A few months ago I was sitting at my desk, clacking away on my Mac. This particular morning wasn’t too different from any other morning, I suppose. I was working on writing an article, hopping around the Internet making my usual stops on my favorite industry blogs and online magazines…
Really busy? Really unproductive. How learning to FOCUS can help.
It was only 9:04am, but man, it was shaping up to be a busy day!
It wasn’t until I had opened my fifth Word doc, realized that I had three separate Internet windows open, and exactly zero items checked off my Workflowy list as having been “accomplished” that I realized something.
I was really busy, but all that really meant was that I was being really unproductive.
Really busy, really unproductive
Tim Ferriss writes in his masterpiece The 4-Hour Work Week, “Focus on being productive instead of busy.” And it was on this day I would finally come to understand what he meant by that.
I think back to when I was working at the advertising and marketing agency – how easy it was to “get stuff done”. I would go into the office, look at my list, take on one task, complete it, check it off the list, and then move to next.
I would go home at the end of an 11-hour day feeling like I had been really productive.
I’ve come to realize after working on my own that there was one major reason why I was able to go home from my job feeling like I had gotten a lot of stuff done: someone else was telling me what to do. Someone else was giving me my “to-do” list.
It wasn’t this open abyss of me, myself and I being my only accountability partner. It wasn’t me creating goals. It wasn’t me determining what projects were going to be due by this date, and which would be due by that date.
When you’re just starting out with your business there is a lot of knowledge out there, a lot to learn, and a lot of distractions, and in case no one has ever told you this before, it’s hard to determine what to work on – and when to work on it – when you’re the boss.
FOCUS: Follow One Course Until Success
When you’re an entrepreneur, it’s on you, and you alone, to figure out what you need to do – and how long you’re going to give yourself to do it – in order to be most productive.
This is different for everyone, so there isn’t an exact formula to follow, and it’s no longer as black and white as saying you start at 9am and you have until 5pm to get x, y, z (a list of tasks dictated by someone else) done.
Before you find your sweet spot for productivity – because it definitely takes time – you’ll find yourself feeling very busy, and at the same time, very unproductive.
So what should you do when you fall into that abyss of “busy unproductiveness”?
Learn to FOCUS.
There WILL be days filled with frustration, especially in the beginning. If you’re like me, and you’ve grown accustom to a working environment where someone else is telling you what to do, then you might find that going at it alone is difficult.
Luckily, there are ways we can teach ourselves to focus, and to be blunt, learning this is not an optional thing.
If you’re not able to focus, then a lack of progress (and productivity) will crush your business before it even gets off the ground.
A Productivity Strategy
There’s one strategy I want to share here that will help you set yourself up for maximum productivity, and it starts with setting aside just one hour per week.
Sounds pretty reasonable, right? Here’s how:
First: Choose a day
Choose a single day of the week that works best for you to set aside 1 hour to implement this strategy.
Okay, do you have your day and your 1 hour time block scheduled? Seriously, actually write it on your calendar (schedule it to make it real!)
Second: Follow these 5 steps…
1. Write down your goals for the week
This doesn’t have to be an exhaustive list of every single thing you’re going to do at specific times each individual day. It might be that your goals for the week look something like this:
- Read five articles;
- Write one blog post;
- Learn more about one new system or piece of software I’m not currently using, but that has been recommended;
- Meet with two potential clients or industry leaders; and
- Request a guest post on another blog.
Don’t just think about your goals – write them down.
This is a good habit to get into because it’s one way to hold yourself accountable for the goals you want to accomplish.
2. Set a time
After you’ve written down your goals for the week, figure out when the best time to accomplish these things will be for YOU.
To start, pull out a calendar and block off any times when you have appointments, calls, meetings or other commitments.
Then, start by using blocks of time as your “productive periods”. For example, you might have an appointment on Tuesday afternoon at 1pm, so perhaps from 9am – 11am you can “block” time to start writing your blog post.
Once you have a better idea of how much time you need to complete a task, you can start to become more precise in blocking off productive periods for yourself depending on the task at hand.
The important thing for you to do during these productive periods is to remove any distractions and focus.
Only work on the ONE thing at a time. Don’t get in the habit of being everywhere on your computer – be in one place. That place might be Google Chrome if you’re reading articles, or it might be Microsoft Word if you’re writing, but don’t let it be both places.
Challenge yourself to FOCUS.
3. Set Boundaries
Burning out is easy to do if you’re not careful. Don’t expect that because you’re starting a business you have to work 24/7.
Just the same way you block off time to be productive, be sure to also block off a couple of 15 – 30 minutes slots throughout the day to step away from your computer, to go for a walk, to workout, to chat with a friend or to just laugh!
4. Revisit your goals
It helps me feel productive when I can physically check things off my list – do you feel this way, too?
If so, then make it a point to revisit your list of goals and update them every day. You can either mark them a certain percent of the way done, or check it off your list completely! This is also a great way to hold yourself accountable. The more you can remind yourself of the goals you’ve set, the more likely you are to stick to them.
Another helpful way to help hold yourself accountable is to join a small mastermind group. It might be just you and 1 other person, or it might be you and 3 or 4 others. If you have someone you can check in with daily, weekly or even bi-weekly, that accountability is HUGE when it comes to meeting your goals.
If you’re not sure where to start, then try joining a few online communities in your industry or niche. Once you start to engage in these groups, you’ll find other like-minded entrepreneurs with similar goals who may also be looking to pair up with a mastermind or accountability group.
Don’t forget this step! It’s important to understand that this strategy is not a one-time thing, rather something you get in the habit of doing every single week.
If you get to a point where you feel like you’ve mastered this stuff, awesome! Then I challenge you to start doing it daily.
Test it out
Once you’ve gotten the hang of this productivity strategy you can start testing out some different scenarios. Everyone works differently, so you should definitely tweak and test this based on what works best for you.
For example, maybe you’re better at concentrating in the morning, and so setting aside a block of time before noon is more effective.
Or perhaps you find that you get more done in the evening. Great! Schedule that block of time at night.
You might also try blocking off entire days for projects, or even “theming” your days, which is one of my favorite things to do. I find that when I set aside Monday’s as my podcast day, Tuesday’s as my writing day, Wednesday’s as my Webinar day, Thursday’s as my community day, Friday’s as my catch up day, and weekends as my “flex” days, my weeks run as smooth as can be!
I’ve been way more productive since I started theming my days because I never wake up and have to ask myself “What should I work on today?”
For the pros
Once you’re a pro at being productive and know exactly what your schedule will look like on any given day, then FOCUS will take on a whole new meaning for you.
Instead of blocking off time to be productive in 2-hour increments, you might sit down and say to yourself, “I’m not going to move on to my next task until I have this one finished.”
It’s an amazing skill to have, and I know that if you can learn to Follow One Course Until Success by giving yourself productive periods, then you, too will soon be one of the pros.
Being busy is really easy. Anyone can open tons of Word documents and surf the web reading articles and messing around on social media. But not everyone can be productive.
Choose to be the one who is.