I am entrepreneur and constantly find myself distracted or overwhelmed by tasks. How do I prioritize tasks and keep procrastination at bay?
Finding focus is a constant struggle, especially when you're in a position that requires you to respond to other people (clients, contractors, employees). Between the outside forces that tug at our attention and the internal tendencies to procrastinate and spiral off-topic, it's very easy to feel overwhelmed.
I'm a long-time entrepreneur, and I've worked as a manager (of clients, contractors, and employees) and as a contractor (where multiple people can affect my time and responsibilities) — plus I've battled with my own tendency to procrastinate and screw around.
Out of all that, I've found a few factors that make a big difference for me:
1. Take the time to plan up front.
Most of the time when I'm having trouble focusing, it's because I'm not clear on what I'm supposed to be doing. When I have a clear plan, it's easier to spot a next step, so things tend to happen without such a huge mental effort on my part to get started.
2. Remove your distractions.
Email pings and vibrating phones give us the illusion of being busy and productive, but typically they only distract us. When it's time to work on a project, give yourself 1–2 hours of distraction-free time and put your phone in airplane mode and close your email. It feels scary, but no one will begrudge you 90 minutes of focus time (and if they do, fire them).
3. Group tasks by context.
Trying to write an email in the middle of crunching numbers or writing code requires a complete mental shift in focus and context, which uses up a lot of cognitive resources. Minimize the switching by trying to group tasks by similarity: writing emails and entering expenses, for example, have similar contexts, so they could be grouped together.
4. Stop multitasking.
We're all bad at it, and everyone loses when we do it. Instead, break projects into small tasks that can be managed in a day or less, and work on one task until it's complete before starting anything else. For each project you're no longer multitasking, you'll see about a 20% increase in productive time.
I've coached people on productivity and focus frequently, and while there's always variability in how motivated people are by default, there's no personality type I've found that isn't capable of making huge productivity and focus improvements with a few small adjustments to their day-to-day habits.
You can read more about how I stay productive here:
If you'd like to work together to review your specific situation and put together a tailored plan to help you feel more in control and less scattered, I'm happy to get on a call.
5 Short Tips On Focusing!
There is a ton of research out there ranging from everything such as what tea to drink, what music to listen to (should you be listening to music!??) to what office chair to buy! Here are 5 basic tips to help you stay focused.
1. Get a good nights sleep!
Sounds simple but Americans have been sold that less sleep is something to be proud of, but the science says otherwise.
You can start you research on the importance of sleep here. http://goo.gl/JHyo9c
Again, sounds simple, but in the world where we are "on" 24/7/365, that can be a struggle, particularly for young entrepreneurs who do not really remember the world without the internet.
For more information, this is a great start! http://goo.gl/DwzXny
3. Constantly focus on your "Big MoFo Motivation" (hereafter MOFO)
What is you big MOFO motivation for being an entrepreneur? The answer to this question should actually be #1 most important factor on why you should be focusing! You have to find that MOFO by any means necessary! It is that MOFO that is going to motivate you when the you hit the wall of "randomness" (it can be when you drift off on that FB thread, watching back to back cat videos on youtube, etc.)!
It is in those moments where if you are constantly focusing on your MoFo goal that you will ask yourself, "does this promote my big MoFo goal?" If not, if you have really found that MOFO, you will get back on track. If you have not found it, well, you are going to continue to watch cat videos!
4. Schedule Breaks
Your brain is like a muscle. Much like you can't work a muscle without the proper rest, you cant focus for long periods of time. Burnout happens.
I think the prevailing wisdom is that if you WORK (you must actually be working!) straight for 45 minutes of work, you should take a 15-minute BREAK FROM WORK (a break really means a break, like as in go for a walk or something) and return fresh.
More info: http://goo.gl/460jox
Steve Jobs meditated. That one reason should be more than enough for you to jump on the meditation train!
Steve Jobs: http://goo.gl/NDoQ0X
I hope this helps!
Schedule a call if you have follow up questions!
Here's the first question - how carefully do you keep a calendar of appointments and tasks? And how regularly do you refer to it?
When coaching executives, I often hear the phrase "putting out fires". Some of my clients work in environments - or have mindsets - that feel like we're lurching from one crisis to the next. While this gives a temporary sense of relief, the "quiet urgency" of other tasks gives us a shocker later in the week, and so we end up feeling overworked, exhausted and yet lack a feeling of accomplishment.
If you like, I'd love to work on my "objective vs. mission" exercise with you, and finding a sense of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to make your yin-yang of management. Let's talk!
1- Make a list of all tasks needs to be accomplished, group likely tasks and give a department name. Contact database development, web search and info search goes under "secretarial works" do this for everything you need to build your company
2- See what other people can do for you as an extra task and start handing out your list to them
3- Get a virtual assistant and pay somebody to do the job for you.
4- Keep an excel sheet up to date with tasks, assigned person, updates and completion time, target dates and constantly follow up.
5- Do the big picture jobs yourself and delegate with extreme supervision
6- Get up early, workout, be fit, focus on the few, leave your emotions behind, don't procrastinate, don't stop.
I find focus in strategy - the art and science of planning and marshaling resources to achieve your goals. First you start with your goal, then you assess the various strategies that will support that goal and identify the tactics that you will implement to execute your strategies and map out how you will measure each tactic's success. It may sound simple, most good strategies do. I keep my goals, strategies, tactics and metrics front and center in everything I do.
Here is a simple example:
Goal: Build My Brand
Strategy 1: Connect With Others
Strategy 2: Storytelling
Tactics: Being active on LinkedIn, Attending Local Events, Blogging
Metrics: LinkedIn Stats, Conversations and Connections, Social Sharing of Content
Being an entrepreneur myself, having led large organization in my previous role as VP and being a personal/executive effectiveness coach, I have found that focus is a very intrinsic characteristic, however, a dedicated mentor or a coach can help you stay on-track, accountable and pull the triggers on deviations. These are definitely worth the investment if focus & procrastination are attributes you notice in yourself. Feel free to drop me a note and we can discuss on steps ahead.
By far the biggest thing I've learned when it comes to my own productivity: find a way to block out social media and other distracting websites for set periods of time. There are quite a few good blocking apps out there if you do some searching. My personal favorite is Focus (Mac app) - https://heyfocus.com I have zero affiliation with them, I just use it and it works perfectly. Good way to set aside time to crank out work, then take a five minute break to recharge when the timer is done.
As a fellow entrepreneur, I struggled with keeping focus for a very long time. Entrepreneurs have tons of ideas running around in our heads and are usually self-directed/managed, which makes it very easy for us to get distracted and pulled in a million directions!
The answer for me has been to set a limited number priorities for my day, every day. I actually just published a trending post on Medium earlier this week to describe how I do it.
Here's a brief excerpt -
Most people think making their day more productive also means ADDING stress to the day. That doesn’t have to be the case. By setting priorities for your day, you can actually become MORE PRODUCTIVE and LESS STRESSED at the same time.
Setting priorities for your day allows you to -
1 — Determine your most important tasks (MIT’s) that need to get done that day
2 — Set realistic expectations for what you can accomplish in a day
3 — Stay focused throughout the day
4 — Stay motivated throughout the day
5 — Enjoy a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day
6 — Rest and recharge
If you'd like to read the rest of the post, you can find it here -
Happy to answer any questions you may have about the more productive and less stressful day on a call!
Great question! It's a constant challenge to maintain our focus, especially when we're working in less structured environments as entrepreneurs and freelancers.
In deciding how to prioritise, you first need to decide what is important. This can be at the “big picture” macro level of life - what is your purpose? what are your underlying values? - or simply asking yourself what it is you’re trying to achieve right now with a particular professional or personal project, or on a particular day. Having clear goals will help you to identify what really matters and likewise what are the things that you can either postpone, delegate, or forget about altogether.
It’s extra tempting to procrastinate when you’re feeling overwhelmed as the idea of doing something just seems too big, too difficult. The solution here, I think, is to break it down into tiny chunks. What’s the first step? “Complete project X” is far too general as an item on your to-do list, break i down into things like “Read notes from meeting”, “Schedule a call with this person”, “Google how to do this”, and so on. These little steps become more manageable and much less daunting and then you can work your way through them, one at a time.
Something else you can do is to create structures that can support you as you go, making it easier to stick to your commitments. These might be technical things like blocking time in your calendar, turning off your phone or the Wi-Fi, making sure you take regular breaks; or you might want to work with a person, a friend or business partner who can hold you accountable, or a coach.
PS I’m an entrepreneur with multiple businesses, as well as being a leadership and management trainer and coach.
Many great suggestions here already. As a life-long creative/solo-preneur (musician, author), I can relate. Focus is the single biggest factor for me, too.
The one suggestion I would add, which is also the highest leverage thing you can do, is work to develop better cognitive and impulse control.
It's great to remove distractions and get your priorities straight, as others have suggested. But it's much better to make yourself distraction- and stress-resistant, which is what cognitive control training gives you.
As a bonus, it also solves the other inner game problem entrepreneurs tend to have, namely that their life looks better on the outside than it feels on the inside.
Best of luck! Let me know if I can help in any way.
There are some great answers listed here, I'm going to put some of these practices to use in my daily life! One thing that hasn't been mentioned, but may be helpful is hiring a virtual assistant. An assistant could keep you on task, prioritize, and take a lot of busy work off your plate! If you hire a virtual assistant that has business level experience they can help with higher level tasks like project management, marketing, and social media! I found this article I though was interesting for an entrepreneur and wanted to share: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/250015