You’ve no doubt been hearing a ton of celebratory remarks around how glad people are that they can leave 2020 behind, and move on to brighter things in 2021. 2020 was a tough year for people everywhere around the globe however, there is one aspect in which the past year excelled: as a learning experience. 

Learning is something you can never have enough of in the best of times – and we don’t even have that luxury. With COVID-19 continuing to disrupt travel and trade in NZ, we’re all too aware that businesses are not out of the woods just yet. As consumers, our new normal remains relatively unknown and I for one, wouldn’t be surprised if 2021 will actually prove tougher than 2020 for some industries. 

For instance – as the pandemic continues to rage across Europe, Asia and North America, we are facing longer and longer delays at our ports. Primary producers can’t get their products to international markets, and in an era of instant gratification, consumers’ online shopping can now take months and months to arrive here from overseas. As a result, consumer spending will continue to change and, perhaps now more than ever before, businesses will have to keep learning and adapting if they wish to survive. 

That’s why the most important thing I learned in 2020 was the power of focus, and how (I believe) it’ll be a common factor in businesses that survive this year. 

I can already hear you rolling your eyes (if that even makes a noise) and thanking captain obvious. But here’s the thing – how many of you are actually focusing effectively? 

I speak from experience when I say running a business has a tendency to make an octopus of oneself. I mean, we often have our hands full trying to juggle a million different things, and the lockdowns only added more to the list. 

I’m by no means saying that multi-tasking isn’t a valuable skill as a business leader, but there does come a point where you’re dividing your focus so finely that you’re not really focusing on anything at all.

That’s why I’ve decided to keep my focus to three main areas. Whilst different businesses will have different paths to success, I believe that these 3 things can be applied to most companies.



1. Empathy for your clients


Last year’s lockdowns were a crash course in adapting to new landscapes. Of course, this was true in a business sense – as the way we do business had to change almost overnight, but perhaps more importantly, it reinforced the importance of humanity in business. 

As was to be expected, the lockdowns were shortly followed by an influx of clients putting projects on hold. It would have been easy to panic or get annoyed – but what would that have actually achieved? Instead, I tried empathy, seeking to understand the headspace clients had been thrown into – probably not too far off my own feelings. 

The learning is that empathy is not just about being a kind and decent person, it’ll also help you realise new ways you can meet your clients’ changing needs. And being helpful to your customers is the only real path to success after all.


2. Focus on your team’s life, and your own, outside of work


I went into 2020 the fittest I have been in years, I exited drained, 13kg heavier and “done”. It wasn’t until I stopped over Christmas I realised the toll the year had taken, it sneaks up on you. 

It was understandable that the response to lockdown by many of us was to go into overdrive. I did exactly that. They were hard times, so we needed to work harder right? In fact, I’m pretty sure I took virtually no breaks from March until the end of the year. It seemed like the right thing at the time, but the problem with that kind of thinking is that it’s unsustainable. 

Given that you’ll soon be sacrificing your health – both mental and physical – on the altar of extended work hours and a diminished personal life, you’ll soon find your work-life suffering more so than ever before. Ultimately, relentless work = less overall output, so what’s the point? 

The same goes for the rest of your staff. You need to be keeping track of how often they are working late, or how long they’ve gone without some time off. As flexible working was thrust upon us, learning when to switch off became a big talking point. It should be the easiest part of employing staff but with a dedicated team, it was easy to let fall by the wayside.

This year won’t be a repeat for me, and exercise is a part of my daily routine again – it will make me a better leader. In short, balancing work and life will lead to smarter work and better outcomes. Being able to turn off your brain sometimes is literally a no-brainer.


3. Alignment


Being agile in 2020 was essential – there was just no other way to survive such a rapidly changing business landscape. However, with so much adaptation, it became all too easy to forget to check that everyone on the team was up to date with the flavour of the week.   

So do yourself and your staff a favour, and constantly focus on ensuring everyone is aligned on the things you’re focused on. 

This will help your staff out, because they’ll feel involved, and can prepare themselves for what’s on the horizon as far as their work is concerned. 

You’ll also benefit because with your staff in the know, they’ll be able to help ensure your goals going forward are realised.


2020 was a trial by fire, and 2021 is still an uncertain time. But by simplifying your focus, you’ll be the best equipped you possibly can to tackle this new consumer landscape head-on. And that’s the best way you can ensure success for yourself and your business.

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