If you run a small business, does this scenario ring a bell?
You get up, rush through your morning routine and hurry to the office. (store, warehouse, etc). You've been thinking of the important things you need to accomplish all last night and as you prepare for your day, you felt a certain sense of control and purpose about what you were ready to do. This was the day you planned to move the boulder forward and get some things done!
Since you are the first one to your place of business, you need to make coffee. While you are making coffee, you see the message light blinking on the office line extension so you pick it up and listen to the messages. There are no messages for any new orders but several from past customers or suppliers that are not happy and want your immediate attention. You scribble down a few notes, hang up the phone and grab the first cup of coffee as you head to your office.
One of the requests is for a pending order. To check this, you need to log on to your company's computer only to find out it is frozen from someone who used it to web surf the night before. So you do an end run on the problem and start searching through the stacks of unfiled orders on your desk. At that moment, the phone rings and you answer it. What happens next will take about 3 hours to resolve.
What happened to your zest for accomplishing the things you stayed awake all night thinking about? You had good intentions. You even came into work early before anyone could get you involved in their problems. All you know is, at the end of this day you will go home with the same important things you wanted to do still needing to be done.
If this sounds like an average day in your life, you are not alone. In my small business coaching practice, I work with this issue a lot. If your business is not big enough for employees, you end up doing everything yourself. If you have employees, they all seem to need you to help them with their problems. If you are like most small business owners, you may just be of the mindset that no one can do it as well as you so you do it all yourself.
This cycle of unfocused involvement with everything in your business is not only creating havoc with your intended routine but prevents you from focusing on revenue generating activities that your company needs to grow and stay healthy. So, what do you do?
As a small business advisor, here are a few things you can do to stay more focused on the important tasks.
1) Define your goals: Once you have determined in your mind what you need to get accomplished, write these tasks down. Resist the temptation to create a
'grocery style' list. Too many tasks will inevitably create the same unfocused results. Write down no more than three items that must get done that day.
Bonus Tip: Write then down the night before so you can sleep better.
2) Set a time frame: Determine how much time is needed to complete these tasks. This will be an estimate at best but it serves to frame out your focus for whatever amount of hours you project. It also gives you permission to do nothing
else during this time than the tasks you have scheduled.
Bonus Tip: Block this time on your calendar and treat it like an appointment with a client.
3) Know your Peak Work Period: Decide when during the day you will address them. Most people are prone to working on the important stuff when they feel mentally alert (morning person vs. night time person). Remember, that the later in the day you schedule your focused activity, the greater chance you will cancel or reschedule because you got caught up in something else that is taking longer than you thought. If you deicide to address your tasks in the afternoon, consider leaving the office to reduce distractions.
4) Look forward to being more productive- Treat your 'task time' like a vacation. If you were going on vacation to a place you were really excited about,
you'd start getting ready to leave early. Don't schedule or take on a large
project right before your scheduled time.
Bonus Tip: In order to do this, make sure the outcome of your tasks is connected to revenue generation or something else that moves the business forward.
5) Remove all temptations: Once you are focused on the project at hand, eliminate all distractions. Turn the phones over to someone else. Turn off your cell phone. Tell people that work for you that you must not be disturbed. Unless your building is on fire, everything else can wait for 60-90 minutes.
6) Eliminate real time distractions: While working on your computer, shut your email service down. Not addressing little signs popping up with 'You've Got Mail' is torture to some folks. I would even close my calendar book or software to prevent looking at the next days schedule and feeling like you need to prepare for the meeting you've arranged.
7) Outsource the stuff that keeps pulling you away- For start up business owners, this can be difficult money-wise. Ultimately, finding someone who plays at what you have to work hard to accomplish can be a very profitable move. Bonus Tip: Decide what revenue generating tasks you could spend more time accomplishing as a way to justify your first outside support person.
Focus is about eliminating all the distractions that cause you to deviate from your plan. It's also about not being clear about what you need to do and why you have to do it today. Addressing both of these areas will greatly improve your ability to concentrate and increase your productivity.
Being purposeful and productive is a behavioral condition that requires a successful business mindset. Start by doing this exercise once per week. Once
you get comfortable that you can devote time to the things you want to
accomplish and your business will be standing when you return, you will start
doing it more often.
There are, however, some work place environments that are prohibitively difficult to control. If your productivity and sense of priorities is consistently being undermined by distractions, problems and dependent employees, consider getting a business coach or a small business mentor to help you reshape your daily operation. In a short period of time, a business coach can perform a business assessment on your situation and immediately begin moving you in the right direction. Your ability to handle more with less stress will be liberating and the return on your investment can be monumental.
Truly successful business owners realize that it is the time you spend working 'on' your business that drives growth, profitability and personal reward not laboring away 'in' your business day and night.