Many entrepreneurs need to rely on their own internal motivation to get things done. Whether you’re in the early days of your startup — bootstrapping with yourself or a small team — or you’re leading an established business, learning how to get focused and stay focused is important for your productivity and overall success.
Kitchens, living rooms, coffee shops, and co-working spaces are commonplace setups for startup headquarters. While these experiences are invaluable and necessary for company growth, working in these unconventional spaces with their countless distractions, can make it difficult to get solid work done. Because of this, it’s important for entrepreneurs to know the best ways to stay on track. Here are five tips to will help you focus:
The Pomodoro Technique is popular among entrepreneurs. Of the three individuals interviewed for this article, it was mentioned by two. The Pomodoro Technique breaks work time into 25-minute chunks (remember to use a timer!), followed by a 5-minute reprieve. Sounds easy, but the tricky part is that during the 25-minute Pomodoro, you cannot do anything else other than the task you assigned yourself. According to Dan, a student, the Pomodoro Technique helps him to activate brain mechanisms that force him to focus. The example he provides is text messaging. If he’s in the middle of a Pomodoro and he receives a text message, he has to ignore it and respond when his 25 minutes are up, otherwise one small reply might devolve into a 45-minute text conversation.
Similarly, using gamification can help you maintain focus. When starting a new business, many founders have to deal with administrative tasks that are new to them. Even though these tasks probably aren’t as daunting as they may appear, it can be difficult to hunker down and focus on knocking all those little items off your to-do list. One way to ensure you focus on these less desirable tasks is to gamify them (extra points if you have a colleague or team to compete against). Create a list of the things that need to get done and treat yourself when you cross something off your list. This helps you to see the results, and also makes it a bit more fun.
According to the Harvard Medical School, exercise has been shown to contribute to brain health, which is an important component of staying focused. According to research, regular sessions of moderately intense exercise help “maintain healthy blood pressure and weight, improves energy, lifts mood, lowers stress and anxiety, and keeps the heart healthy”. Through exercise, valuable levels of oxygen and blood are sent to the brain, contributing to the release of a chemical called brain-derived neuropathic factor (BDNF), which helps improve the function of the memory-specific parts of the brain.
When you work alone or with a few people, it’s easy to get caught up on keeping the vibe going, to push through the day without any breaks. The problem with this is that your brain gets fatigued and become distracted, which means that what you think is six hours of hard work, is actually four hours of focused, uninterrupted work. Rather than push through several hours or a full day of uninterrupted work, try scheduling some breaks. Not only will this help build workplace culture, but it will force you to be more focused and productive in the time you have dedicated to working.
As an entrepreneur, you often don’t have to report to a management structure that forces you to stay on task. In that case, it’s important to know what kind of worker you are, and to be honest with yourself. Experiment to see what works. For instance, while many people enjoy working with music on, and studies have shown that music can help stimulate the brain, others find music distracting or it doesn’t allow them the calm they need to think their problems and ideas through. Michael Tao, Founder of Job Sprout, is one of these people. He is aware that he is easily influenced by his physical environment, so before Monday rolls around, he makes sure to get all the little things — like paying bills and cleaning — done beforehand so they don’t haunt him over the course of the week. Tao also works in silence so he can be alone with his thoughts, rather than singing along with the new Drake track.
These are just a few tips to help you focus, and different things will work for different people. Ultimately, in today’s hyper-connected world, we need to be aware of our (in)ability to focus and make conscious decisions to stay focused to get the job done.
Photo: Copyright Mark Hunter