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The Thing Many Entrepreneurs Focus On (But Shouldn’t)

Knowing what you can influence, and what you can’t, is the key to making an impact

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BY Melanie Deziel - 09 Mar 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

One of the toughest parts about being an entrepreneur or small business owner is time management, particularly in the face of tremendous disruption and change. At any given moment, it feels like there are an infinite number of things you could be focusing on, dedicating time to, doing or delegating.

For many, the sheer number of things influencing your business and life can be paralyzing, and when many of those things seem to be outside your control, the temptation to wallow grows.

"You leave the office, go to a safe place, and let it all out," says Brett Gajda, a strategic consultant and speaker, "But it's not productive to just complain if your intention is to actually change something."

To prevent this analysis paralysis, entrepreneurs need a framework for parsing through these influences and deciding where to focus attention. On the "Get A Grip" episode of his podcast, Where There's Smoke, Gajda shared one such framework from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, wherein author Stephen R. Covey categorizes the things we all experience as sitting inside one of two circles: The Circle of Concern and The Circle of Influence.

The Circle of Concern encompasses almost anything in the world that impacts you. "Common items in this infinite circle include the national economy, the market, laws, and about 7.125 Billion other people," Gajda says. The Circle of Concern also includes the unexpected things that can change your plans suddenly, like the weather, traffic, natural disasters or a sudden health diagnosis.

The Circle of Influence is much smaller, and it sits inside The Circle of Concern. This is the overlapping subset of things that impact you and the things that you do have some level of influence or control over. In truth, Gajda says, the only real thing you can control is you: Your actions, reactions, beliefs, attitudes, priorities, decision, focus and behaviors.

This means that most of what we experience as entrepreneurs--and just as people--falls into The Circle of Concern, and that can be cause for concern in and of itself.

"There is perhaps nothing more frustrating than a situation where your level of control is small but the impact of not having control is potentially large," Gajda says. As a result, it can be tempting to focus most of our attention on the numerous things inside the Circle of Concern. Many entrepreneurs fall into this trap.

"One of the errors people make in addressing issues is that they look at these issues through a lens of quantity instead of a lens of quality," Gajda says. "They focus on the circle of concern because it's so big, how can we talk about anything else?"

But when you spend your valuable time and effort focused on those things which you cannot change, you wind up missing out on opportunities to truly make an impact on your situations, your business and your life.

"A proactive person looks at issues through a lens of quality, not quantity," Gajda says. "They understand that the only way they can truly be proactive is by focusing their efforts on what they can control."

While the things inside the Circle of Influence may only initially amount to one percent of a challenge or problem we face, that percentage grows as you take control and take action.

"Once you change that one percent, it actually changes the entire landscape of the situation," Gajda says. "And then sometimes, from that new place, that new perspective, you can expand your Circle of Influence, and a part of the problem that was previously in your Circle of Concern, is now accessible."

Focusing on and putting effort toward those things which you can influence and control allows you to create the greatest possible impact on your business, and your life. While these steps may feel small in the grand scheme of things, taking action creates a snowball effect of momentum and progress and allows you to expand your Circle of Influence, creating pathways for even more progress in the future.