With step one (DREAM) firmly under your belt, it’s time to explore step two – FOCUS
Whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed –Paulo Coelho
Life is full of distractions and the busier you are the worse it becomes. You begin multi-tasking to get more done and rather than making progress it can seem as though you’re going twice as fast yet somehow not nearly as far as you should be. If you’re not 100% clear on what it is you’re aiming for the distractions can be endless. Even knowing which new projects or opportunities will get you closer to your goals, and which will divert you, is essential to using your time well and preserving your sanity (opportunity overwhelm anyone?). The beauty of focusing, is that it’s not unusual to achieve your goals far sooner than you expected. What’s the trick?
Focus on both the big picture and the daily detail – every day
If that sounds a little rigorous, remember that tapping back into the big picture (your dream) can be as simple as re-imagining it while you’re out for your morning run, or while you sip your first coffee of the day. The daily detail can be as simple as running through your (streamlined) ‘to-do’ list in the morning, then revising it at the end of your day in preparation for the following day. Balancing both ensures that your daily efforts are moving you towards your ultimate goals.
Identify your priorities
You know this already, the reality though is that our priorities often include things that we’d rather avoid. Business development, networking, new launches, there’s a lot to do when you run your own business, so getting this piece right is crucial to prevent yourself from being buried in work. The reality of running your own business (in start-up phase at least) is that it’s about balancing your time and energy between working in – and on – the business. Doing the work you love and (unfortunately!) some of the work you don’t.
When you know you’re avoiding a priority because it feels too daunting, break it down – and keep breaking it down – until it feels manageable, or ask for help. Don’t let it block you from reaching those goals, or making your ‘big picture’ a reality.
Likewise, don’t be tempted to multi-task; it’s the natural enemy of focus. If something is worth your attention, give it unreservedly. Knowing what your priorities are will save you time and energy; rather than spreading your attention across many things, you’ll be investing them in the things that count.
So, how do you find your priorities? It’s tempting here (especially for the perfectionists or high achievers) to make a long and detailed list of all of the things that will contribute to you reaching your business goals. Even for those of us who love long lists (heaven forbid we miss something) they are laden with things that simply aren’t essential. This is where the well-worn Pareto principle comes in handy; 20% of your list will deliver 80% of the results. Your job is simply to identify your 20%.
Some people find that a relief while others panic that they’ll choose the wrong 20%. Trust that you won’t. If the thought still makes you uneasy, sit with a mentor you know will be honest with you and get a second opinion. There’s also an important mind shift you’ll want to make if you’re serious about breaking out of your old habits; just because you could do everything doesn’t mean you should…
Think in terms of ‘value’ not ‘volume’
If you come from a traditional work environment, chances are you’ve been conditioned to think about getting as much work done as possible rather than thinking about where and how you add value. As a business owner, your time and energy are scarce and highly valuable, so give yourself permission to invest both wisely.
As you look over your list, think about where you add value vs. what you could outsource to others. Still in start-up stage and a little light on resources? Find an intern who’s happy to work for the experience, use one of the many outsourcing sites (elance, design crowd, people per hour) or if you’re feeling game, try a skills-swap arrangement.
When your focus narrows down to those areas where you add value, you free yourself up to contribute to the growth of the business in more meaningful and enjoyable ways. Even better, with your efforts intensified behind those key areas, progress happens faster.
Focusing is also essential to help you weed out what distracts you and slows you down…
Notice what disrupts your focus
Yes, focusing is easier said than done. Some days seem blessed with focus and flow and others are plagued with self-doubt, procrastination and resistance. We all have those days. None of us are great at focusing on things for long periods and none of us are designed to be happy pushing against old habits. So how can you make it easier?
Value your time: Avoid getting too involved in a piece of work by setting a timer (I vary between 30 minutes and half an hour). Break your projects down into bite sized pieces and give yourself a window to complete it. If you’re deep in flow when the timer goes, simply reset it. This technique gives you momentum, focus and avoids you getting buried.
Manage your mindset: There will always be times when you’ll struggle to focus and you’ll feel you’re fighting a losing battle. Though a break feels like the last thing you have time for it’s the one thing that will pull you out fast (your brain literally shuts down under pressure). Listen to some inspiring music, watch a funny clip, get some fresh air or take a moment to grab a fresh tea or coffee. It needn’t be long, just enough to refocus your mind.
Go with the flow: We all have a concentration curve (or cronotype); the times of day when our energy naturally peaks and troughs. Spend a week noticing your concentration levels throughout the day and plan your work schedule to take advantage of the peaks and allow for the lows.
Boost your energy levels: Intersperse periods of focused activity with brief periods of rest. Make sure you’re taking time away from the physical space you work in to give your mind and body time to recharge.
Simple steps to remember as you sharpen your focus this month:
1. Take time in the morning to remind yourself of the ‘big picture’ or dream before focusing on your priorities for the day.
2. Apply the 80/20 rule: 80% of your results will come from 20% of your work. Focus on value!
3. Manage your disruptions as soon as you notice them.
And don’t forget to grab the companion workbook to the series here! Workbook
Let me know below what your challenges are, in trying to find the perfect fit for your business and your lifestyle!… and I’ll see you next month for Step Three!