Help! I Don’t Know What To Focus On

Written By John Sonmez

In this episode, I talk about choosing what to focus on.

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Full transcript:

John:               Hey, John Sonmez from I got a question about focus, on what to focus on here from Darren. I’m going to read you the question here. Darren says, “Hi John, long time reader of your blog. Keep up the great work. We’ve spoken before about productivity and your advice proved very useful. I started doing Pomodoro like you do and it’s helped a lot. As a team lead it’s still quite tough to prevent interruptions but certainly helps. I actually had a different question which I was wondering if you could help with. At the moment I’m feeling a bit torn on what to learn next and do next. There are a bunch of technologies I could do with learning, blogs to write, talks to get going so I could present them. Key items are Docker, Kibana, a talk at a conference about a product we’ve just sourced through .WORKS, blogging, leadership books, Lean books, a talk in the new Lean idea I’ve been working on. Frankly I’ve gotten myself into a bit of treading water from all the demand. I’m actually not doing much of anything. I did start to look at this a little like Lean methodology with so many things in WIP or work in progress, lee time and each goes up. Anyway, I thought with your hectic lifestyle you’d be able to relate to such problems. Any advice?”

This a common problem, right Darren? You have some success in an area and then what happens is that you suddenly get all these different ideas, all these different opportunities. You usually get success because you’re super productive because you’re focused on a thing and then that thing leads to success and unleash all these opportunities and because all those opportunities come in then you end up, just like you said, where you feel like you’re doing nothing. You may be doing nothing because what you’re doing is actually juggling opportunities and you’re doing all the administrative overhead of these things as opposed to actually accomplishing work.

I’ve been there. This is one of the biggest things I struggle with now. I’ll try to give you the best advice that I’ve found that’s working for me. I just heard several times here of this analogy. I think Stephen Covey first said it in one of his books is this idea of big rocks. I mean you’ve got this cup and you’ve got rocks, big rocks and then you’ve got sand or you’ve got pebbles and you got sand and you got water. If you put in the water first and then the sand and then the pebbles and then the big rocks it doesn’t fit. It overflows and you’ve got a big mess. If you put in the big rocks first then you put in the pebbles and then you put in the sand and then you pour in the water it all fits nicely in there.

The idea behind this is that you’ve got to figure out what are your big rocks and you get those things done first and you push off to the side the other stuff and those kinds of things will just fill in there things like email and things like–these kind of opportunities that are not quite so important. You have to define what your big rocks are. If everything is priority one nothing has priority. Pick one thing, just pick one thing at a time and focus on that.

I’ll give you an example here. For my Soft Skills book here I just did the audio version of this book, right? What I did was I recorded the entire audio version of this book in one week. This is a 504-paged book. It was 16 hours of audio. That was sort of my big rocks. Everyday I had 8 to 10 chapters of recording and that’s the first thing that I worked on that day was those things. Once those were done then I worked on my other tasks. That’s how I got that done. That could have taken me months. That could have taken me a year to record this entire audio book or I could have never gotten it done at all but I did it in one week’s time simply by doing this, simply by making sure that I set one primary focus at a time.

That’s really what you need to do is just pick one thing, make that your big rock, make that the first thing that you work on during the day and you get that thing done and then when you finish that then you pick your next priority task and you make that your focus and do it. Don’t try to have multiple focuses. Obviously things are going to happen and you’re going to have to deal with administrative things, you’re going to have juggle more than one thing at a time but you should always have one primary focus.

I’ll recommend you a couple of books here. One of them, again, I'm trying to become more of an essentialist myself, I struggle with this but I found these books to be helpful in convicting for me and make me beat myself up. Here’s 2 books: Essentialism. This is a really good book about having that one focus, that one task and then another book called The One Thing. Check out those books. I think that will help you to get that mindset.

Like I said, I'm still struggling with this myself. This is probably my biggest challenge now as I’ve had all these opportunities and things happen and you’ve got to pick which one that you’re going to pursue, but don’t get stuck in that spot where you’re not pursuing anything because you don’t know what to do. It’s better to just take some action than it is to take no action. Pick a thing. Make it your big rock and get that thing done. As long as you always have a big rock you’ll always be making forward progress. There’s infinite ways of paths that you could take but if you’re stuck at that crossroad and you’re just standing there and you don’t take any of them then it’s worse than have options, right? There’s nothing worse than having options if you don’t take them, but if you do take them then there’s a huge benefit there.

Anyway, good question. I’ll update if you I figure this out and get this down, but that’s my advice for now. Like I said, I'm still working through the same problem. It’s a difficult one. I’ve hired some help. That’s helped me as well to pursue more opportunities, in fact, that’s where I'm seeing at the higher level is what—I’ve got one employee and I’ll probably be—I'm hiring another part time person and I’ve got different people that are helping me with different tasks now so I'm not taking it all on myself. It allows me to do more things, but you can’t be Superman. You can only do so much yourself. You either got to pick one thing, do that one thing or you’ve got to expand. You’ve got to hire people and delegate.

We’ll see what happens. I'm curious to hear how this works out for you. If you’ve got a question for me don’t forget to email me at and I’ll do a video for you and as always subscribe to the channel. Talk to you next time.


A special thank you to Zephyr, who sponsored this post. Zephyr is a huge thought-leader in the agile development and software testing space and has been a long-time partner of Simple Programmer. If you are looking for a test management solution, I highly recommend them.