To focus or not to focus, kind of a silly question

With dozens of simultaneous and constant distractions, how is one to focus and be effective?

You can write down your task lists, highlight your top 5 activities, schedule your day, use a day planner and any number of other forms of organization and planning. I still don’t believe you will be working (or playing) at anywhere near your full potential.

To skip to the point of this collection of words, you control most of your distractions or they control you.

Turn off your non-organic tools, toys and necessary technical devices – At lease for a few hours a day, completely off! This is primarily for the working folk, plan for it and then execute.

What do I mean?

Check your email one last time and quit the program, put your phone on do not disturb, turn off your cell phone, log out of instant messenger and turn off any other app that notifies you of facebook updates, new tweets, cool new instagram photos, important news bulletins, weather alerts and the other million possible interruptions.

All done?

Good, now go to the bathroom, grab that last cup of coffee or water and get ready to blow your own mind. If you can, shut your door or find a quiet place to work. With no interruptions, look at your list of tasks and put your collective focus on it and nothing else. For the next 2-3 hours, do just that. Whoever is calling, emailing, IM’ing, texting or in some other way trying to reach you, can either wait or seek you out personally.

Simple right?

Think of how many of these interruptions and distractions float by your eyes, ears and within your head long after the pop-up is gone. Compound these with the other huge distraction, LIFE. Kids, money, bills, taxes, family, health, temperature, noise, hunger and whatever personal relationships you happen to have going on at the time. Fortunately you can remember to breath during all of these interruptions.

For the record, I’m being a huge hypocrite writing this, but I am thinking about it and try to execute as often as I can. Even now I am ignoring my phone, email, facebook account and weatherbug telling me it’s snowing outside.

If you happen to be one of my wonderful workmates, please understand that this behavior and these activities are welcomed and encouraged. You won’t even need that get out of jail free card.

Focus and Effectiveness in difficult times

Times are tough (getting better though), there is no question about that… Remaining focused requires self-discipline and organization.

Being an entrepreneur often comes with the curse of too much idea flow and not enough time to execute on all (or even some) of them.  I wrote a bit about that in a previous post Young Entrepreneurs – Great new ideas and this problem spills over into just about every facet of daily operations and effectiveness. Tough times in business and particularly when coupled with tough times economically compound this as a problem unless addressed and overcome (if even just temporarily).

As I mentioned to the staff the other day, despite the inconvenience and and struggles that have accompanied the current state of the economy and business in general, I am grateful in a way and proud of how the company (VoIP Supply) has reacted and how my employees have adjusted both professionally and personally. Why?

Internally, the past six months has redefined the day and how it needs to be approached in order to be an effective and productive day, as focused and efficient as possible so as to squeak out every last ounce of forward progress. Considering our reduced headcount, for the most part and on most days, my team and I have managed to adjust and prioritize in order to consistently accomplish this. How?

Limited distractions. We have contracted into our core and in such we require a lot less manpower to complete the same volume of transactions while continuing to refine and improve our content, competitive positioning, marketing initiatives, internal automation and efficiency improvements. It is remarkable how much more time in the day there is when you don’t have 2-3 meetings to review project status and plan for future projects. We scrapped a lot of non-essential projects that were of little immediate impact or relevance to our core business and in doing so reduced our overhead needs while improving the efficiency of that which remained.

Pre-digesting the day. For me, it has often been very helpful to look at what I have planned for the day, week, month, etc. and break them down into the smallest pieces possible. Breaking down a week long project into hourly or daily mini-projects helps to decrease the distractions, remain focused and effective, provide a frequent and recurring sense of accomplishment that in and of itself is propulsion enough to move to the next task and repeat the cycle. A great approach to use is the project management method of Scrum. Google it, it is very helpful for project organization and management.

Be positive, focus on it and reinforce it for others. It isn’t hard to be sideswiped these days by bad news, difficult circumstances and tough choices and each has the potential to kill any positive attitude you had at the time. Everything happens for a reason and getting through the issue will likely make you stronger, wiser or both. Everyone around you is also going through similar times, so try to keep that in mind and project a helpful and positive attitude rather than spread any negativity that you might be feeling in your own life. It is very difficult to be creative and productive when you are dwelling on negative aspects of life and work.

Some other simple ways to help remain focused and effective all of the time…

  • Use a calendar with reminders. Outlook works for me, there are plenty of others out there such as Google calendar. Schedule your projects, tasks, due dates, reminders, and of course your appointments. Staying organized and on time helps to be focused and effective.
  • Daily to-do lists. I maintain a book or two of backlogged tasks, but each day I pick a few to work on and hopefully break apart into bite sized pieces I can complete that day. Crossing each one off is a confidence boost and positive reinforcement of being organized, focused and effective.
  • Step back and relax a bit. Not too much, but face into the monitor all day will wear you down. It is often easier to see and solve some problems and maintain mental organization by taking a step back and looking around, talking with peers and relaxing when possible.

A lot of this is simple stuff and common sense in general, but even as I write this I am reminded of how easy it is to become abosrbed in something, distracted by something else and end the day completely unproductive and perhaps more disorganized than when the day began. I often write this stuff as much for my own mental organization as I do for any other reason(s). Common sense seems to be lost these days anyway, too much going on, too fast a pace and not enough time to think in advance.