? It will rarely be the ones who dodge from pillar to post. Such folk haven't got the head space to drill down to pay dirt in any one area. They're typically generalists, not specialists. Look at other industries. For example, in the medical field, who gets the hefty fees?

Success comes from solid focus on a small number of outcomes.