How do you know what to spend your time on? Do you focus on the big picture? Or, is it the details that make the difference?
Is the devil in the details? Or should we not sweat the small stuff?
Want to listen? There's an audio version below
It was a rainy Saturday in October at around 4 pm. The University of Alabama led the Georgia Bulldogs by 21 points going into half-time. The rain poured down and drenched the players and fans.
On the Alabama sidelines, equipment managers frantically scraped mud off the shoes of the players as they came off the field, knowing a win would depend on their team's ability to stay on their feet.
Up in the press box, announcers debated the effect the steady shower would have on the two teams. Would they be able to play to their highest level of performance? Who would win the day? Which team could cope with the rain better?
In the end, Alabama triumphed over Georgia with a score of 38-10.
Two teams entered the stadium to play football, but each went about it in a different way and focused on different things. One team wanted to improve their craft, the other struggled to survive.
Last week, during a coaching session, one of my clients told me that story and I want to share some of the discussion that followed. The way these two football programs each handled the obstacle of the weather can teach us a lot about where we should focus our time, attention, and even our money, as entrepreneurs.
The Devil is in the Details vs Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
Either the devil is in the details and the details should be paid attention to, or the details are things we get caught up with when we should be focusing on something else that's more important. So, depending on who you ask, the details are either the things that will make you successful or they're the things that'll keep you from getting where you want to go.
But, as the coaching call went on, it became clear that these “make or break” details and whether we should focus on them or move on, depends entirely on your position along the path of your journey. Depending on whether you're just starting out or further down the road will dictate where you should focus.
Where You Should Focus
After my client finished telling me about the game, I asked him,
How do you balance paying attention to the small details and getting caught up with and distracted by the small details?
The answer depends on the stage you're in with your business. If you're a beginner, working on optimization and performance tweaks isn't as important as getting the product ready to ship in the first place.
As the French philosopher Voltaire said,
The perfect is the enemy of the good.
If you spend your time trying to be perfect, you'll get outperformed by someone who can get the job done.
Think perfection is something we should all strive for?
Think again. Since nothing is perfect you're wasting your time. Perfection is a myth; it doesn't exist. However, many entrepreneurs, artists and creators strive for perfection when they should be focused on finishing. If you don't have a completed product you shouldn't focus on the details.
Alabama could focus on the dirt in their cleats because they were in a different position than Georgia. Alabama's program has evolved and grown over the past few years and they're near the top of the college football pyramid. It's appropriate that they should be focused on different things than a team in the middle of the pack.
Where You Are Determines Where You Focus
When you're starting out you need to focus on the fundamentals. If you don't get the basics right, you won't have to worry about the championship.
When You Shouldn't Sweat the Small Stuff
My client is in the beginning stages of building his business. His focus needs to be on establishing a good reputation and a track record of results. His time should be spent developing good habits and laying a solid foundation he can use to grow his business.
Figuring out which opt-in forms convert better or which landing pages get the best results are less important than getting one up in the first place. There are things you need to do today and there are things that can wait until tomorrow.
Paul, a friend of mine who is starting his own marketing consultancy, needs to focus on getting his first client before he worries about how to manage a dozen of them.
Cory, my chiropractor friend who has owned his business for a couple of years, had to focus on keeping the lights on before he could focus on traveling around Texas speaking.
When you're starting your blog, your focus should be on building an email list before you worry about an autoresponder series. When you're building your business, now is not the time to worry about how many clients you can handle at once; your focus should be on getting the next one, then the next one.
Too often I see people worrying about step 7, 8 or 9 problems when they should be focusing on step 1, 2, or 3 problems.
Only after you've got the basics figured out should you move on to the advanced stuff. You can't make tweaks if you have nothing to tweak.
In the beginning, you should be a little rough and you shouldn't have everything figured out. In fact, if you do have everything figured out, you waited too long to get started in the first place.
When the Devil is in the Details
Yes, the details are important. The details are what will take you from a $10k to a $100k business. The details are what make the difference between a hobby and a business, between amateur and professional.
You don't get to be #1 overnight; the details are what separate the best from the rest.