When you take your business from “the idea stage” to “the startup stage,” it’s easy to lose focus and get distracted with new ideas. But, you need to cut the bullsh*t and enhance your focus.
Tell me if this sounds familiar.
You’re working on something important.
Suddenly, inspiration strikes and you have an idea: “hmmm…if I have this service, well, I might want to sell that service too. And, if I sell that product, I might want to package it with this product.”
So, you stop what you’re doing and start working on that new idea.
Ten minutes later, another idea pops into your head: “you know, I bet this button on my website would look better in blue.”
Before you know it, you’re working on something totally unrelated to where you started and, potentially, something incongruent with the goals you set for yourself.
I get it – I’ve done it. I still do it.
Entrepreneurs tend to generate lots of ideas, which can be extremely valuable.
In some ways, it’s a gift to be able to recognize opportunities and ideate against them.
Acting on every idea, however, while normal, is not always helpful.
In short, a lack of focus combined with a bias for action will lead to small steps in every direction, but it can’t lead to sustained progress in a specific direction.
Fortunately, we can learn to enhance our focus if we’re willing to do the work.
HOW YOU CAN ENHANCE YOUR FOCUS
I believe that your ability to focus is a function of energy, prioritization, and time:
- Energy: your ability to maximize your potential in any given moment
- Prioritization: your ability to make choices about what’s important
- Time: your ability to set the right conditions for execution within a fixed amount of time
Each adds something unique to the mix. Without energy, you’ll get action without engagement. Without prioritization, you’ll get action without direction. And, without time, you’ll get action without efficiency.
All three are essential to right action. That is, action that is consistent with your goals and mission.
Your potential in any given moment is determined by your energy – it’s a multiplier that can enhance or destroy your focus.
CONSIDER THE MENTAL & THE PHYSICAL
Your energy is impacted by (including, but not limited to):
- Your level of motivation or engagement in any given activity
- How you react or respond to certain stimuli
- Your levels of stress or emotional awareness
- Things like nutrition, sleep, and overall health
- How aligned you feel with your values
- How psychologically safe you feel to express yourself
If you want to enhance your focus and perform at your best, you need to maximize the energy available to you.
CONSIDER THE INCREASE & THE DECREASE
There are things that might increase your energy, like quality sleep, exercise, a sunny day, a favorite song, meditation, or feeling valued.
And, there are things that might drain your energy, like poor health, decision fatigue, meetings, junk food, or feeling frustrated.
It’s up to you to maximize the energy available to you.
What do you need in order to play at your best?
PRO TIP: SELF-AWARENESS
You’ve probably already run several unintentional energy-based experiments in your life.
Have you ever had a cheeseburger or several slices of pizza before a long meeting? How about no sleep and too much coffee before a big presentation? Or took the scenic route to work on a sunny day?
What did you notice about yourself? Maybe you felt sluggish or full of energy or unchanged.
I’ve felt my energy shift in experiences like these – each had a direct result on my ability to stay focused and call bullsh*t when I got distracted.
TRY IT: MAXIMIZE YOUR ENERGY TO ENHANCE YOUR FOCUS
Take a look at the habits, routines, food, relationships, and everything else in your life.
- What impact are they having on your energy?
- What have you noticed about your ability to focus?
Use this as an opportunity to increase your self-awareness and discover what’s working for or against you. Then, consider more intentional experiments to maximize your energy and enhance your focus.
There’s a lot coming at us all the time – new ideas, family situations, emails, someone else’s urgent project, the news, and more.
You need to make choices about what’s essential and what’s just noise. You don’t need to say yes to everything. And, for the things you say yes to, you don’t need to do them all immediately.
One way that I’ve been able to gain some clarity is by seeing the world through filters.
Here are three of my go-to filters, but the options are limitless. Find what works for you.
FILTER 01: VALUES
When I’m working with clients to start their businesses, one of our first activities is usually to clarify their values. It’s not so they can hang a bunch of pretty words on the wall. It’s because values can be used to help them prioritize and make decisions as they navigate the messy, squiggly-line that is entrepreneurship. For example, one of my values is ‘curiosity.’ I’ve used it to decide to decline work or experiences that don’t stretch me. Instead, I prioritize work that will challenge me to be better and grow new skills.
FILTER 02: IMPACT VS. EFFORT
It’s helpful to understand how much work is involved and what kind of return on investment you’ll get on that work. It’s an easy way to figure out what little things you can quickly knock out and what might require a bigger block on your calendar that’s best saved for later. However, I like to add a third dimension: mindset. That’s because I know I need a different mental frame, a different environment, or different energy for different kinds of tasks (execution, creativity, writing, parenting, brainstorming, etc.).
FILTER 03: SEQUENCING
Here’s the question I ask myself: What one thing, if prioritized, will make everything else fall down like a line of carefully placed dominoes? It puts my whole task list and my goals into perspective, making everything much easier (and less daunting) to accomplish.
PRO TIP: BE PROACTIVE
If you’re creating these systems on the fly when a new challenge, request, or distraction comes up, you’ll be caught off guard and, therefore, more likely to compromise.
Unfortunately, the recency effect of those things tend to shade our next steps, forcing us to see them as both urgent and important.
It’s up to you to prioritize what’s right for you and put them in the context of what’s actually important.
TRY IT: PRIORITIZE TO ENHANCE YOUR FOCUS
When bullsh*t comes up (yours or anyone else’s) you need to be ready. Take a minute to define the filters you’d like to use to prioritize. If you want to prioritize through the filter of your values, for example, ask questions like:
- What are your values?
- How do you define them?
- Why do they matter to you?
- How will you call them to mind when bullsh*t pops up?
The point is to make it easier for yourself to course-correct when a distraction comes up – to be able to quickly call balls and strikes and let them pass.
There never seems to be enough of it. And, when you are obsessing over how big and daunting something might seem, time slips away even quicker.
Time is a scarce and precious resource for an entrepreneur – especially if you’re running your business on the side or you’re racing the clock to disrupt a giant in your market.
Often, the labor of a side-hustle is done between things. You might only have 20 minutes here or there to get something done.
That means you need to be really intentional with your time.
By all means, start googling time management tactics. But, rather than retread that ground here, let’s take a step back and think about the big picture. Here are three steps to consider.
STEP 01: MAKE TIME FOR WHAT’S IMPORTANT
It’s pretty simple. If you’re not making time for your most important work, it might be time to hold up a mirror and ask yourself some questions:
- What might I be avoiding?
- What do I need help with?
- How important is this for me?
- Why does it matter?
- By saying yes to something else, what am I giving up?
STEP 02: SET THE CONDITIONS FOR SUCCESS
Pre-plan your execution to hit the ground running. For example:
- Define success criteria so you know when you’re done
- Create deadlines to turn up the heat
- Plan work time during your peak productivity hours
- Prioritize what you’ll focus on
- Consider how to maximize your energy
STEP 03: MANAGE YOUR TIME EFFECTIVELY
There are some great tools, hacks, and methods out there. Here’s a simple one. When you get a new idea: will it help you advance the thing you’re currently working on? If not, grab a sticky note or keep an idea-journal, write it down to get it out of your brain, then set it aside and refocus on the task at hand.
PRO TIP: VALUE YOUR TIME
Stephen R. Covey said: “the key is in not spending time, but in investing it.”
He’s right. You’ve got to make an intentional shift from going through the motions of your day to thoughtfully designing a day that enables flow and creativity. Find ways to cut unnecessary bullsh*t out of your day so that you can focus on what’s value-added to you.
TRY IT: BE INTENTIONAL WITH YOUR TIME TO ENHANCE YOUR FOCUS
Let’s say you’ve dedicated 90 minutes to work on your side-hustle tonight. Use these questions to plan your attack and enhance your focus:
- What do you want to work on? And, how does it further your goals?
- How will you know when it’s done? Okay, now what can you reasonably accomplish tonight?
- How will you raise your energy level to prepare for the work?
- What else do you need to be successful?
Bullsh*t expands to fill available time. Focused time means progress.
ENHANCE YOUR FOCUS
If you want to take your business from the idea stage to the startup stage, you need to cut the bullsh*t and enhance your focus.
I’m not suggesting you shut-off the flow of ideas. No, by all means, keep tapping into it. This is about having the discipline and focus to act on one idea at a time – to be laser-focused on actions that will get you closer to your goals.
Everything I’ve described here takes work to develop and discipline to sustain. Coaching can help get you there. Find out how we can work together.
Note: this article was originally published in November 2019 and has been revamped for clarity and comprehensiveness.
Here are a few resources to help you further enhance your focus:
- Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale, What Great Founders Do at Night with Arianna Huffington: Speed is essential when starting a business – especially one that’s designed to disrupt. But, it can’t come at the cost of your life. Prioritize self-care to ensure you can make it over the finish line. Listen to the podcast here.
- Michael Hyatt’s Lead to Win, Conquer a Chaotic Calendar: Listen to this podcast for some amazing tips that will surely improve your focus and help you take control of your day. Listen to the podcast here.
- Harvard Business Review, How Timeboxing Works and Why It Will Make You More Productive: Work tends to fill the time we give it. Hold yourself accountable to deadlines to increase your productivity. Read the full article here.
- Inc., 25 Time-Management Hacks That Actually Work: All of these tips are great, but I especially like #18 and #20. It’s incredibly helpful to break things down into smaller pieces. Read the full article here.
- Fast Company, 5 Ways to Stay Focused in a World Full of Distractions: These tactics include both proactive practices and tactics for in-the-moment decision-making, the combination of which is sure to help you focus. Read the full article here.
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ONE MORE THING
Starting and growing a business is not a straight line.
It can feel messy. It zigs and zags. It starts and stops. It can feel frustrating even for the most seasoned business owners. And, that’s ok.
It’s also an exciting challenge. It’s going to stretch you. You’re going to learn a lot – not just about business, but about yourself.
And, that’s why it’s worth it.