When I ran the Navy SEAL sniper course as course manager, we had guys shooting targets at 1,000 yards amid a bunch of distractions. We had loud music blaring at them, banged trash can lids together, and move the targets when they weren’t supposed to. We did anything we could to screw with their concentration. Not because we were trying to flunk them, but because we were trying to save their lives when they would be in dire situations. Just like the one I faced on the Afghan hillside.
We had one particularly difficult drill we called the edge shot. We’d place all the students at 800 yards and inform them that their targets would appear in the vicinity sometime within the next three hours. This meant those SEALs might spend as much as three hours on the scope, concentrating and waiting. There was one student who diverted his eyes from his line of view for just a moment, just long enough to wipe the sweat from his brow. And when he looked back up, he saw his target disappearing from view. I still remember his anguished cry. He received a failing grade. A little sweat and discomfort is no reason to lose your focus.
Distractions in Business and in Combat
High-pressure situations occur just as often in business as they do in combat. While bullets and bombs are not involved and lives are not literally on the line, the stakes can be high. As a CEO, I consider it an invaluable gift that I’ve been trained to remain calm under fire. It has also helped me model behavior for the rest of my team; they know I expect cool heads during stressful times.
Distractions come in a thousand forms. And every one of them wants to tear apart the fabric of your focus.
Ignoring distractions isn’t realistic. Some distractions are nothing but noise, and you can completely ignore them. Yet, there are plenty that you can’t ignore because there’s something meaningful behind them. You can ignore hecklers and dream stealers. But you can’t ignore the threat of a lawsuit. Likewise, you can ignore the critics who are just taking cheap shots. But you can’t dismiss criticism altogether. After all, some of your most valuable learning is going to come from criticism.
It’s crucial to have an open mind and cast a wide net when it comes to what you’re learning, hearing about, and noticing. But some things are plain distractions, and you can’t afford to give them an inch or a minute. I can’t tell you which is which. You’ll have to discern that yourself.
Nevertheless, what I can tell you is to make it a constant practice to ask yourself the following questions and exercise the judgment: Is this worth my time? Is it important? Is it important to me? Will it move my business forward or make me a better businessperson?
In a day, a hundred things will pop up requiring your attention. The trick is not to let them get in the pilot’s seat. You’re the one flying this plane, not them. You can’t ignore them; you can master them. If you don’t, they’ll take your plane down.
The most tempting distractions, and therefore the most dangerous to your business, are those opportunities that you could easily see yourself getting engaged in. Things you know you could do a job of. Don’t chase down rabbit holes. I get these coming at me constantly: projects I could be part of, ventures I could invest in, boards I could sit on. I’m not saying to never do it. But my default mode is no.
Communicate Effectively and Efficiently
You’ve heard people say “time is money.” What utter horseshit. Money is just money. You can always get more of it. But time? Time is the opposite of money. You can’’ put it in a savings account or invest it in a high-yield hedge fund. You have exactly the same amount of it as the poorest person on the planet, and you’re never going to get more.
If you want to experience the mental equivalent of a naked dive into a freezing mountain lake, print out a list of all the calendar days from today until your 100th birthday: You’ll find it fits on the back of your office door. It’s a sobering exercise. It sends shivers up my spine just to type the words. It’s your entire life and you can flip through it in the blink of an eye. Wasting money is foolish, but it’s something you can learn and recover from. Wasting time? That’s like cutting off a limb.
Time is the master of everything. Time will eventually put an end to all things — birds, trees, flowers, mountains, and, yes, your business. It grinds stones to sand and years to memories. Yet as terrible as it is, it’s also the most beautiful thing we have. And while it is the master of everything, here’s something truly amazing: you can master it.
I pack a lot into every 24 hours. The way I do it is by staying clear on my focus, mastering distractions, and paying attention to the quality of my communications.
People who communicate regularly with me soon learn how I e-mail. It’s rarely more than one line. Often, just a word or two. “Sounds good.” “Doubtful.” “Great — you nailed it!” “Rework first paragraph, all else stays.” “Too much.”
Ninety percent of the time, that’s all it needs. Any more would be wasted time. And if you’re emailing me, keep it to one topic; if you address more than one thing, you’ll probably get a reply to only the first thing you asked.
I have a virtual assistant, Angie, who books all my phone calls and appointments and helps me stay on purpose. “Purpose” is a powerful word; it comes from an Old French word porpos meaning “aim” or “intention.” To be “on purpose” is “to aim accurately.” That sounds like a Spec Ops sniper to me. It also sounds like a successful businessperson.
With every meeting, every e-mail, every phone call, I have a question going in the back of my mind: “Is there purpose to this conversation? Do I want to build a relationship with this person or this company? Is there a purpose behind this meeting that aligns with my life and business strategy?”
If the Answer Is no, Then I pass, Every Time.
Since I started putting this discipline into practice, my business revenue has quintupled. I’ve also started making new and more powerful relationships, both in my business and in my life.
To the uninitiated, some of this may sound brash or mean-spirited. The initiated know better. Successful executives and business owners hold both their time and their relationships in an iron vault, precious and inviolable.
Author’s note: I love and miss skydiving. A while back I released a video about my experience on SOFREP, you can watch it here.
I’m releasing juicy chunks of my book, Total Focus, on SOFREP weekly. If you want the entire armory of weapons at once you can you can order Total Focus here.
Team WEBB & MANN collaborated on their first novel together, STEEL FEAR, about a serial killer unleashed aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. It is coming out in July 2021. Please pre-order now to unlock several special events/giveaways. Save proof of purchase for later! Gracias. -BW
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