3 Ways to Focus on What You Want

In today’s 24/7, never-unplugged culture, getting through a day often feels like a full-contact sport – bruises and all. Despite the billions of dollars raked in annually by the wellness industries, statistics show that more Americans than ever are stressed, depressed, and anxiety-ridden – with high-achieving women disproportionately sitting at the top of the burned-out, run-ragged pack.

A breakdown-moment question I often receive from women executives and entrepreneurs alike is some form of, “How can I grow my business faster while having a proper and healthy work-life balance and remaining present in my children’s lives and spending time with my husband and traveling?” (No joke. That’s a word-for-word question I received last week.)

My short answer is: You can’t.

My longer answer is: One cake at a time.

Because you can have your cake and eat it too, but you can’t have multiple cakes at the same time. It’s critical to be aware of what’s most important to you and how you intend to consistently show up for that.

For example, I carve out uninterrupted playtime with my daughter almost every day. Yesterday it was coloring; today it was flying human airplanes in bed. Those simple moments together reinforce my commitment to be a playful and present mother, and show my daughter that she is a priority in my life. (So I’m not checking my phone intermittently while we’re coloring, or thinking about something else while I’m reading to her.) I’m fully present, and she can feel that.

I apply this same singular focus to everything that’s worth doing in my business and life. The cumulative effect of those consistent growth practices is pure magic.

Here are a few simple strategies to experience this same magic in your life:

Strategy #1: F.O.C.U.S. Follow One Course Until Successful. In a keynote speech about the Third Metric, Arianna Huffington discusses the dangers of multitasking: “You think you’re being efficient, but actually you’re being stupid.” As Arianna points out, we now have scientific evidence proving we cannot multi-task. Knowing that, what’s most important to you right now? Maybe it’s taking time off to hang with your little one. Or a personal project you’ve been putting off… Whatever it is: it’s time. Don’t let all the things you can choose get in the way of what you know you must. When you set up your time and space to ‘single-task’, you’ll accomplish more and feel less stressed and more satisfied.

Strategy #2: ACT. To paraphrase from motivational author Napoleon Hill’s work, knowledge is not power. It’s potential power. Knowledge without action is completely useless. So what 1-2 actions could you take today to move in the direction of your FOCUS? What could you create? When I had an over-full-time corporate gig, I dreamed of starting a blog. I didn’t even really know what a blog was at the time, but I used my lunch breaks and late evenings to find out and to simply start writing. What daily action can you take in the direction of your dreams? Small, consistent practices lead to big, crazy cool results.

Strategy #3: CONNECT. Who can help you and who can you help with what you’re creating? When you connect to your deepest desires, you’ll also start connecting with the people and circumstances that steadily bring them to life. And remember, in this information age you can spend time with anyone you want. Find someone who’s killing it in the biz-life areas you feel called to focus on and study them. What are they doing differently? Make it a point to learn something from them today — either by reading or listening to their work, or by finding other creative ways to engage indirectly or directly with them.

Cortney McDermott is an award-winning writer, TEDx speaker, and strategist to Fortune 500 executives, entrepreneurial leaders, and think tanks around the world. She writes for a number of international publications, including She Owns It and HuffPost. Her debut book, Change Starts Within You: Unlock the Confidence to Lead with Intuition was selected for Inc.com’s “26 Favorite Books of High Achievers” and has been featured in multiple media outlets around the nation.

Before turning entrepreneur, Cortney served as an executive at Vanity Fair Corporation, vice president at Sustainability Partners, professor of graduate studies for Big Ten US universities, and global associate for the renowned beCause Consortium. (She also moonlighted as a deli waitress, secretary, and everything in between, as a way to put herself through school and life.)

Cortney is a graduate of the London School of Economics and a certified cultural mediator in multiple languages. She lives with her family between the United States and Italyfocus


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.