People say ‘FOCUS’ is the magic ingredient in any successful business and they’re not wrong, but they make it sound like it’s EASY! And it isn’t! Being able to focus when you feel like you barely have time to turn around, is not easy. Trying to find space in your brain to focus on just one thing, when you’re trying to juggle life, business, children and other jobs is tricky!
The trouble is, without focus you’ll struggle to get anything done. Jobs take far longer to do when you’re trying to do a dozen other things at the same time. Even the simplest tasks can take hours, if you’re being pulled in all directions when actually they would take just a few minutes if you were able to focus on them. Life is easier when you can focus. Business is easier when you can focus.
So how DO you get the focus you need to get stuff done and build your business?
Well, I’m no focus guru but I am a mum and a business owner and I’ve learned how to do this (or I would have gone crazy) so I’ve put together 8 tips for you to help you find more time and do more with it. Give them a try, one or two of them could seriously help you build your business, reduce stress and help you get more done. What’s not to love?
1. Stop multi-tasking!
Women are brilliant at multi-tasking. We’re told this as we grow up. It’s like a badge of honour and we sometimes feel like we’re scoring major girl points, the more we can boast we can do at the same time. And in life, it’s great to do that – I often make tea while helping with homework, while making a dentist appointment and answering quick work messages on my phone – I’m sure you’re the same. We HAVE to do it or the day would run away with us, but in business it’s different.
I was talking to a woman recently on Skype and I could see she was busy working on something while I was talking to her ‘Oh keep talking’ she said ‘I can do this while I’m listening’. But she wasn’t quite with me. I didn’t feel listened to. And it mattered.
Maybe you CAN do invoices while you’re helping a customer, but you’re opening yourself up to making mistakes and to be honest, you would get the invoicing done far quicker and more accurately if you blocked out 10 or 15 minutes and just did it, without spreading yourself thin.
We often kid ourselves into thinking we’re getting more done by multi-tasking, but we often end up just spending a lot of time spinning our wheels – things take longer, mistakes are made. So, my advice for what it’s worth is to give ONE thing your full attention, even just for 10 or 15 minutes and just do it. Give it your full attention because that’s when the magic happens. You get more done but because you’re focusing fully, you see ways to improve, you come up with ideas, you remember things you had meant to do ages ago – it’s great!
2. Finish tasks that are easily completed.
You know that my mantra is ‘don’t get it perfect, get it finished?’ Well I mean it! Most of the time you’re having trouble staying focused is because there a bunch of little things on your mind that you know you need to do.
Get a pad and pen and write down everything that can be completed in under 10 minutes, then finish everything on the list before you start on a project that requires more focus.
This doesn’t mean that every time something comes up that would take less than ten minutes to do, you do it. You simply batch everything together that requires ten minutes of time or less. And don’t agonise or keep putting it off because it’s not perfect – just get the darned thing done! Finished!
3. Stay in the now.
As much as you can, practice focusing your attention on the present moment. I know that person really annoyed you last week. I know you might be worried about something coming up soon. But being bothered about something that happened in the past (that you can’t change) and being worried about something that might happen in the future – you have no control over them. The only thing you have control over is what you are doing right now – how you are feeling, how you react, what is getting your energy – you can change that right now. And the things you DO and DECIDE right now have a big impact on what WILL happen.
Don’t dwell on ‘might haves’, and ‘should haves’ and ‘if onlys’ – don’t let the baggage of the past hold you back. Focus on what you are doing and can do right now and let the other ‘stuff’ go.
4. Respond, don’t react.
We’re busy. Often the person who shouts the loudest gets seen to first – that’s how life works, right?
Here’s a thought; instead of reacting to the latest ‘urgent’ email or phonecall, take time to think. If you keep reacting, then you’re not being productive.
Work out what YOU need to do each day and protect your work time while you’re doing it. Don’t immediately react to requests or messages, instead only check messages when it suits your schedule and don’t feel that you have to come back to people immediately. It’s perfectly OK to sit on an email for a couple of days while you consider your options or get something more important finished. Take control of your time – respond in a way that’s right for you and your business instead of reacting.
5. Declutter your workspace.
It’s really hard to focus and be organised when your workspace is a mess. If you have piles of papers, empty cups, unpaid bills, and other ‘stuff’ piled up and around you, how can you expect to think clearly, let alone find anything? Declutter your workspace. Do it now. You will feel so much better once it’s done and you’ll find it easier to concentrate too.
6. Love what you do.
If you don’t love what you’re doing then you’re going to have a really hard time staying focused. A lot of the time we can’t focus because we really don’t WANT to. We’re bored. Or we really don’t like what we have to do. And yet as soon as we have a job we’re looking forward to, we have no trouble finding the time and space to focus, right?
If you don’t love your business, do something else because that feeling will only get worse. If there are certain parts of your business you don’t like, then find a way to either get rid of them altogether or outsource them. There is always a way, you just have to be open-minded and creative. Spending your time and energy on something you really don’t enjoy or actively dislike is a sure fire way to make an unhappy, unproductive, unfocused you. Time to face up to it and do something about it, eh?
7. Distinguish between urgent and important.
What’s important in your business? What’s urgent?
They are not always the same thing.
Important things are running your business properly, managing your money, creating great products or services, getting more customers, providing great service, keeping on top of your tax – they are all really important. But most of the time they are not urgent, especially if you deal with them regularly and don’t leave things till the last minute.
Urgent things tend to be of our own making. Oh no! That tax return is due in tomorrow and I need to find all my receipts and call my accountant and find my government website login but I’ve forgotten the password and they will only send a replacement out in the mail…yes I’ve been there too. But it was only urgent because I hadn’t treated it as important before, and had it all sorted out well in advance. It wasn’t unexpected.
In business there aren’t many URGENT AND UNEXPECTED things. Most of the time, urgent things are just important things that we’ve forgotten about or ignored.
It’s really hard to focus when everything seems or feels urgent. So stop creating urgent things. You can do this!
8. Set a timer.
If you really need to get something done and you keep getting distracted, set yourself a deadline. There are loads of free timer apps online or for your phone. Set yourself a time limit of 10, 20 or 30 minutes and focus on that ONE job for that period of time until the buzzer goes. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you’re up against a deadline!
I do this all the time and I’m always amazed how productive AND focused I am when I’m trying to beat the clock!
What are YOUR top focus tips?
I’d love to read them – pop them in the comments and share the focus love!
Claire Mitchell is a best-selling author of the Awesome Marketing Planner and founder of The Girls Mean Business, a mum and business owner. She has been featured in Marie-Claire, The Guardian, Closer Magazine, Essentials, The Huffington Post and on the BBC.