30 May 2023

The Stovetop Approach To Focus Your Energy

We dive into: The 4 Archetypes of a Generalist, a framework for squiggly career progression, I'll then spin these into real-world examples of what a *delightful* generalist career flow could look like

And then... a pinch of spice 🌶️ I'll be busting the myth that generalists can't reach mastery

👋 Welcome back, generalists of the world!

Are you someone who has many interests and wants to pursue them all at once? (slowly raises hand… 🙋)

Do you often say yes to many projects because they are interesting and exciting… and then start to feel overwhelmed and wonder how you got there?

Welcome to the plight of the generalist. We can do anything…. so we sometimes do everything. 🙃 

The truth is, as a generalist, you can do anything, but you can't do it all at the same time. The key to success is to focus your energy.

Essentialism unlocked a new mindset

I had an a-ha moment when I read Greg McKeown's book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Before discovering this book I took a “more-is-more” approach to life.

After reading it, I realized that I would be better served by saying no to some things (even if I was excited about them) because it meant I could enthusiastically say yes to others.

The book sheds light on this pattern of behaviour that many of us fall into.

When we try to move in too many directions at once, we end up dispersing our energy and making little to no traction. Instead, if we put all our focus in one direction, we can go farther, faster.

Your capacity is like the dials on a stovetop

Again - I like to say that you CAN do anything, but you can’t do it all at the same time. The key here is balance and knowing that if you put high energy toward one or two things, you have less energy for others.

Think of your interests as dials on a stovetop. Some are on high, some are simmering on low. If you turn them all to high at the same time, you'll see pots boiling over and entrees being burned in the frying pan. Your operating system (aka your mental capacity) can only handle so many things on ‘high’ at one time.

The key is to make conscious choices about what will get your focus during a given period. This is the practice of being intentional about which pots on the stove get to be on ‘high’, which get to be on ‘simmer’ and which will have to wait until the next round to make it onto the cooking surface.

A simple tool can facilitate focus

I use a quarterly role charter, a simple tool to set quarterly priorities and communicate them.

In practice,

  1. Get a blank piece of paper and mark it off into four quadrants.

  2. Choose 2-3 top priorities for the quarter and list one in each quadrant - focusing on the outcomes you intend to accomplish.

  3. Add 2-3 bullets below each outcome, representing what you will direct your energy toward to achieve that objective.

  4. In the last quadrant, list how you plan to learn and grow for the quarter - this is your development focus.

  5. Finally, turn the paper over. Write ‘out of scope’. List the things that you think might want to sneak in and steal meaningful amounts of your energy or mental capacity. You are declaring that these are not top priorities and that you won’t dedicate meaningful energy to them FOR NOW.

Note, that doesn’t mean they don’t get done. Out-of-scope for you can translate into in-scope for another person, or you can delegate and engage other resources.

If you work in an organization, discuss the list with your manager to ensure your priorities are aligned. If they are not, make some tweaks to the proposal until you are in sync.

Refer back to the document during the quarter to note any deviations, obstacles, or changes in course - this is a great tool for weekly 1:1 meetings or development conversations.

This practice will help you stay organized and focused, while also preventing you from feeling overwhelmed. As a bonus, you will also have a record of your (agreed-upon!) most-important priorities and focus areas for the year handy when it comes time to write your self-appraisal.

You can apply this same principle to your personal life as well. Set a list of goals for the year and pick one or two to focus on at any given time. Once you are ready to move something from ‘high’ to ‘low’, you can pick up a new goal to add to the stovetop.

Remember, you can do anything, but you can't do it all at the same time. By making conscious choices and focusing your energy in a few directions, you can achieve your goals and avoid feeling overwhelmed.

📚️ Further Resources…

About our guest author, Kathryn:

Kathryn Montbriand spent a decade championing culture change at a Fortune 500 company. She pioneered a first-of-its-kind team of ‘Culturists’ that focused on employee engagement and creating authentic connections in the workplace. She used that same spirit of positive disruption to create Montbriand Services which provides Fractional Chief of Staff support, and Lived and Loved which enables people to access their stories in an innovative way.

Until Next time,


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Our content is brought free to you, courtesy of the Generalist World community memberships.