A few months ago, I started working with a new client. She has been in business for several years and, like many others, is spinning many plates at the same time. She does it all; content creation, marketing, client work, admin, accounts, emails, social media….the list goes on. In short, she is the typical overwhelmed Solopreneur.
One of the first questions she asked me was: “On what should I be focusing to grow my business?”
My answer? Focus on focusing.
I imagine you are having exactly the same reaction right now as she did then! Blank expression? Starting to wonder if I had lost my mind? Surely, we need to focus on increasing supply, leveraging innovation, analysing the numbers or developing new commercial offerings. Of course all of these – and more – are important. But my answer remains the same:
Focus on focusing.
Here’s the thing: With all the distractions and demands we face every day, we seem to have lost the ability to focus on anything for any extended period of time. And because there is so much to do, we try to do several things at the same time (which almost always leads to a decrease in quality). Most of us find it near impossible to do focused work (deep thinking work) for more than a few minutes – before our minds wander or a notification rips our attention away. We have become accustomed to “spreading ourselves too thin”, instead of identifying when and where to allocate focused attention.
We need to re-learn how to focus – certainly, if we want to become more successful in business.
In a recent study, the aspect of “Focus” was found to be the most important aspect, when it comes to Solopreneur business success. Those respondents with a higher ability to focus were found to be more successful in business. In fact, the Top 5 most successful Solopreneurs scored 52% higher in questions relating to focus, than the Bottom 5 respondents. (See graph below) That is a massive difference. And clearly shows just how important focus is, when it comes to business success.
I bet your next question is: “So, how to I increase my focus?” Very good question! It all comes down to practice. Remember when you were younger and wanted to play sports or a musical instrument, you were probably told to practice, practice, practice. We get better at that which we practice. The more we do a thing, the better we get at it. And so it is with focus.
We practice distraction – and being distracted – all the time. No wonder we are so phenomenally good at it! We however don’t often (if ever) practice focus. We need to re-learn how to focus and practice it. That is the only way to increase focus and become more successful in the longer term.
There is a three-point plan I shared with my above-mentioned client – and which I have been using myself for years. This plan is designed to help you re-learn and practice focus.
Point 1: Practice Awareness
Start right now. Become aware of what you are doing right now (reading this article). Do only one thing at a time. So, when you are speaking to someone, keep your awareness on the person you are speaking to. When you are writing a blog, keep your awareness on writing the blog. Whatever you do, keep your awareness on that thing – and that thing only. When you find your awareness and focus drift, gently bring it back.
Point 2: Practice Pre-Commitment
Pre-commitment means that you’re going to decide ahead of time what task you’re going to work on – to the exclusion of everything else – and for how long you’re going to work on that task. Write your commitment down (on a piece of paper or post-it note). Then set a timer for the duration (which you have decided). For example, if you want to write a blog for the next 20 minutes, write it down. Then set a timer for 20 minutes and get going. Do only that task, nothing else – for the next 20 minutes. After the 20 minutes have elapsed, take a short break and then pre-commit to the next task.
Point 3: Start small
Your “focus muscle” is the same as every other muscle. You need to slowly start exercising it – don’t overdo it on day one! Think about it: if you want to grow and strengthen the muscles in your upper arms, you won’t go to the gym on the first day and try to lift the heaviest weights. You’ll start with lighter weights and gradually build up to heavier weights. Do the same with your “focus muscle”. Set a timer for a short time (maybe 5 minutes) and focus on a task. Then take a short break. Continue to focus for five minutes at a time until that becomes easier. Then increase the time to ten minutes, and so on.
No matter what you do in life – volunteering for a charity, running your own business or playing a sport – you will need to have focus if you want to become a better version of yourself. By re-learning how to focus and practicing it every day, we can do exactly that.