Focus is the key to the world

“Focus is the key to the world.”

- William A. Dinsmore III (my dad)

Admitting Defeat to Allow Victory…

I have a confession to make.

For the last few months I’ve been working on launching a top-secret project that I think could help this community in a totally new and fun way.

I’ve briefly mentioned it in the past, and many of you have showed serious enthusiasm – which further fueled my distraction, I mean excitement…

This is also what I was referring to in my interview with John Lusk on Difficult Decisions last week – so figured it’s about time we make it public.

To recap, here’s the first item from my 2013 goals post:

“Launch a real-time fully-exposed case study on how to take a physical product from idea, to market testing, to manufacturing and to selling — all by using today’s online tools. This is going to be our biggest project EVER, and we are going to take you along for every step of the ride. Keep an ear out for the launch of the new site to track this project as well as what the physical product will actually be. I could not sleep this weekend because I was so excited for it.”

Since then, my partner Nic and I have invested a few thousand dollars in branding, design, setting up web sites, and even hired an architectural designer to create high-end CAD drawings so we can manufacture our first physical product prototype.

What’s the top-secret product you ask??

Well it’s a height-adjustable stand-up desk of course!

See below for a few of our concept sketches, courtesy of the very talented Bryan at Camber Studios, whom we found on Elance. I hope you enjoy how all-over-the-map these are!

Initial sketch

Initial concept sketch – “Pull-handle & hydraulic”


Concept 1 – “Water canister counter-balance”

Concept 2

Concept 2 – “Simple Slider”

Final protype rendering

Final protype rendering

And that’s just a taste…

I won’t go into all the reasons why we chose the product we did, but let’s just say that I have a huge interest in health (standing for long periods is generally better for you than sitting), I’ve always wanted to create a physical product and our office of four close friends is a bit tight on sitting space.

So you’re probably wondering when this project is going live.

Which brings me to my next confession.

The answer is… never.

Last week we decided to kill it.

Focus is the Key to the World

This is a decision that’s been weighing on me for weeks, and I so badly wanted to keep it going – both because the project was really fun and exciting, and because I know so many of you wanted to see it come to life.

But then I remembered seven words my father casually mentioned in one of our informal strategy sessions a few months back:

“Focus is the key to the world.”

I’ve thought about that statement every day since. Then a reflective month in Thailand allowed it to further hit me in the face – over and over.

You see, I am notorious for spreading myself too thin. I love starting new things and get mesmerized by the possibilities. My guess is some of you can relate…

And with today’s access to so many tools and resources, it’s easier and cheaper than ever to start things.

Don’t get me wrong – this ability for us to rapidly get up and running is an amazing phenomenon (like wildly amazing!), especially as you’re starting out and experimenting with different passions, projects and ideas, as I did for years. And I fully believe that treating life as an experiment (or a series of many small ones) is the single most powerful way to find and do work you love.

But in doing this, without knowing it, we train ourselves to be jugglers.

And as my own passion project, Live Your Legend, has grown into the business and community it has over the past few years, naturally my capacity to juggle has dimished (more than I’d obviously like to admit).

Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

I believe we should continuously push ourselves to do the things that others tell us (and we tell ourselves) are impossible. But this too has its limits.

As much as I liked to call this stand-up desk idea a “side-project” – that was just another mental trick to convince myself I had the bandwidth to take it on.

When, in reality, this was starting a totally separate business, with a different customer base, learning completely new skills (I don’t know a thing about manufacturing a real-life product, potentially overseas) and building everything from nothing. Oh and I was going to track the whole thing live on a separate site.

Does that really sound like a side project? Seriously, what was I thinking??

For months I convinced myself otherwise. Looking back it’s easy to see the common thread in the feedback from all my friends, mentors and advisors… “Wow that sounds like an awesome project. But wait, isn’t that going to be an insane amount of work?” Hat tip to Jonathan Fields who had an especially elegant way of hitting me over the head.

Focus Is the Key to the World.

Those words are now permanently on my whiteboard.

I’d love to build this project. It’d be a blast to learn so many new things from scratch. And maybe one day I will. But right now, and for a very long time to come, I have the project of my dreams to focus on: Live Your Legend – this community, OUR community.

And even that requires plenty of focus. Just in the coming few months the list of things I want to do for this community gets pretty deep…

  1. Create a LYL Live Field Kit so you all can easily host your own in-person events in your hometown (We had ones in Sydney & Vancouver in the past two weeks!)
  2. Create the totally redesigned Live Off Your Passion v2.0 so it’s much more interactive & intimate
  3. Launch a low-cost monthly membership program for those serious about bringing their passion projects to life and making real progress
  4. Fully redesign the LYL site and user experience
  5. Host a LYL event at World Domination Summit (and maybe a casual one in SF before that)
  6. Oh, and launch the LYL line of branded t-shirts (wait until you see these!)

I believe the above will help our community more than anything else I could focus on (well I guess the t-shirts aren’t a must, but you gotta have a little fun, right?).

So this is what’s going to be getting my attention. And I could not be more excited to have the renewed bandwidth and focus to bring them to life with all of you.

I share my story because I know how many people in our community (and everywhere) bite off more than they can chew.

Society trains us this way. Leaving us afraid to say no, and fighting to keep up.

Think for a second about how you’re spending your time.

What do you know deserves your attention? What will allow you to have your biggest impact? What fun new sexy shiny objects and ideas are detracting from that?

What needs to die so something else can thrive?

If we want to do what matters, we must say no to what doesn’t.

Even if it means killing projects that you know would be a total blast on their own. If it doesn’t directly contribute to the impact you intend to have on the world, then save it for later or give the idea to someone else.

If we’re intentional about it, each of us will have the opportunity to do a lot of amazing things in the years and decades to come. But if we try to do it all now, it’s likely none of it will ever be meaningful.

Focus is the key to the world.

How to Create Your “Avoid at All Cost List”

The good news is I have an unblievably simple way to help you know which projects need to be put on long-term hold or killed.

I first learned this from one of Warren Buffett’s pilots a couple years ago and it’s turned into the most useful big picture focus exercise I’ve ever seen. The full process is outlined in the post Warren Buffett’s 5-Step Process for Prioritizing True Success.

The process is painful, yet quite simple:

  1. List your top 25 goals and dreams you want to experience in the coming years and life.
  2. Pick your top five goals and circle them – with a big bold pen.
  3. Make a specific plan for how you plan to accomplish each of your top five.
  4. Commit to what you will NOT do. Everything you didn’t circle just became your ‘avoid at all cost list’. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.

That last step hurts – trust me, I know. But it’s absolutely neccessary.

Often the things that are the most dangerous are your second or third best ideas, not the really bad ones.

Just as job complacency is more deadly than job misery – at least the miserable situation will force you to make a change.

Diluting your best idea and project with your second, third and fourth, is a recipe for disaster. It’s also a way to turn four individually fun edeavors into an all-out grind.

Embrace the experiments. Learn what sets you on fire.

Then when you think you’ve found it, give it everything you have.

The world will thank and reward you for it.

Thanks for the focus dad.

And thank you all for giving me the best project in the world on which to direct it.


For the comments: What lingering project do you need to kill? Be honest.

P.S. Oh and next week’s post is going to be a lot of fun. I’m covering what I consider to be the single most useful (and free) online tool for developing and monetizing a passion. I credit most all of LYL’s success to this one thing – Keep an eye out!

Want a free workbook to create your ‘Avoid At All Cost’ list? Download it below…

The Prioritize Success like Warren Buffett workbook is free for all members of the LYL community (i.e. everyone subscribed to email updates). It’s just a way of me showing you how much I love and appreciate you all. To get the workbook, just enter your email address below (don’t worry if you’re already a subscriber you – won’t be double-subscribed, you’ll just get access to the download page).


Don’t see a form? Click here to get the free workbook. 


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  • Tyler Tervooren

    Yeah! You kill that project, Scott! You kill it dead! I know you struggled with this for a bit, but it sounds like when you found the right criteria, the decision was obvious…

    Look forward to seeing the passion pour out in other ways.

    Sharpening my pencil for my own kill list.

    • Scott Dinsmore

      Haha. Thanks Tyler. Will do! Our monthly chats help more with my thinking on this stuff than your realize. To focus!

      Come back and share your list with us :)

  • Grant Aguinaldo

    This post really spoke to me. I have many ideas, and I find that I am trying to execute on all of them. I think in my case, I need to kill the first idea and go with the second. The second seems to be my passion project.

    • Scott Dinsmore

      You seemed pretty clear on which was the top priority when we spoke last night, that’s for sure. Keep us posted and we’ll definitely have to feature you in a LYL Reader Spotlight sometime soon!

      • Grant Aguinaldo

        Like! :)

  • Grant Aguinaldo

    It was great to meet you tonight. Glad that you were able to find a cab and get home. Cheers!

    • Scott Dinsmore

      Haha. That was a ton of fun Grant. So glad you made it out. And I LOVED hearing your story about meeting Seth Godin last week. The ultimate Connect with Anyone story. You’re on fire! Can’t wait to see you develop your new idea – I like it a lot!

  • Sydney Bristow

    I really needed to read this today. I’ve been trying to find a non-temp job that I really enjoy but also considering thing to go into business for myself. Trying to do both of these at once doesn’t allow me to do either one to my best ability so I’m going to put all of my focus on finding that job. It’s time to kill the solo business project, which I’m not really that passionate about anyway. Thank you for this!

    • Scott Dinsmore

      Congrats Sydney!

  • Kate Marolt

    Awesome post, and sounds like a really wise decision! I recently killed one of my part time jobs because I was spreading myself way too thin- now I actually have the capacity to focus on what actually matters to me, which is teaching and coaching yoga and gymnastics! (And since quitting, I’ve added more classes and clients without really doing anything different than I already was….) free up the space and decide what it gets used for, and then it happens! Looking forward to all of these upcoming projects!

    • Scott Dinsmore

      So so true Kate! “free up the space and decide what it gets used for, and then it happens!” Hard to explain how or why, but I’ve experienced enough to know how real that is. Good to hear you getting focused and filling up!

  • Barrie Burgess Davenport

    Scott, this is one of the most important posts you’ve ever written. When you can learn to prioritize and say no, when you can focus like a laser on the task at hand, then you have the recipe for success. Amen brother!! :) But dang, I really want that desk. I may just have to put cinder blocks under my current desk.

    • Scott Dinsmore

      Thanks Barrie. I have rarely said no to things in the past and nothing that I was this far into. Felt good. And I know, that desk would have been a blast. I think half the reason I wanted to keep going is I wanted to have a desk of my very own to work on!

  • Deacon Bradley

    I could not agree more Scott. I’ve always been a huge fan of this way of thinking, and as a new dad it’s become the ONLY way to make progress. In fact, I’ve got a great case study of someone cutting through the clutter to launch a new SAAS site super fast! It’s super inspiring what you can do when you’re focused.

    Oh, and huge props for pulling the plug on something you were already so invested in. I know that’s not easy :). I like your point that it was a totally separate business. You can really maximize your results when they multiply each other (like your other LYL goals) instead of being siloed.

    • Scott Dinsmore

      Focus as a dad is on a totally different level Deacon – props to that!

      Yeah the sunk cost fallacy can really cause problems. Happens in relationships, business, careers and education all the time. Wild how powerful it is. Just because you spent a bunch of time on it, does not mean it deserves even more!

  • Maria

    What a great post. I feel like the best part about this “side” project is the lesson that came out of it. I have a website I’ve been dragging along, half-alive, and, after reading this, I realized I need to cut the cord and stop wasting my resources on it.

    • Scott Dinsmore

      Congrats on the realization and the cutting Maria! Use that extra space wisely :).

  • Jurgen Wolff

    Boy, can I ever relate to this–even after i wrote a book called “Focus: use the power of targeted thinking to get more done,” it’s STILL a challenge to say no when an exciting new idea comes up! What does work for me (usually) is waiting a week before saying yes to anything new–often by that time I’m better able to put it into perspective and turn it down or put it into the “someday, maybe” file.

    By the way, I just ordered an adjustable laptop stand that you can put on a regular desk so you can work standing up. It’s a lot flimsier and less sexy than the designs you made, but on the other hand it cost only about $45.

    • Scott Dinsmore

      Not a bad stand up workaround!

      Waiting a week or more is a very smart. Can work really well for buying new things too. That’s why Thailand was so valuable for really recognizing all that was happening. Starting a few years ago I decided to make it a priority to take at least 2-3 days a month to get out and away from things to reflect. Has made a huge difference.

  • Timothy Fong

    I resonate with this (sadly) and am constantly in “pruning” mode. One way I have done it is come up with a “matrix” to really dig deep into what’s important and then stack-rank items. It doesn’t fix everything — some of it is just a desire to do more, which I think is ingrained in all of us as an expression of potential and passion.

    • Scott Dinsmore

      That is the fine line Timothy – generally if we’re dead set on making our impact and helping the people around us, it can easily lead to overload. The more often we can step back and reflect on what’s happening, the more likely we are to keep it from taking us over. Easier said than done – as always ;)

  • Fab

    Hi Scott,

    the wisest decision you could ever take on this matter!!

    “The jack-of-all-trades seldom is good at any. Concentrate all of your efforts on one definite chief aim.” by Napoleon Hill

    In other words,

    “This is the Way to Success” :

    “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it,
    dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of
    your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is
    the way to success.”

    by Swami Vivekananda.


    All the very best with your success in life and in business!!

    • Scott Dinsmore

      That Swami quote is SO perfect! So powerful. And actually a friend emailed it to me yesterday after seeing the post. That might need to go on my wall!

      • Fab

        Hi Scott,

        you’re right 100%!!

        Anyway the matter is: are you ( I’m talking in general ) a true Scanner?

        In other words, are you a sort of Renaissance man, a sort of Leonardo da Vinci?

        If you are, you can keep on playing on different projects because you take intrinsic pleasure from dealing with different subjects and different people!!

        An example could be Tim Ferriss!

        ( If a person wants to be in good faith !! Otherwise.. )

        If you aren’t, the quote by Swam is the key and you must be allert at the same time because you could come across better opportunities along the journey!!

      • Fab

        On this purpose, here is a very meaningful tool:

        Enjoy the test!!

        All the best!


      • Fab

        Hi Scott,

        apart from your 27 questions, another useful question ( for eveybody ) to spot that one idea ( Swami quote ) can also be the following:

        Beware of the competitive mind!!
        No better statement of the principle of creative action can be formulated than
        the favorite declaration of the late “Golden Rule” Jones of Toledo:

        “What I want for
        myself, I want for everybody.”

        extracted from “The Science of Getting Rich” by Wallace D. Wattle

        In other words, the questions is:

        “What do I want for myself that I want for everybody?”

        All the best!


        • Fab

          Better still:

          “What do I really want for myself that I also really want for everybody?”



  • Morgan Alverson

    Scott, this is absolutely my favorite post ever by you! I love the self reflection and vulnerability.

    • Scott Dinsmore

      Very cool Morgan! So wild to see which post ends up connecting. That’s the fun of hitting publish, even if it’s a tad scary :)

  • Karen Knowles

    I agree with Barrie, one of your most important posts yet. LYL attracts passionate people, and to be in your collective company through this site is like a breath of fresh air. But passion can get diluted when it is diverted, rather like when a spouse takes a lover (but without the moral minefield). You can’t give either of them 10 out of 10. So pick a lane and own it. I love the quote of Swami Vivekananda by Fab “This is the way to success”. Thanks for sharing, I’m borrowing that!

    • Scott Dinsmore

      Thanks for that Karen – I’m so glad you feel at home here. That’s exactly why we built it!

  • Cecilia Culverhouse

    Thanks for your honesty Scott! This is a grounding post – and timely reminder!

    • Scott Dinsmore

      It wasn’t exactly easy Cecilia. But very relieving to finally publish!

  • Nikki Smith

    Scott, thanks so much for sharing the full story. At the start of the post I was excited for you. I thought geez your prototypes are fab and there is a market for it. Once you explained the rest I felt alot of relief for you :) I have dropped two projects in the last fortnight. My husband repeats the LYL mantra to me, “focus on your strengths”, dream life best fit role coaching, not business coaching, not seminars on getting loco productive. Ahhhhh phew. :)

    • Scott Dinsmore

      My wife does the same thing – she’s the best Chief Balance Office ever! I can only imagine what that energy of yours is going to turn into. I’ve already seen glimpses and I love what I see… Oh and I so wish I could have joined you all in Sydney last weekend btw!

  • Mike

    Part of me is very attracted to the idea of building a physical product, so this post resonates with me. That said, since you killed it, you are welcome to gaze admiringly at my hacked together Ikea standing desk here (not my design, by the way– props to the original source in the post!):

    That said, since using this for a few months, I’ve discovered that I can’t do deep, reflective work while I’m standing… most be years of conditioning…

    • Scott Dinsmore

      Looks good Mike. Nice building!

  • Paige – Simple Mindfulness

    I started down the path of creating a new company making and selling a physical product with a powerhouse of a partner. Our strengths compliment each other perfectly. But I had that feeling like this would be one too many things for me. Fate stepped in perfectly as I stepped back. My partner is running with the project and doing what she does best. She’s waiting for the right moment to pull me back in and I’m sure the timing will be perfect whenever it happens. And it will also be perfect if it never happens.

    Focus is definitely key to making amazing things happen. I’m finally learning to be OK with letting other things wait. Life isn’t a race. I’m in no hurry to get to that finish line. I want to make sure I help as many people as possible and have one hell of a time while I’m alive. Being stressed, strung out and diffused is no way to accomplish that goal.

    Can’t wait to see what you’ll be rolling out next!

    • Scott Dinsmore

      Here here Paige! And I love this this quote… “I’m sure the timing will be perfect whenever it happens. And it will also be perfect if it never happens.”

      Perfectly put!

  • Roy

    This is very good article I have just read here so that I can know how to reach the goal of my business. You have let me know the steps to get successful. Thanks a lot for this advice.


    • Scott Dinsmore

      Thanks Roy – glad it was helpful!

  • Gonzalo

    What a hard and difficult decision. And lesson. To kill one of our
    “children”. For people that have a lot of ideas is difficult to focus
    and leave behind some of them. In part because as you say, we see the
    posibilities. In my case, putting more energy in my recent new blog
    since January. Even when other ideas are perhaps more money related in
    short term. Congrats because letting go is wise and you never know! And
    because LYL is becoming bigger and bigger….

    • Scott Dinsmore

      Good to hear you sticking to the focus to Gonzalo. Excited to see what comes of it!

  • Eugene Yiga

    Hey Scott!

    I’ve been wondering about that project but I’m glad you’ve found some closure! I’ve got a number of things I’d like to do (mostly major works I’d like to write) but have also chosen to focus my time and energy by working on the most important and postponing the rest for up to three years.


    • Scott Dinsmore

      Nicely done Eugene. And as it turns out, the only way to get to all that big stuff, is to stop all but one of them for the time being. A bit counterintuitive at first, which is why keeping the long term picture in mind helps a ton…

      • Eugene Yiga

        I guess the lesson here is that “no” doesn’t mean “never”; it just means “not now”. And I guess that means you could still launch this project at a later stage in your life. :)

  • Debashish Das

    I know how it feels to kill a pet project. You always keep telling yourself that you can do it, because you love it too. But, all you are doing is telling yourself a story. If you have worked hard to find your passion, you better stick to it. No point in eating a Snickers bar every once a while, when you have set yourself on the path to weight loss. I always find inspiration at Zenhabits, to focus on the important things in life. This one, in particular, is about focusing on the important things:

    • Scott Dinsmore

      Could not agree more Debashish! And the funny thing is Leo and ZenHabits have been my most powerful resource for focus by far! I was actually having tea with him on Friday talking all about this ;).

  • Iris Barzen

    Thanks for being so honest, Scott. It must be painful to kill the project that you publicly committed to, but honestly, killing it and being transparent about it sounds a lot more like Scott Dinsmore than doing something that your intuition tells you isn’t working.

    I’ve recently been in a similar situation. I was feeling overwhelmed at the start of the year so I took a sheet of paper and listed all the roles I had taken on in life. I think it were 7. Oups. Obviously that was too much, so I started letting go of opportunities and things I thought I should do. Since then I’ve quit two of my jobs, walked away from a coaching education and quit the major I wasn’t passionate about. It wasn’t easy, but it feels right. And now I’m able to focus on my top three priorities: My happiness, my psychology degree and launching my life coaching business.

    Thanks for being so honest with us, Scott. Always inspiring!

    • Iris Barzen

      What helped me make these decisions was something I learned from Danielle Laporte: Feeling good is the primary intention. If it doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.

  • Career eXit Strategy

    Too many times you can get distracted from your purpose. The internet is a great resource for information yet you can face information overload. Like Zig Ziglar said “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.”

  • Viajero Emprendedor

    Amazing and so true post! Right now I have a really clear mission and goal Bring to the spanish people the tools they need so they can live an extraordinary and full of purpose life! I decides to focus on 5 tools: Online Entrepreneurship / Digital Marketing, Travels, Networking and creating relationships, Passion and Motivation. And I am doing it through a podcast where I feature interviews with successfull entrepreneurs,my blog, and I am going to introduce live courses and planning an event in Mexico City in November!

    I defenitly love this next step for LYL:

    Create a LYL Live Field Kit so you all can easily host your own in-person events in your hometown (We had ones in Sydney & Vancouver in the past two weeks!)

    I am sure it will be amazing!!

  • Flo

    Hey Scott,

    great post!

    I´m having the very same problem. I´ve developed a concept that would raise the bar for the entire upcycling industry. It is almost readdy to market, the prototype is built etc. But it is too timeconsuming to really get this project off teh ground because my main project is a financial services company, so I have to learn everything from scratch, from producing a physical product in high quality to establishing the contacts needed in the fashion business to build a brand. I wonder if someone reading this or somebody you know, would be interested in taking this concept to the next level. I would love to see this come to life and it is really hard to kill this. I just can´t kill it without offering the concept to someone else first, to make sure I did everything I could at this point to make it happen.

    All the best, Florian from Germany

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  • Arjan van Woensel

    Wow. You describe exactly my Achilles’ Heel.
    Too many ideas and too many opportunities that look so tempting to act upon. (Just the name of my www says enough.)

    Exactly today — the day I read your article — I made the decision to kill one of the projects I started. And the weird thing is, it sort of was a relief. It immediately felt like more energy was available for that ONE thing I should really be doing.

    I found out now that I was postponing action on one thing because I thought it was time to spend attention on the other thing. Which resulted in none of them moving forward in serious ways. It was more about managing equal time between the projects, instead of making headway and getting results.

    This continued for a long time. And now it’s over.
    Your article supported me in having made the right decision.
    I’d like to thank you for that.

    Kind regards

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