If you want to grow your revenue, income, time off and satisfaction faster than you thought possible, simply follow this advice from Stephen Covey: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
Each year we set goals to grow revenue, deliver more value to clients and run a more efficient business. Yet most financial planners spend their time on a task-list treadmill, with a steady stream of client meetings, emails, calls and staff to be managed. And when even the most optimistic among us get overwhelmed, we turn to one of my favorite rationalizations disguised as focus: We embark on efficiency projects that help us get faster at filling our plates.
In the pursuit of our goals, we inadvertently create the biggest barrier we face to actually achieving them — our goals are forced to compete with each other for the scarce resources required to make them a reality.
As James Clear points out in “Atomic Habits,” “Most people don’t have trouble focusing. They have trouble deciding.” We say yes to so much that we’re forced to divide our efforts, which dilutes our efficacy. Clear’s advice is to ruthlessly trim our goals until we’ve said no to almost everything, ensuring that we stay focused on the few things that will add the most value.
The issue is that we don’t follow this advice. Instead, we’re in the habit of saying yes, even when it doesn’t serve us.
Yes-ing happens because we’re hardwired to avoid the no. To our brains, the very idea of saying no to something can trigger the fear of scarcity or fear of missing out that sends our brains into survival mode. We instinctively fear that we will lose the prospect, the revenue, the referral source or the opportunity that can’t be missed.
This divide-and-conquer approach to succeeding is the culprit for much of our stalled progress. The best way I know to speed up is to slow down. So let’s skip to my favorite exercise for staying clear on the main thing.
Start by getting clear on what your main thing is. It’s impossible to discern if something supports your main thing if you’re fuzzy about what it is.
Ben joined coaching three years ago because he wanted to “stop under-earning while being overwhelmed.” That’s a bit fuzzy for a main thing, so he set a crystal-clear goal: Build a $1 million-100 client-100-days-off-a-year practice by his 40th birthday so he could spend serious time with his six kids.
With his main thing clear, Ben doubled down on his niche, raised his minimums, redesigned his services and systematized his practice, all while deciding against anything that distracted from his main thing.
Ben turns 40 this year and will hit his goal while working under 30 hours a week and taking 85 days off — all while delivering deeper value to his clients than ever before.
Once Ben was clear on his main thing, it was much easier for him to recognize and focus on the very few things he should say yes to in service of it. But he also had to develop his ability to say no to avoid filling his plate with distractions disguised as the seemingly important.
For this, I rely on a simple two-question test for each new priority: “What is this in service of?” Followed simply by, “At the cost of…?”
This test is a potent way to discern what supports the main thing, and what is a distraction.
At one point after Ben had set new minimums, he called to ask if he should take a prospect who didn’t quite meet them. Ben took the two-question test.
I asked Ben, “What is taking this client in service of?” This is where it gets uncomfortable. If we’re honest, it’s in service of avoiding the discomfort that comes with walking away from revenue. Which is the reason for the second question, “At the cost of what?” This is where Ben realized taking this prospect would fill one of the limited seats on his bus while lowering his revenue per client for the same amount of work.
With these unassuming questions, Ben suddenly saw how such decisions and the behavior behind them had kept him in compromise mode for years. With this newfound clarity, Ben was no longer willing to compromise, and he hasn’t since.
When faced with choices like Ben’s, our survival instincts step in and shift our focus to what we stand to lose by focusing, rather than what we stand to gain. And while it went against his instinct, Ben learned one of my favorite success lessons — sometimes the best way to speed up is to slow down.
Armed with clarity about your main thing and the two-question test, you’ll be far better able to recognize the very few things you should say yes to, while declining or delaying everything else.
Or as I like to say, when your vision is clear, your decisions are easy.
Stephanie Bogan is the founder and chief possibility officer for Limitless Advisor and a high performance Strategy+Growth coach to founders and CEOs of finserv firms. You can join Stephanie’s Monthly Mojo newsletter at www.limitlessfa.life or follow her on social media.
As our second lead editor, Cindy Hamilton covers health, fitness and other wellness topics. She is also instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. Cindy received a BA and an MA from NYU.