Episode 86 - Finding your daily focus

Most small business owners state that focus is one of their biggest daily struggles. In this episode, Jeff and Kristin discuss why we struggle with focus and how we can achieve more of it. 

You aren't the only one struggling

In a 2005 study of workplace efficiency, the average employee was able to focus on a task for just 11 minutes before becoming distracted. Once distracted, it took an average of 25 minutes to get back to the original task; sometimes, the employee never got back to that task! The most shocking stat for us: on average, we switch tasks every three to six minutes.

This explains a lot when you understand the effects of distraction. 

Why are we so distractable?

Our brains have not evolved as quickly as technology has. As part of our survival mechanism, we were programmed to respond to stimulus. Today, there is so much stimulus that our brains get easily overwhelmed. We are also overconnected. According to David Rock, author of Your Brain At Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Longalways being connected has the same impact on your IQ as not getting enough sleep or getting high. 

If we are programmed to respond, then clearly, we must be doomed. Well, not really. There are things we can do in order to strengthen our focus and get more done. 

How to stay focused throughout the day

Start the night before

Kristin is a huge fan of reflection before bed. Each night, she pulls out her journal and writes down 4 key items:

  1. Random thoughts - these are not tasks but random thoughts that are cluttering up her brain. Sometimes they are new ideas, reflections on conversations, or quotes. 
  2. Tomorrow's must-do-list - This is a list of three things that must get done tomorrow to move the business forward. These don't always end up being the must-do's for tomorrow, but it is the starting point.
  3. Today's wins - Every day we have at least one win. Sometimes it's as small as getting out of bed or clearing out the day's emails. Write down your wins. 
  4. Something to be grateful for - Practicing gratitude every day helps give us a sense of contentment, something that a lot of small business owners struggle with. 

This seems like a lot, but usually, this is less than one journal page. This exercise should take about 5 minutes each night once you get the hang of it. 

Starting your day off right

Each time we switch tasks, we must refocus which burns a lot of energy. This is why we get burnt out quickly when we are trying to accomplish many different things on the same day. 

Each email or social media post you engage with requires you to refocus. That means you might refocus over 100 times before you even start your work in the morning burning through most of your energy. This is why we suggest avoiding email and social media until your most important task of the day is completed. 

Since focusing requires a lot of energy in the form of glucose, it is important to make sure to have a healthy breakfast. Skipping breakfast will start your day with a focus deficiency. 

We start each work day with a planning session using our Small Biz Daily Focus Planner (free download). This allows us to figure out our most important tasks and to plan our day. This is the first thing we do when we arrive at our desks. When planning, start your day with the tasks that require the most focus. 

Keeping your momentum

You are off to a great start, but distraction will tempt you throughout the day. Here are some tips for staying focused.

  1. Stay out of your browser and your email box. Each time you go into your browser, it's like a carnival for your brain. Social media, the news, and cat videos will distract you. If there are tasks you can perform without going into your browser, do it. For example, write blog posts and other documents in Word and then paste them into your blog. You can also do this with social media posts. Once you have done everything you can offline, batch process everything that needs to be posted. Schedule time for checking your email and close the window when your timer says time up!
  2. Use paper to track your "ah-ha" tasks. We all think of new tasks to do as we are working. Instead of going into your browser to add them to Evernote, Nozbe, or another task scheduler, write them down on paper. This will do two things: it will keep you out of your browser and it will instruct your brain that the task can move out of the forefront of your brain. Our brains respond better when we write things down than when we type them out (have you ever stored a note somewhere on your computer and couldn't find it later?). You can use the back of the Daily Focus Planner for those notes. 
  3. Take breaks. We use the Pomodoro Technique, working in 25/5 or 50/10 blocks. This means we focus for 25 or 50 minutes and then take a 5 or 10-minute break. This allows your brain to focus because it knows the break is coming. You can use those breaks for stress relief, moving around, or getting some of those distracting things done. Just make sure you set a timer so you don't fall down the rabbit hole!
  4. Have a catch-up hour each day. Your last hour of the day should be for catching up on things you did not get done. It might be tasks from your "ah-ha" list or other tasks you really want to finish that day. This hour can also be used for email and social media. In the last 10 minutes of my catch-up hour, I put any unfinished tasks into my online task manager to consider for the next day. 

Creating more focus is just like learning any other skill. It takes practice and there will be times when you slide back into your old routines. Don't beat yourself up. Just try again tomorrow. 

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