Focus is the root of success. Anything that robs you of focus is literally robbing your business! That’s why it’s vital to defeat the many-headed Hydra that is distraction. Distraction is the ever-present threat that lurks around every corner and plagues every businessperson, especially entrepreneurs.
The advantage of entrepreneurship is the freedom that comes with being your own boss. Unfortunately, that freedom is also the freedom to divide your attention. This is true for everyone, no matter how skilled one is, or how desirable a product one sells. Distraction comes for us all.
They may not seem it, but distractions are a bigger business killer than many realize. If time is money, distractions are thieves, stealing small amounts of valuable time little by little. Those mini-robberies add up, often to a legitimate damage to productivity. While there are plenty of productivity hacks and efficiency strategies out there, none can compensate for a failure to guard against the insidious distractions that are always ready to eat away at your bottom line.
The bad news is that they never end. There is no finite supply of distractions to exhaust, only an endless stream of reasons- many of which seem perfectly legitimate- to stop doing what needs to be done. In fact, the most common distractions don’t seem like distractions at all (more on that below). The good news is that by employing a few tried and true techniques, distraction can be recognized and defeated. By implementing a simple protocol of focus, you can eliminate the power of distraction to undermine your business.
Distractions come in many forms. The obvious distractions are fun: social distractions, games, entertainment; anything that you know shouldn’t intrude into work time. But these are not the only distractions. The really insidious distractions, the sneakiest time thieves, are the work-related ones.
Multitasking became a buzzword several years ago, and the concept has been plaguing the business world ever since. While it’s tempting to see multitasking as the mark of a truly dynamic professional, the fact of the matter is that multitasking often means doing several things poorly instead of one thing well. Spinning all those plates may seem like diligence, but it can be negligence. What looks like productivity can be extremely counterproductive when it detracts from the quality of the work in favor of the quantity.
To defeat distraction, you have to recognize it for what it is. A distraction is anything- anything – that takes you away from the Task at Hand. That’s “Task,” as in singular. Even something that’s work-related is a distraction if it detracts from another business task. When so many aspects of your business need attention, focusing on each one individually is the the best way to handle them all.
Scheduling Against Distraction
How does a businessperson keep distractions at bay, including the insidious work-related ones? The answer is time management. The competent entrepreneur has to identify the tasks that need to be done, prioritize them wisely, and decide on a reasonable time allotment for each. Once that’s done, each task can then be addressed individually. Each task must, in its own inviolable allotment, be the Task at Hand.
Once the schedule for each task is established, it’s simply a matter of temporarily closing the door to everything but the task in front of you. Distractions are like vampires; they can only enter when invited. That’s why it’s important to eliminate the possibility of distraction before you begin working on each task.
We like to call this “cutting off the pretext” for distraction- closing the office door, turning off the radio, silencing the phone – in other words, preemptively striking out against distractions before they happen. By creating a secure workspace, you can make sure that no distraction has the chance to derail your focus.
Internet and Distraction
One of the most important ways of cutting off the pretext is also the most challenging for today’s entrepreneur: going offline. In the age of instant communication, update, and web-powered business, detaching yourself from the grid may seem ludicrous or antithetical to modern business. However, strengths are often weaknesses, and the Internet that makes so many of our businesses possible can also be our greatest distraction from it.
For example, when writing a report, article or blog post, it’s vital to go offline. You may think otherwise, given that quick online references make writing and fact-checking so instantaneous, but that’s just the demon of distraction at its most diabolical. A better method is to write the entirety of your piece without stopping and leave notes to yourself: “hyperlink here,” “confirm statistic,” “synonym?”
It’s tempting to address those needs while writing, but in going online, you’re only re-inviting the pretext for distraction. You may log on to copy a link, and an hour later find yourself having answered 3 emails, updated your business’s Twitter account, and looked over stock reports- all without finishing the Task at Hand.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t answer your emails, update Twitter, or look over the stock reports; all of these things may be relevant and vital to your success. The key is to do those things in their own allotted time, when it’s their turn. By setting aside time for social media work, emails, and other tasks, you allow yourself to do the best, most focused work on blog posts, accounting, or even meetings.
Keeping Groups Focused
The same principle of cutting off the pretext applies to group endeavours. When you and your colleagues are in a meeting or other collaborative exercise, it is the Task at Hand. That means that unless it’s absolutely necessary to the goal of a meeting, there shouldn’t be a laptop, phone, or any other device that establishes a pretext for distraction. This may seem counterintuitive, especially to your employees, but what looks like dynamic utilization of technology may in fact be a detriment to the goals of the meeting.
It may be low-tech, but limiting yourself, your partners and your employees to a simple pad and pen can result in far greater productivity than that which results from a group of half-attentive people sharing each other’s time with their iPhones. When colleagues take the time to truly listen to each other, the results can be surprising.
The Rewards of Eliminating Distraction
Getting serious about eliminating distraction (and giving up the false triumph of multitasking) is well worth the effort. Entrepreneurs who “singletask” find that the improved quality of their work is a game changer. Best of all, focusing on one task at a time doesn’t cost you anything. As long as everything that needs to be done has its own time in the budget, the amount of work you complete will stay consistent- but the value of it will increase.
In addition to the business benefits, defeating distraction results in undeniable personal benefits. The psychological effects of calmly focusing on one task at a time, completing them in succession, and doing so without the feeling of being pulled in a dozen different directions can’t be overstated. Try it, and note the reduction in stress. A happy businessperson is a productive one.
Once you implement a time-management strategy that allows you to give each task the attention it deserves, you will find yourself more productive, more dynamic, and more successful than any amount of multitasking could have made you. This doesn’t mean being overly strict with yourself or having a strictly regimented schedule. Feel free to experiment with different daily schedules, and adjust them when a given task requires more or less of your time. In doing so, you may even discover hidden truths about your business’s priorities and efficiency model that lead to improvements you never expected.