It's ironic that, as I sit down to write this, my mind is already wandering. It does this frequently when I am about to embark on a task whose objective is not immediately apparent or whose objective I don't particularly like.
The catalyst for this blog series - a talk I gave at the Startup Funeral with TechHub, which was subsequently written up in the Financial Times as the rather dismally titled "A wake for the dead dreams of mourning entrepreneurs" - feels like such a long time ago, I can barely remember the sentiments that underpinned it. And yet it was not objectively that long ago - barely 6 months. In that time, and apologies to those of you who hate the juxtaposition of personal / professional references, I have married an exceptional man, conceived a child, started a new waste management company in Sierra Leone (Le Plastics), moved to Dubai and redirected a significant portion of my energies to addressing the diabetes epidemic in the Middle East.
My point is this: that a lot can happen in six months. So bear with me if, during this blog on FOCUS, my convictions regarding the subject appear at times to be lacking. I assure you, they are not. Focus is extremely important in the entrepreneurial game, and it's better to learn it at the beginning than to apply it as a sticking plaster at regular intervals along the way.
It is a fact that I have always struggled to orient myself towards one thing at a time. And by that, I mean having only one project, or one company, or one sphere of interest in my life.
There are several reasons for this:
Reason 1: I have always had multiple interests and competing responsibilities. This dates back to my childhood, when I spent many years balancing the responsibility of being the oldest of eight siblings with my school work and endless extracurricular activities;
Reason 2: My micro-concentration is good. What this translates into is an ability to complete single tasks quickly, often leaving me with more free time than I would like. And I really do NOT like free time - idle hands, the Devil's tools, etc - so as soon as free time lands on my plate, I tend to immediately look for ways to dispense of it;
Reason 3: Most of the people I respect in my life have not got where they are today by orienting themselves exclusively towards one thing. The example that immediately springs to mind is my parents, who have managed between them to raise eight children, found an educational trust - PACT - that now owns four schools, and achieve excellence in their respective fields (my father is currently National Clinical Director of Diagnostics, Chief Medical Information Officer for the South London Health Innovation Network, and a Clinical Director within the NHS).
I believe it is possible to have many competing spheres of interest in your life, as long as you afford each and every one of them the time they require to thrive, and this will differ from sphere to sphere.
Take the companies' "sphere", for example. An established one-man consultancy requires significantly less focus to allow it to function on a daily basis than an established 15-person services company, which in turn demands less focus than a 28-person-and-growing digital products startup that is in the process of raising its Series A. The reason for this is as follows: the companies "sphere" is itself comprised of multiple smaller spheres - the legal "sphere", the financial "sphere", etc. Each of these "spheres" holds a multitude of tasks that are specific to it and in turn demand a certain amount of focus from you. How much you need to focus on a particular task at any given moment depends on several factors: your familiarity with the task, the level at which you operate (e.g. analyst versus CEO), the number of people who report to you, how good your attention to detail is, and how quickly you are able to absorb data, form insights and act. Together, these factors translate into a number of hours or "hourly tariff" associated with each task.
It's important as your company grows and its commitments mount, to keep tabs on the hourly tariff associated with each task, so that you know exactly how much focus your company requires at any one point in time. For example, if you do not employ people and your company earns below the VAT threshold (£83,000 per annum), the number of hours you will need to devote to doing battle with HMRC on a monthly basis will be significantly reduced. But perhaps you have multiple clients with on-going maintenance contracts, or material-heavy speaking obligations, or a complex supply chain, in which case your hourly tariff associated with these things will be higher.
All well and good, Sophie, you may say, but what happens if I am not in Business-As-Usual (BAU) mode?
Well, if you are NOT in BAU mode, i.e. if you are trying to grow your company, enable significant organisational change or secure funding, the amount of focus required from you increases significantly. No investor, be they Angel or Venture Capitalist, will invest in your company, if you as CEO appear to be focusing on multiple things at once. Don't forget: a financial commitment from a third party is as much an investment in YOU as it is in your company. So have multiple companies if you will, but if you decide that you want to go down the "funded startup" route, be prepared to put everything else on hold for as long as it takes to secure that funding and achieve the objectives associated with it.
In conclusion, it is important to be able to focus on one thing at a time. But this can be on a micro or macro level. As long as you have enough hours in the day to complete the tasks associated with each and every one of your different spheres of interest, and to satisfy those personally and professionally invested in you that no one sphere is having a detrimental impact on any other sphere, you're doing OK. And you'll know if you ARE having a detrimental impact because someone at some point will tell you, trust me.
There are probably more tips that I could add, but for now, that's it. Stay tuned for future blogs, including Doing Business in the Middle East, Top 10 HealthTech Innovations, and Mental HealthTech: is it a Thing?