The Focus-Energy Matrix: How Purposeful People Balance Focus and Energy



“Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.”  — Mark Twain

Building momentum takes a mix of the right kind of energy and focus on a team.

If you can balance focus and energy, you get better results. 

For example, if you have low energy things won’t get done.  If you have high energy, but low focus, results may be all over the board.

Purposeful work is the right combination of high energy and high focus.

Busy for the Sake of Being Busy

Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal, authors of A Bias for Action, conducted a 10 year study of busy managers in large companies. 

What did they find?

Only 10% of all managers spend their time in a committed, purposeful, and reflective manner.

The other 90% waste their time in all sorts of ineffective matters.

The authors researched companies including GE, Lufthansa, Sony and more, and what they found is that most managers are busy for the sake of being busy.

They lack focus and waste energy on frenzied activity such as daily routines, superficial behaviors, and poorly prioritized or unfocused tasks.

This frenzied activity can, as the authors put it, “act like leeches on managers’ capacities–making unproductive busyness perhaps the most critical behavioral problem in large companies.”

The Focus-Energy Matrix

Bruch and Ghoshal created The Focus-Energy Matrix as a simple way to see what happens


In this matrix, you have Focus on the vertical side, and Energy on the bottom side.

This creates four quadrants that represent the combinations of low and high focus with low and high energy.

The Procrastinators, The Disengaged, The Distractors, and The Purposeful

When you walk the Focus-Energy grid, here are the 4 Focus and Energy Personas that you end up with:

  1. Procrastinators – Low energy and low focus
  2. Disengaged – Low energy  and high focus
  3. Distracters – High energy and low focus.
  4. Purposeful – High energy and high focus

It’s such a simple lens but it helps you see how a lack of focus and energy can diffuse your results.

Distractors (40% of Managers)

Distractors are high energy, but low focus.  They appear as frenzied, desperate, and hasty because of their high energy, but lack of focus.

Because they don’t stop to reflect, they have trouble developing strategies and adjusting their behaviors to new requirements.

Distractors tend to share the following characteristics/behaviors:

  • They have high energy, but lack of focus
  • They fight fires or abandon projects
  • They lack strategy (shooting first, aiming later)
  • They overpromise, but often under deliver
  • They are aggressive in action but not reflective
  • They have difficulty adjusting behavior for new situations and new requirements

Procrastinators (30% of Managers)

Procrastinators are both low energy and  low focus.  They might start out energetic and engaged, but over time, become disillusioned or disengaged because of their inability to make impact. 

They feel they have no control over events so they do nothing, even if they appear busy.  They can sabotage and undermine projects through passive agressive behaviors, or simply by wearing out any momentum.

Procrastinators tend to share the following characteristics/behaviors:

  • They lack strategy and goals
  • They fail to take initiative
  • They fail to raise the level of performance
  • They fail to enhance strategy
  • They operate in a chronically passive state
  • They feel insecure
  • They fear failure or negative consequences
  • They feel overwhelmed

Disengaged (20%)

Disengaged are high focus, but low energy.   Some managers are exhausted or lack the ability to reenergize themselves. 

Others are not able to commit to tasks that don’t hold meaning for them.

Disengagement is often a result of organizational processes, or dysfunctional relationships with who they report to.

Disengaged tend to share the following characteristics/behaviors:

  • They do the bare minimum
  • They have high burnout rates
  • They feel exhausted, frustrated, and alienated
  • They withdraw to deal with emotions
  • They act likes problems don’t exist
  • They easily overwhelmed by the unexpected

Purposeful (10%)

Purposeful are high focus and high energy.  Purposeful put in more effort than their counterparts, but they achieve critical, long-term goals more often through their high focus and high energy.

According to Bruch and Ghoshal, Purposeful use their time effectively by carefully choosing goals and then taking deliberate actions to reach them.

Purposeful tend to share the following characteristics/behaviors:

  • They have high self-awareness
  • They plan well and manage well
  • They carefully pick their goals and battles
  • They have strong willpower and good boundaries
  • They are personally accountable for making a meaningful contribution
  • They value time and they carefully manage it
  • They are good at reducing stress and refueling
  • They are good at managing their external environments to meet their goals

How To Be the Purposeful Manager

The Focus-Energy Matrix reminds us of the power of focus and how important it is to generate high-energy.

As Voltaire would say, “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.”

What you want is to guide your way back to high-energy and high-focus through reflective action.  By checking your focus and your energy you can learn to spend your time in a more committed, purposeful, and reflective way.

As an individual, you can do a few things to help foster and funnel your focus and energy:

  • Find purpose and meaning in your work by changing your WHY or changing your HOW and connecting your work to your values
  • Know what you want to accomplish and set your goals accordingly
  • Schedule your time strategically, and make time for creativity and innovation
  • Cultivate a supportive network that helps you learn and grow
  • Practice self-renewal and keep your energy strong, drawing from mind, body, emotions, and spirit
  • Develop your self-awareness and practice your mindfulness

As a leader, you can do a few things to promote high focus and high energy:

  • Create compelling visions and stories of the future to inspire people
  • Be clear about goals and expectations
  • Create time, space, and energy for innovation and creative thinking
  • Find creative ways to reduce or eliminate busywork
  • Present people with meaningful challenges and choices to give them a sense of empowerment
  • Relax formal procedures

I think “Beware the Busy Manager” (Harvard Business Review) is an interesting article on how these focus and energy personas show up at work.

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  1. Ha, good stuff!
    I think I used to fall in trap with Distracters….
    I like highly energetic people, but sometimes i was confused why they many times so unproductive….
    Now i know – lack of focus!
    Very good and practical stuff – loved it

  2. I have fallen into all these categories. It just depends on the kind of work and people I’m working with that dictate which lens.

    I’m working on harnessing my purposeful lens as often as I can. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort, but that’s how it goes.

  3. This was a very good post, I liked it’s short, sweet, pithiness and then the link to the big guns.

    I am working at writing like this for my partner’s blog to encourage conversation and discussion. I am not there yet!

    I am a Intensely purposeful person/manager….writer…and parent. I just draw the distracters like flies to honey. I like writing the blog because I can get my purpose down in words and they enjoy the distracters as they help me move along to the next idea.

    Thank you

  4. @ Alik

    Thank you.

    Lack of focus is a funny thing. It can start off fun, but then at some point, people end up frustrated when they aren’t getting anywhere. I think it’s a similar relationship, like motivation and self-discipline. Motivation might get you going, but self-discipline sees you through.

    @ Karl

    It’s good to go with the flow.

    It’s also good to know your preference. Today, I had another reminder that as much as I like to dabble in things, I also need to be focused on some significant outcome.

    @ Patricia

    Thank you. Pithiness is a great word!

    It sounds like you found the perfect way to leverage distracters.

    @ Tom

    It’s funny how a little lens sheds so much light. The 90/10 rule is a good way to punctuate the point. All those choices and decisions each day really add up.

  5. Hi J.D.

    This is very insightful. I understand it, I just never heard it put this way. I enjoyed reading it. 🙂
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  6. I really like these descriptions. As I was reading them I was imagining people who fit those labels in my life–as well as times when I fit all of them. 🙂

  7. @ Giovanna

    I think I found the source of the model my colleague showed me. It looks like it’s the model from the boo, “A Bias for Action,” By Heike Bruch, Sumantra Ghoshal. I haven’t read it yet, but I like the idea.

    @ Jannie

    Your focus and energy serve you well!

    @ Christine

    That’s what I like about the model. It gives me a lens for others and myself.

  8. Hi J.D. – I know I’ve fallen into all of these categories over the years, but I strive to be purposeful. Staying focused is key.

  9. @ Maya

    Thank you. I’m such a fan of lenses and new ways of looking at things.

    @ Barbara

    You’re right, focus is key. It seems like if you get the right focus that inspires you, energy takes care of itself. They feed each other.

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