So you’ve taken the step to get started in the world of business and it’s likely your head and heart are an absolute explosion of mixed thoughts and emotions. So how do we reign in the whispers to ensure that procrastination doesn’t overrule focus? There are five actions that we take to squeeze the last drip of productivity out of our days, weeks and months.
1.Make a plan. Know what your end goal is. Your goal needs to follow some directives. It needs to be SMART. In this context, we’ll take that to mean that your end goal needs to be Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Results-oriented and Trackable.
I know there are a million different incarnations of ‘Smart’ but there are some of which that I have intentionally avoided. Sometimes you will see ‘Realistic’ make an appearance, but I don’t necessarily agree with it. Many will tell you that ‘being realistic is the most commonly travelled path to mediocrity’ or ‘if your dreams are realistic, you’re not trying hard enough’ and for what it’s worth, I think there is a very powerful truth therein. Realism often equates to limitation before you’ve even explored what’s possible.
You need to have an identified goal, that you can measure your progress towards, that you can identify immediate pathways to, that are based on results and that you can track against.
So what does this all mean? Well, in short, you need to be able to visualise an actual outcome. The outcome needs to be dissectible into manageable chunks. The chunks need to form a pathway to your success. When making your plan, observe the following loop.
Goal > Can I achieve this now > what do I need to achieve it.
Repeat this process and the Christmas tree forms. Your roadmap to your destination. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, plan for both. Focus on what CAN be done. Problems arise and success comes through dealing with issues proactively and positively.
Panic is a quick way to wasted, unproductive downtime!
2.Fill each day with intent. Just like step 1, the successful don’t meander through each day hoping for things to fall together. Plan each day in a way that funnels you towards your end goal. Some guiding considerations:
i. What will help me towards my ultimate goal today?
ii. What do I need to achieve and how will it bring me closer?
iii. What do I need to achieve these tasks?
iv. Can I complete this task or will it be partially complete?
v. Is anything blocking me from achieving this?
vi. What do I need to do to remove these blocks?
Personally, I conduct a vertical brainstorm or ‘Christmas tree’ first thing every morning to help make a checklist for the day. I reflect on it before bed, moving things to the next day, removing them altogether or putting them on hold.
Keep in mind your own performance which we’ll explore briefly next. Are you most functional in the morning? If so plan your difficult or creative tasks for then. Studies show that on average, we focus for approximately 5 hours a week. That’s only an hour a day of a standard working week, so you can see why it is utterly crucial to squeeze every last drip out of those hours.
3.Treat your mind like a muscle. You wouldn’t expect to be able to lift a heavy weight or twirl your pen with the proficiency of a Bond villain overnight and the same goes for sustaining your concentrations and finding a habit. Start small. Try and get your utmost focus on a task for 30 minutes at a time where nothing else crawls across your mind. Give yourself time, experiment with different tasks at different times of the day and discover when you are at your most efficient – then plan your difficult tasks for then.
4.Be wary of diversification. Diversification; just like multitasking, is good, but only at the right time. Not putting your eggs all in one basket is great, but while you’re finding your feet it is critical not to fall into the trap of spreading your eggs so far and wide that you can’t even make an omelette. It’s important in the early stages of your business to remain receptive to opportunity but to make sure that said opportunity doesn’t remove you too far from your overall plan. Whenever opportunity arises, stop, assess and reflect.
Whilst multitasking has some pretty clear benefits, it comes with some clear risks. The human mind actually gets pleasure from multitasking. How often does taking a break for a smoke turn into a twenty-minute diversion? How often does a phone call feel like sweet relief from that PowerPoint presentation? So what do we do? Try and save multitasking for the tasks that don’t need your undivided attention! Taking a smoke? Can you make a phone call or two at the same time? Do you need to write that email out whilst writing that proposal, or could you get away with putting your emails on silent mode and save them until you’re having a bit to eat? The time saved in restarting tasks alone can make the difference between an hour job turning into a 5-hour slog.
5.Chill out! This will strike many as a strange one but I can’t emphasise it enough. Factor in and force some down time. Let me explain what I mean. Now I’m not talking about a trip every fortnight to the Bahamas but let me put it this way. You want to get fit for a marathon so you run. You know that marathons are won through hard training and pushing limits so you run. Day and night until you can’t anymore. Then you get up the next day and you run. You run every day and notice that you start to get slower, things start to hurt and you wind up pulling a hamstring and missing the big day. This is true with your wellbeing and business success which are very much intertwined. If you work all of the hours sent to you, relentlessly, it won’t be too long before you’re filing your days with mistakes and lost productivity. Therefore, it’s crucial to keep a handle on your state of mind. Effective down time doesn’t have to be unproductive. It can be as simple as an hour spent filing instead of racking your brain. It can be reading a book which is conducive to your business or development, it can be a nice meal and a beer instead of a sandwich at your desk. There’s no hard and fast rule but well founded studies have shown that selective downtime can prolong your performance. Just like the race, your business success is not a sprint, it’s a marathon and you need to approach it with sustainable development.
A Zen like focus every day may not be attainable, but even a structured, half hour of ultra-deep focus daily can be astonishing.