As an entrepreneur, you have a lot on your plate. Staying focused can be tough with a constant stream of employees, clients, emails, and phone calls demanding your attention. Amid the noise, understanding your brain’s limitations and working around them can improve your focus and increase your productivity.
Our brains are finely attuned to distraction, so today’s digital environment makes it especially hard to focus. “Distractions signal that something has changed,” says David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of Your Brain at Work (HarperCollins, 2009). “A distraction is an alert says, ‘Orient your attention here now; this could be dangerous.'” The brain’s reaction is automatic and virtually unstoppable.
While multitasking is an important skill, it also has a downside. “It reduces our intelligence, literally dropping our IQ,” Rock says. “We make mistakes, miss subtle cues, fly off the handle when we shouldn’t, or spell things wrong.”
To make matters worse, distraction feels great. “Your brain’s reward circuit lights up when you multitask,” Rock says, meaning that you get an emotional high when you’re doing a lot at once.
Ultimately, the goal is not constant focus, but a short period of distraction-free time every day. “Twenty minutes a day of deep focus could be transformative,” Rock says.
Try these three tips to help you become more focused and productive:
1. Do creative work first.
Typically, we do mindless work first and build up to the toughest tasks. That drains your energy and lowers your focus. “An hour into doing your work, you’ve got a lot less capacity than (at the beginning),” Rock says. “Every decision we make tires the brain.”
In order to focus effectively, reverse the order. Check off the tasks that require creativity or concentration first thing in the morning, and then move on to easier work, like deleting emails or scheduling meetings, later in the day.
2. Allocate your time deliberately.
By studying thousands of people, Rock found that we are truly focused for an average of only six hours per week. “You want to be really diligent with what you put into those hours,” he says.
Most people focus best in the morning or late at night, and Rock’s studies show that 90 percent of people do their best thinking outside the office. Notice where and when you focus best, then allocate your toughest tasks for those moments.
3. Train your mind like a muscle.
When multitasking is the norm, your brain quickly adapts. You lose the ability to focus as distraction becomes a habit. “We’ve trained our brains to be unfocused,” Rock says.
Practice concentration by turning off all distractions and committing your attention to a single task. Start small, maybe five minutes per day, and work up to larger chunks of time. If you find your mind wandering, just return to the task at hand. “It’s just like getting fit,” Rock says. “You have to build the muscle to be focused.”
If you have gone into business for yourself, chances are you were in some way lured in by this promise of freedom –the freedom to work when you want, where you want, and how you want.
To create business in line with your values and have the money to support the things you believe in. What you likely learned is that creating that level of freedom, quality and profit is far from easy. In fact, you can end up running on an even faster treadmill or swimming with even more vicious sharks than you would if you were working in corporate.
So, is this promise land of freedom and riches even possible?
But big secret is that who you are on the inside makes a huge difference in your success. In fact, psychological research is showing that our perception is key to whether we feel like we have what makes us happy regardless of what it is that we have.
In other words, you can have all the riches in the world and your mindset will dictate whether or not you feel wealthy. So, if you are thinking that if you increase your income, or lower your work hours you will feel successful or happier, you may be chasing the proverbial carrot.
Having a Ph.D in Psychology and having worked in one way or another in the health and wellness industry for the past 20 years, I believe that business can be healing. It can improve the quality of life of the entrepreneur, the customer or client, the community, and the larger world. It can support things that have value and decrease the value of harmful practices and products in the world.
But, what is it that makes a business quality driven AND profitable? It is the character, values, and general consciousness of the entrepreneur themselves? Without engaging in self-reflection, gratitude, creative practice and personal development, it is impossible for the entrepreneur to create a business that has both a positive effect and a profit. Our perception restricts us from seeing the opportunities that would allow us to create positive alternatives.
My suggestions for would-be and seasoned entrepreneurs alike is that they make sure that their own personal development is part of their business plan and that they use this self-reflection to create businesses and lives that are healthy, wealthy, and happy.
It’s so easy to set goals in life. How many people actually take the time to set specific life goals? Not many of us, is my guess. You want to make more money. You want to enjoy more productive relationships with friends and acquaintances. You want to make a difference in the lives of others. You want more responsibility in your career.
Unfortunately, while all of these goals are admirable, they are also very broad. Most people fantasize about being rich, famous, and well liked. However, these are not necessarily goals. These are common images of success that the media wants us to believe in. Human beings are programmed by books, television, movies and Internet to believe in someone else’s values. After all, did you ever want to be Bill Gates before you knew he was filthy rich? Better yet, did you ever want to be filthy rich before you knew that money could buy you luxurious accommodations, fun new gadgets, and exclusive world travel?
Step 1: Know the Difference between Dreaming and Doing
When a person claims that making a lot of money is his or her “goal”, they are not truly seeing the future. A person who is “destined” for success, programs their own mind to achieve something remarkable but feasible. A person that is motivated to achieve a goal does not think in terms of failure and winning. (As in, I failed at becoming a millionaire. So it’s not meant to be) Rather, this person follows a set path towards their final destination.
To the successful person, succeeding in life is a daily responsibility, one full of setbacks and solutions. The successful person doesn’t merely think in terms of “becoming rich” overnight. They study the path towards financial freedom, as handed down by others, and create a feasible and specific plan to increase their profit through the years. They learn about their chosen industry. They learn about office relationships and business strategies. They learn about investing and wealth building over time. Making money is not just a fleeting thought or a wild idea that must be tried at least once—it is their continuing journey for success.
Similarly, a determined person who wants to become an actor or actress will take steps towards this ultimate goal. They will study the craft and attend auditions on a regular basis. Furthermore, they will study the history of show business and model their own career after the careers of successful actors and actresses. They see the entertainment industry as their career and works according to a plan. Do you see how this mindset is different from another person who simply wishes it would be nice to be paid $20 million dollars for three months of camera posing?
Step 2: Set ‘Stretch’ Goals
Achieving one’s vision of success depends upon the setting and completion of ‘stretch’ goals. A stretch goal is a realistic goal with a little more added to it for it to be a stretch. I think stretch goals are a little more motivating and inspiring than goals that are ‘realistic.’ Stretch goals do not follow someone else’s idea of success, but only your own. After you study the profession that appeals to you, you begin to understand the steps involved and approach your profession from a results-oriented perspective. Set your goals on a long-term and short-term basis and work your way down to weekly goals. It is easier to take smaller steps than trying to focus on one big goal or many big goals.
As you reach milestones along the way, your self-confidence increases and the ultimate objective becomes clear. You are no longer confused about what action you should take. You don’t start projects and stop them; rather you channel your enthusiasm and passion in one specific area, moving closer to the desired result. Along the way, you learn to prioritize your time, as setting specific goals helps you to avoid unproductive actions. When you apply your energy and resources to your goals, you are able to accomplish more in a few short years than most people will ever do in one whole lifetime. When you set your own goals you are given total power over your life. You don’t surrender your time and energy to the will of others, as if subject to someone else’s control.
Step 3: Don’t Procrastinate
The successful person doesn’t typically procrastinate or procrastinate often. Some have stated that dreaming or wishing is actually a form of procrastination, especially if no goals are being set to achieve a dream. Once you have created an action plan, you have no reason to delay taking certain action. You may find that once you start to put your plan into effect that your outlook on life may change. When you have specific goals in mind and keep a positive perspective, you start to achieve more things in life. You may use other’s achievements as a guideline if you are new to the industry and profession; however, you choose your own goals based on where you want to be and by when you want to be there. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something or hold you back from achieving your goals and desires.
What is the difference between dreamers and doers? Dreamers usually spend a great deal of their life whining and wishing things were different. Doers go after what they want, in essence, adapting to a system to prolong their life and prosperity. Doers create their future. Jim Cathcart says, “Dreamers stay stagnant and blame others for their lack of progress.” Are you a dreamer or a doer?
Anne M. Bachrach is known as The Accountability Coach™. She has 23 years of experience training and coaching. Business owners and entrepreneurs who utilize Anne’s proven systems and processes work less, make more money, and have a more balanced and successful life. Anne is the author of the book, Excuses Don’t Count; Results Rule!, and Live Life with No Regrets; How the Choices We Make Impact Our Lives.