Spent my morning at the gym doing cardio. As I was on an elliptical machine, minding my own business, I heard a voice next to me, even though I had headphones on.
Have you ever met a grown woman who talks like a little girl? It was one of those kind of voices, the kind that strippers and sorority girls often have, where everything is really high-pitched and sounds like a question.
“I’m at the gym? Just getting my exercise in? Last night was so great?”
Lady on a mobile phone. Not a sorority girl — just a woman who sounded like one and couldn’t keep focused on what she was doing (riding an exercise bike) long enough to resist dialing a friend and annoying everybody around her with a one-sided conversation we had no interest in.
A Common Problem for Entrepreneurs
We all face similar dilemmas on a daily basis. Should we do what needs to be done or give in to distraction?
You can’t do both. The highest and best use of your time is never the path of least resistance.
So how can you remain focused on what needs to be done? And how do you build focus in the first place?
How to Build Focus – A 4-Step Process
Step 1 – The Foundation
If you’re going to build anything, you must have a good foundation on which to build upon. In this case, “foundation” means having meaningful work. It doesn’t have to necessarily be exciting all the time, but you should have a sense that you’re doing something with a higher purpose.
I’ll give you a personal example…
I’m not a born writer. It took me two years to write and publish my last book. The only reason I got the initial outline done at all was because I was stuck in an airport for 24 hours during a snow storm and couldn’t go anywhere.
During the writing process, because it’s so exhausting for me, I have to take naps.
Writing posts on this blog affects me in a similar way. In fact, writing here is often so tiring that I wonder how I’m going to maintain just a couple posts per week when I start actively working on my new book project.
The good news is the reason why I’m here, the foundation, is solid. I started this blog with a very specific (and passionate) purpose of taking what I’ve leaned about building careers for musicians and I want to share what works with other creative entrepreneurs, such as authors, writers, and speakers. And knowing this makes it easier for me to push through when the work gets tiring.
Do you know why you do what you do? If it’s not obvious, it may be time to look for something else that is more meaningful to you.
Step 2 – The Environment
I know it’s hip to say Starbucks is your “office” or work out of shared workspaces, such as coworking setups, but these environments are full of distraction, which can keep you from doing your needed work.
Environment sets the mood for everything done within it. Can you do your best work with screaming kids and awkward Match.com first dates at the tables next to you?
There is no reason to find a way to work within “noise” when you can simply turn it off. Find a quiet place where nobody will disturb you, such as a library, and do your work there.
Step 3 – The List
Work from a list. Take everything you need to do on your current project and write on paper. This way, when you finish the task you’re working on, you don’t have to think about what to do next.
If you’re tech savvy, you may want to look at a computerized list. I like an app called Things, which lets me access a single to-do list from both my desktop and my phone. If I think of something that needs to be done when I’m out, I simply type it in my phone and it will be on my desktop when I go back to work.
When working from a list, not only will you not have to think about what to do next, you’ll also benefit from being able to see a “big picture” overview of what needs to be done. This by itself will help you keep on task.
Step 4 – The Timer
I like to work using the Pomodoro Technique. I set a timer for 25 minutes and work from my list until the timer runs out. I then take a five-minute break. When the break is up, I start the process again.
If you’re looking to build focus, this is the step in the process where it will happen. Once you have meaningful work, a quality environment, and a list of what needs to be done set up, you simply work using a timer that is set to a time you’re comfortable with. Being consistent in working this way will increase your focusing power and you’ll then be able to more comfortably increase the duration of your timer.
Some people, perhaps the woman I mentioned at the beginning of this post, have a very hard time focusing on a single task. If you’re one of these people, starting a timer on 25 minutes may seem impossible. You may have to start your timer at five minutes.
Do what you can and be consistent with trying to improve. In time, your mind will submit and focus will come easier.
ABOUT THIS SERIES: Every Friday, I give tips on how to build the foundation needed to have a successful business and platform. See other posts in this series here and, if you have a request for me to cover something specific, let me know via Twitter.