Proven strategies for staying focused and prioritizing the tasks that matter
Running a small business has always been demanding. Today’s fast-paced world makes it even tougher, as there are so many distractions. Thankfully, there’s a lot you can do to get the most out of your working day, from taking care of your health to using modern apps and software that can help stay focused. Best of all, most of them won’t cost you a penny.
Take care of your health
All the productivity apps in the world won’t help if your brain isn’t functioning at its best. That’s why gaining focus starts with staying healthy. Here are a few health factors to consider if you find your focus drifting constantly.
1. Get enough good sleep
Working age adults need an average 8 hours of sleep a night, yet many of us fall short. While the occasional late night won’t affect you much, losing out on sleep regularly will leave you groggy, irritable, and unable to concentrate on your work.
Make sure to get enough good sleep by avoiding caffeine after lunchtime and switching off electronic screens at least an hour before bed. Do something relaxing instead, like reading a book or taking a bath.
2. Eat concentration-boosting foods
To stay focused throughout the day, eat foods that keep your brain in tip-top condition and avoid those that drain your energy. Skip carb-heavy foods like chocolate, bread and pasta, which give you a short-term boost followed by a crash that will leave you feeling sluggish. Fill up instead on oily foods like fish, avocados, nuts and seeds, and vitamin-dense foods like broccoli, kale, blueberries and oranges.
3. Drink caffeine in moderation
If you find it hard to get going in the morning, a cup of coffee can be a great way to kickstart your day, but too much coffee can overwhelm your system and prevent you from sleeping well at night. Matcha tea has become a popular alternative to coffee as it provides a gentler caffeine buzz without the crash that usually follows a strong cup of joe.
Optimize your work environment
Your working environment is every bit as important as your health when it comes to focus and productivity. By creating and maintaining a clutter-free area, you literally give yourself space to think.
Consider doing these things to improve productivity:
1. Get some privacy
Co-workers can be great for creativity, but sometimes you just need to get down to work, undisturbed. If you have a private office, shut the door. If you don’t, signal to others that you don’t want to be bothered.
2. Turn off electronic distractions
Turn off any notifications that can interfere with work. Consider setting your phone to flight mode to stop it pinging and ringing, and put the phone away to avoid the temptation to turn it back on. Collaboration apps like Monday, Asana and Slack have ‘Do not disturb’ settings. Use them!
3. Get up and move around
No matter how much you focus on improving performance, sooner or later you’ll hit a productivity wall. At these times, getting up to refill a water bottle or to pick up documents from the printer gets the blood circulating again and gives you a moment to reset.
How to successfully prioritize your time
Creating the perfect environment to concentrate on work is only half the battle. Making wise decisions about prioritizing your energy is just as important. To-do lists and scheduling tasks in a calendar can help you plan your time. There are also a number of popular prioritization methods that busy entrepreneurs use to make the most of their time.
There is no one-size-fits-all prioritization method that works for everyone. Try a few out and use the one that works best for you.
Pomodoro: The pomodoro method works on the principle that taking short, regular breaks helps overall productivity. Using a timer, work for 25 minutes then take a five minute break. Repeat this cycle four times, then take a half hour break. Then start again.
Eat the Frog: As Mark Twain once famously said: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.” The idea here is to get all the stuff you need to do most out of the way first, and then move on to the less important tasks.
Pareto Principle: If you’re not a morning person, the Pareto Principle might be a better fit for you. Based on the principle that 80% of the work takes 20% of the time, it involves getting all the small jobs (the ‘80%’) out of the way first, leaving 80% of your time for the most important 20% of tasks.
Time Blocking or Chunking: Contrary to popular belief, multitasking doesn’t help you get your work done faster. Instead, each task distracts from the others, slowing you down overall. Time blocking or chunking does the opposite: it involves setting aside blocks of time for similar tasks, then moving on to the next set. For example, you might answer all your emails, then make all your phone calls, then write all your reports, rather than mixing these tasks in together.
Eisenhower Decision Matrix: For this method, organize your to-do list into four quadrants:
- Important and Urgent – do these tasks now
- Important – plan for these tasks
- Urgent – delegate these tasks (if possible)
- Not important and not urgent – delete or bin these tasks
There’s no such thing as ‘perfectly productive’
Ultimately, staying focused and prioritizing comes down to creating the right conditions for a productive work environment and learning how to use your time wisely. Do that, and you can see your productivity increase dramatically. However, be kind to yourself on your business journey. No one is perfectly productive all the time!
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