“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.”—Bruce Lee
When you’re a small-business owner, you’re the captain, cook and crew. You’re everything. This isn’t a big company with tightly defined job descriptions. Owning a small business means you have to be really good at lots of things. And the more things you have on your plate, the harder it is to focus.
Yet, when it comes to your business, if you lose focus for a second, the cost can be huge.
Focusing is an art form, and it requires discipline. Most people take the ability to focus for granted; something that we’re born with the ability to do or should be able to do. But focusing can be pretty challenging, especially in today's technology age with so many distractions coming at us in the form of social media and news alerts.
The Art Of Focus
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of focus is “an act of concentrating interest or activity on something.” But to me, focus is much more than just spending your resources on something. Focus is also understanding what’s not essential and eliminating it—eliminating everything around you, all the clutter—mental and physical—leaving you only with the task at hand.
I love the coaching adage of “putting yourself into a position to win.” The team that wins is the one that put itself in a position to win by not making mistakes—executing fundamentals properly, not getting penalties and avoiding mental lapses all help put a team in a position to win the game.
The same is true with being able to focus: It’s less a magical skill and more of a daily habit that's improved over time. By following these few simple guidelines, your ability to put yourself in a position to win will skyrocket.
1. Start things off on the right foot. Developing an early-morning routine has been a boon for my productivity and focus. Try creating a routine that puts you in a calm place before you begin your day. I read (no screens, just paper), write (pen and paper) and meditate with my morning coffee every day. Lastly, I’ll review what needs to be done throughout the day, but only after I’ve spent some time easing into the day.
2. Worry only about what you can control. This is one of Stephen Covey’s tips from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Worry can cause us to lose focus like nothing else. Yet the worst advice anyone can give you is to tell you not to worry about something—easier said than done. A better approach is framing it around what you can and can’t control.
3. Realize life is messy and unpredictable. It will throw wrenches into your best plans. You can’t control that. Focus on what you can control, and ignore the rest.
4. Keep a low info diet. Personally, I’ve found that keeping up on news and following Twitter or Facebook throughout the day is pretty much a recipe for disaster when it comes to keeping focused. It’s like eating digital sugar all day long: It’s not long before you can’t focus and have a stomach ache.
5. Create mini to-do cards. This is a tactic I’ve found recently that I really enjoy: Instead of keeping monstrous to-do lists for my daily activities, I put everything I’m going to do in a day on a tiny notecard smaller than my palm. It may sound a tad ridiculous, but the gist is this: if it won’t fit on the card, I’m not going to get to it during the day anyway. This has helped me really focus on what’s important each day, as well as take away the guilt of not completing all 452 items I otherwise would have optimistically given myself to do.
6. Plan weekly to make sure you’re still looking at the big picture. Your business goals will easily get lost in the tall grass if you don’t regularly take a step back and assess what you're doing. Try to do this once a week; otherwise, you’ll fill your time with things that need “immediate attention” (i.e., distractions) instead of working toward your goals.
Focus: The Game Changer
We’re told by leaders, teachers and mentors that in order to be successful at anything, you have to be able to focus. Monks train for years to be able to meditate and focus, so it’s not going to be easy. I know I’ve worked hard at it for years and am still far from perfect.
Yet that doesn't mean it's not worth pursuing. Leo Babauta of ZenHabits says focus is a “game changer”: “You lose yourself in that task, become so immersed that you pour everything you have into the work, and it becomes a meditative, transformative experience. Your happiness increases, stress goes down, and work improves.”
Better work, less stress, and more happiness. Isn’t that what we really want to experience every day?
Remember, the ability to focus is a learned habit, just like anything else. Start practicing today.
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