As an entrepreneur, you are often filling multiple roles in your business. At times, you act as the CEO, marketing specialist, customer service, and Human Relations (HR) among many others. With a constant stream of emails, employees, clients, phone calls, and social media, it can be nearly impossible to stay focused on the task at hand. Our brains are susceptible to distractions, so with all the outside noise and motion, we find it hard to focus in today’s digital age.
Our need to constantly shift from small task to small task means things are slipping through the cracks. Even if you feel like you are getting a lot done, there is a cognitive cost and you probably aren’t getting as much done as you think. A study by the University of London showed that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to someone who had just smoked marijuana or hadn’t slept all night. Additionally, the toll of multitasking hits men particularly hard. According to the same study, men who multitask can experience a 15 point drop in their IQ level, making them the cognitive equivalent of an 8-year-old.
It’s clearly time to stop rocketing from one distraction to the next and get focused so you can finally get some work done. However, this is not going to be easy, and it requires you to adjust your daily habits. We’ve found the five best tips to help give you back your concentration and productivity.
Unfortunately, we have trained our brains to be distracted. Now, you must retrain your brain, like a muscle, to fully concentrate again. Start small and block off just five minutes per day to focus on just one task and one task only.
Once you have built up 15-20 minutes of concentrated time, try the Pomodoro technique. First, create a list of all essential tasks and then start the timer. This timer uses work intervals broken up into 25 minutes, followed by a five-minute break. After four work intervals, take a longer break, about 15-30 minutes. This helps you manage your distractions, because you are only allowed to stop working on the task at hand when the timer goes off. The Pomodoro technique also helps increase your accountability, because you are keeping a list of your completed tasks and tasks that are still left.
Rethink your schedule
Typically when we begin our day, we start with the easiest, mindless tasks and then slowly work our way up to the toughest, most time-consuming tasks. However, this actually tires our brain out because every decision we make takes cognitive energy and focus. After an hour of doing mindless tasks, we actually have less capacity to concentrate.
To make the most of your brain energy, reverse the order of your day. The night before, create a list of all your tasks for the day and rank them in order of importance. Start with the tasks that take the most creative energy or focus first thing in the morning, and then switch to the easier, more mindless work (like catching up on emails or social media) later in the day.
Eliminate distracting websites
If you are unable to cut the cord completely from distracting websites such as Facebook, Instagram, or ESPN, try to at least limit your use of them. There are plug-ins available that allow you to disable sites that you know are going to distract you. This way, you can still browse the Internet if you need to for work, but aren’t tempted to take a quick peek at your favorite team’s scores or your best friend’s latest post on Instagram. You can choose to block certain sites for the entire day or a shorter amount of time. If you are a chrome user, StayFocused is a free add-on and lets you block any website for any amount of time. Leechblock provides a similar free service for Firefox users.
If you have a secondary device available to you, you can take this tip a step further. Use your primary computer for all your work needs and use a different device only for surfing the web. For example, if you have an iPad or tablet available to you, try to make that your dedicated browsing device. By creating this distinction between work and fun, your brain will have to make a mental jump from one device to the other. This will make it more difficult to procrastinate.
Declutter Physically and Digitally
Studies show that clutter draws your attention away from what you can focus on and bombards you with excess stimuli, making your brain work unnecessarily hard. Having piles of old paperwork or knick-knacks can frustrate you and make you more anxious, and nothing is harder than trying to work while frustrated.
Clutter is not only physical, it can be digital too. Your phone and computer are filled with files, documents, and photos that you do not need and only weigh you down when you are searching for the one you do need. Take time every day to delete unnecessary files and old emails. This small task will keep even your digitally workspace clean and clear.
Take a look at your workspace and see how many things are piled up on the desk. If you don’t use it, don’t want it or need it, then get rid of it. Try and find everything on your desk a designated spot, preferably out of sight. A clear desk can help you clear your mind, meaning you don’t have to waste cognitive energy on wading through the clutter. Make it a habit of cleaning your workspace before you go home every day, helping to jumpstart your mornings.
It’s been drilled into our brains to work hard from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day with only a one-hour lunch break in order to have our maximum output. While this might seem effective, it actually hampers productivity. Fitting in small breaks, starting with short focused periods, and prioritizing your schedule can help you add hours of productivity to your schedule every week and beat the distractors.