Focus On What Matters: A Life Lesson From an English Busker

It was summer in London – warm, clear skies and we had just finished an amazing day of sightseeing.  I was on a once-in-a-lifetime trip with some of my best friends.  It stayed bright until late in the day so even though it was already evening, the sky was lit up with color.

As we entered the tube station surrounded by other tourists jabbering in different languages, I heard a busker strumming Oasis’ Wonderwall on his  guitar down the hall and singing the first verse –

Today is gonna be the day
That they’re gonna throw it back to you
By now you should’ve somehow
Realized what you gotta do
I don’t believe that anybody
Feels the way I do about you now
– Oasis – Wonderwall from (What’s the Story) Morning Glory

We tossed in a few coins and kept walking.

After we passed and he finished the verse, he went silent for a few seconds.

We were almost to our platform when I heard him start strumming again.

I assumed he was going to continue the song – but he didn’t.

Instead, he began singing the opening verse again –

Today is gonna be the day
That they’re gonna throw it back to you…

He Doesn’t Know The Lyrics?

We couldn’t believe it.  Surely he knew the lyrics?

I’m pretty sure our busker knew the whole song.

So… Why not play it all the way through – why repeat the verse?

Well let’s take a step back: what matters in this situation?

Two things:  First, making sure the “customer” is happy. Second: making sure your busking is as profitable as possible

Let’s dig a little deeper: who are his customers? Are they all locals? Are they tourists? Are they in a hurry, or sitting around?

In this case – I know the answer.

We were mostly tourists, leaving a tourist destination to get back to our hotels.

So with that important context and information, the reason he kept playing the first verse is this I believe is this:

Playing the first verse over and over again made most people happier, and was more profitable than playing the full song.

Many people know the beginning of Wonderwall, and he probably discovered that tourists tipped  more often when they recognized the song in the brief few seconds as they walked by.

This sounds like a lesson in business in marketing…but I think it’s broader than that

The Lesson: Focus On What Matters

In the busker’s case, what mattered in that specific situation was giving the customers a show they enjoyed.  If people were standing around to watch him play, I have no doubt he would have kept singing and completed the whole song.

But when your have mostly tourists, in London, walking to a train – they don’t have time or need  a 5 minute song…but a lot of them will enjoy a 30 second verse they recognize and tip him for it.

For that specific situation, for that specific context: he had learned the best thing to do was to pay attention to what actually mattered to those people – a short, entertaining verse.

Focus On What Matters In Each Situation and Context

In your life, you’ll probably find yourself in a situation where for one reason or another you’ll forget the context or lose focus, and you might start down a path that you didn’t intend to.

When that happens, it’s important to zoom out, get some context so you can focus on what matters and what the end result is you were going after.

End Results and Examples

For example, sometimes you might start a discussion to try to improve some process at work – but the conversation deteriorates into trying to find who is to blame, and perhaps personal attacks. It’s time to take a step back: because none of that really matters, what you’re trying to do is make things better.

Or another example – I’ll open up my email, start replying, and then that reply reminds me of something else that I was talking to the same person about. I might then go open a new tab to research that…and then end up being drawn into that whole separate issue.  Now I’ve wasted time researching a tangent, and depending on how time sensitive my reply was to them – I’ve cost them valuable time as well.  I’ve got to focus on what matters: getting back to my friend or client or family and focus on the specific topic of that email.

Context Matters

So the context really matters. It’s very important to remember what it is that you’re trying to do, what matters – and stay focused on that.

It’s not that there is always a right thing to do – but there is very often a right thing that needs to be focused on for that specific task.

Take a step back, look at the bigger picture and ask yourself: what are my main goals for what I’m doing in this situation? Why am I taking these actions?

If you can do that and get some context, you’ll find it much easier to then identify exactly what outcome you’re looking for. That in turn helps you figure out what needs to be done – and focus on what matters.

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