To be an entrepreneur takes incredible determination, creativity grit and also a bit of luck.
Having the great idea, might just be the easy part of entrepreneurship. Along the way, seasoned entrepreneurs will earn a variety of badges of honor across different disciplines that they may or may not realize were part of the journey, i.e. operations, HR, sales, finance, marketing, IT, etc. But, there’s a difference between wearing multiple hats and wearing yourself out via extraneous multitasking. The latter can lead to patters of distraction that dramatically affect the quality and caliber of work and leadership.
Somewhere along the way, the idea of “busy” was glorified. And, somewhere along the way, wantrapreneurs opened the floodgates blurring the lines between the appearance of hustle aka “hustle porn” and true hustling. The murky line between them created a fallacy of success and what it truly means to be productive, focused and disciplined.
For those who truly care about bringing an idea to life and growing a business around it, it’s time to identify and cut-out distractions in your life. It’s time to build rigor and unlock creativity that leads to successful behaviors.
Identifying and eliminating real distractions can seem impossible or even a useless exercise in some cases. But make no mistake. It’s an essential process for those who really want to attract and retain the best talent, develop the most innovative or inventive products and build a track record for growth.
It’s about doing fewer things, doing them better and swimming upstream against society’s current tide of multitasking, short attention spans and digital distraction. For many of us, it’s about shutting out the world and rediscovering the power of concentration and focus.
The Impossible Balancing Act
You’ve heard the old adage a thousand times. As an entrepreneur, time is money. Your day-to-day is a balancing act of engaging in creativity, ensuring productivity and doing all the paperwork and number crunching necessary to thrive.
In the process, you’ve no doubt become something of a multitasking superhero, toggling between products and projects, responding to the needs of your clients and putting out all sorts of unexpected fires. If you’re like me, despite the perpetual challenges and the craziness of the juggling act, running your own business or multiple businesses is in your blood.
The Downside of Multitasking
As a serial entrepreneur and founder of three companies, I understand the necessity of multitasking on occasion. However, I also know that habitually focusing on one project at a time is the most efficient way to produce our best work. So I appreciate from first-hand experience that many of the principles I examine in my new book Lifescale: How to Live a More Creative, Productive and Happy Life are especially applicable to the lives of entrepreneurs. So, as our primary way of running a business, multitasking doesn’t work. It reduces our productivity by 40%, compromises the quality of our work and can even lead to depression and lack of empathy.
I like the way Crystal Ayres put it in her Green Garage Blog article “7 Pros and Cons of Multitasking.” Her cons include Declining Quality (“multitasking demands haste”), Chronic Distraction (“multitasking is distracting”) and Procrastination & Misplaced Priorities (“multitasking enables a misconception that a person can get a task done anytime in any way, leading to procrastination”).
Simple but Highly Effective Suggestions
Unnecessary distraction is the enemy of the successful entrepreneur. Here are a few suggestions and techniques for becoming more productive:
Set up your day the night before.
Before you go to sleep, make some basic decisions about what you will do tomorrow, such as what you will wear, what you will eat for lunch, and the route you will take to work. Better still, work toward scheduling your week in advance, whenever possible. You’ll be surprised by how organizing small things can help your productivity.
Cut Out Distractions.
Yes, distractions will happen, especially when we’re running our own shops. However, it’s essential that we find ways to contain them and give ourselves time to focus. Otherwise, we’ll end up being little more than a receptionist or customer service rep at our own business.
Set Aside Time for Creation.
As an entrepreneur, you have to balance creation and essential tasks like invoicing, which can be a challenge. Figure out how to toggle between “inspiration” and “doing-the-work” modes and make sure you give yourself enough time to really focus on each task—15 minutes of ‘creativity’ won’t give you enough time to dig deep.
6 Steps Toward Greater Productivity
In a Strategy + Business article called “Overcoming Digital Distraction,” Julia Hobsbawm offers a powerful six-step program that ties in nicely with all the concepts I’ve been talking about.
Her #1 is to “Get distance”; the closer you keep your smartphone, the more tempting it is to use it. #2: Go deep, instead of switching among email, internet and social media, which shreds attention and robs you of time and focus. #3 Limit choices. Consciously limit yourself to only the information you need to review. #4 Go analog. It turns out that your mind may remember what you write by hand far better than what you type. #5 Value face-to-face with your staff, because that builds trust; and #6 Re-route.
If you want to minimize your digital distraction, you have to change your habits and build a fresh daily routine.
Use The Pomodoro Technique
Though the Pomodoro Technique sounds simple, it can be incredibly difficult at first. But trust me, it works. A brief history—named for the Pomodoro kitchen timer (the one shaped like a small tomato), this time management technique was developed in the 80s by Italian Francesco Cirillo. The timer is used to break down your work into tightly focused 25-minute intervals.
The technique includes 6 basic steps:
- Choose one task
- Set the Pomodoro for 25 minutes.
- Focus exclusively on your task.
- Stop when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
- Take a 5-minute break before starting again.
- After 4 pomodoros, take a longer break of up to 30 minutes and use that time to check email, and follow up with callers, coworkers, etc.
It’s essential that you visualize the task you’re setting out to achieve beforehand, and that you avoid interruptions (including phone calls, bathroom breaks, etc.). If you are interrupted during a Pomodoro, start over. As you build up your capacity to focus, you can apply the technique for longer intervals.
Prioritize, Delegate, Focus, Succeed
As an author and speaker who wears a lot of hats, I know the dangers of distraction, the temptations of multitasking and the urge to control everything. I fight them every day. But, this is an impossible model to maintain. It leads not only to mediocre work, but also frustration, unhappiness and burnout. Learn to prioritize and delegate. The same philosophy holds true for owners of smaller businesses and one-person shops—you can only work on so many projects or with so many clients at a time. After that, the quality of your work or service will suffer and so will your relationships.
Take control. Identify the projects and clients that really matter, eliminate distractions and focus on these priorities with fierce intensity. Easier said than done I know. But, to lead a successful business that thrives over the long-term, it’s those who act vs. those who talk that get ahead. So, make a decision between the appearance of success and the rigors of it. Hustle porn and the fallacy of busy are merely badges of wantrapreneurship and failure. Experience, fulfillment and success are the badges of resoluteness.