March 11, 2019, by John


I used to feel as if there was a little clock within me, slowly ticking away. I had to make use of every single second to be productive! This was probably made worse by the compulsory national service I had to do in Singapore, where every single second mattered. I often remember that as soon as we were a second late, we would be facing the floor, doing more push-ups. There was one time when our sergeant gave us 5 minutes to unpack our things for a field pack inspection. ‘What are you waiting for? Your 5 minutes started 3 minutes ago.’

As I moved into university, I realised that doing more and more was no longer helping me. It would send me into a frantic panic, but it would not accomplish much. I would find myself worrying about everything, but finishing little. I would find myself being scatter-brained. Whenever I tried to sit down to focus, I would think immediately of something else to do.

Does that sound like you today?

These 3 years have been a lesson in focus. I have failed many times. But out of those failures, I’ve learnt some lessons that I hope to share today. Firstly, ask yourself.

  1. How many tabs do you have open on your browser?

More importantly, how many tabs do you have open in your life? Many of us want to have a great CV. So we take on more and more commitments, hoping that it would help us to achieve that coveted job.

Perhaps you are managing all those well. But how if I told you that if you did less, you would achieve more?

 You look at his schedule sometimes and there’s a haircut.

Tuesday, haircut day.

That’s what created one of the world’s most successful business records in history. He has a lot of time to think.

  • Charlie Munger, on Warren Buffett’s schedule (Parrish 2016). Warren Buffett is the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway.
  1. What are your priorities?

In that list you’ve just written, order the list according to your priorities. More importantly, keep that list somewhere you can see every day. Your face mirror, your wallet, your phone.

  1. What is my stop-doing list?

Jim Collins (2001) studied what made good companies great. He found that many CEOs had a stop-doing list, in addition to their to-do list. This gave them the power of focused priorities.

Today, why not take the time to write down the commitments you have in your life? Slowly assess – what are the things I can stop doing?

So what are some practical actions you can take?

  1. Limit the amount of time you spend working.

This sounds counterintuitive. But when you start to limit the hours you work, you realise a higher need to be most effective with the limited time. That is why deadlines force us to stay in the library to finish. How many miraculous assignments have you finished over the past years, simply because there has been a deadline?

So today, instead of telling yourself – I will spend the whole day in the library to finish my work today; limit it to a reasonable time. I go to the library each time with a clear time frame and a clear goal– I will go home by 6pm and I will finish 500 words of this assignment.

  1. Say ‘no’.

I once spoke to a wise old man.

He asked me, ‘Do you know the most powerful word in the world?’

‘No,’ I shook my head.

‘You just said it.’ He smiled.

Today, we are tempted to say ‘yes’ to everything because…perhaps you fear missing out.

Whatever your reason for saying ‘yes’ is, saying ‘no’ to almost everything except our priorities gives us focus.

During a navigation exercise in the army, I was given a map, a compass, and coordinates to follow. I was then left in a forest at night. I soon found myself lost because I hadn’t followed the map, nor had I used my compass. I tried to follow where my friends were going, which didn’t work. They had been given different coordinates.

Today, do you find yourself pulled in all directions? Why not set your priorities, and navigate towards your destination with focus?

John writes regularly at


Collins, J. C. (2001) Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t. London: William Collins.

Parrish, S. (2016) ‘Charlie Munger Holds Court at the 2016 Daily Journal Meeting’ [online] Available at: [accessed 10 March 2019]


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