Are distractions strangling your business?

 

Distractions can strangle your business.I’m one of perhaps seven people in the United States who actually likes the ground cover known as Creeping Charlie. The rest of the country views it as a noxious invader that will strangle the grass they’re so proud of and completely take over the yard if they don’t take decisive action against it.

What’s the Creeping Charlie in your business?

For most entrepreneurs, staying focused in the face of distractions is an ongoing challenge – and not surprisingly. Just think of all the things that may clamor for your attention during any given moment of the day:

 

Distractions sabotage success.

 

So how do you maintain your focus in the face of all those seductive distractions trying to lure you into the dreaded Black Hole of Unproductive Flailing? Here are strategies that can help.

Ask yourself The Question.

I learned this several years ago from Fabienne Fredricksen, and it remains powerful. “Is what I’m doing right now moving me measurably closer to my goals?”

Sometimes you’ll be able to readily answer this question in the affirmative. “I’m setting up a get-acquainted call with an ideal prospect. I have an 80% close ratio, so it’s likely this activity will move me measurably closer to my goal of grossing $X this year.” Your answer to The Question in this case is a big fat “yes”.

Other times, the answer may be less clear. “I’m writing an article I’ll post on my blog and, with appropriate tweaks, publish on LinkedIn. The goal is to establish myself as a thought leader and subject-matter expert, then use this credibility as a tool in closing more business.” Your answer to the first part of this activity may be, “Yes, based on past history, this will garner me X number of views and re-posts, which will increase my standing as a thought leader and SME.” Your answer to the second part of the statement will need to wait until you establish in your get-acquainted calls that your postings contributed to the prospect’s decision to reach out to you.

Go in with a plan.

Yes, yes, yes – you’ve heard it so many times before that it’s become a cliché: “♬ If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail! ♬ “ But remember that a saying typically morphs into a cliché because it holds true over the long term.

I’m not saying you have to obsessively stick to your To Do list, because flexibility – applied appropriately – is a powerful entrepreneurial tool. I am saying you get to be disciplined and focused enough to acknowledge that your To Do list contains items you have strategically decided need doing, for the long-term good of your business. Strategically chosen action items trump interesting distractions every time – at least if you hope to remain in business.

Remember that even useful activities can be distractions at the wrong time.

Distractions don’t always come in the form of a funny video someone emails you, or a plea from your adorable puppy for some play time. The really insidious distractions are those which truly have value for your business – but not right at this moment.

Let’s say you’ve committed to providing a high-value blog post every week without fail. You’ve chosen this week’s topic and have set aside time to write. You’re at your laptop, ready to start, when for some reason a thought pops into your mind: “Rats! That meeting of my professional association is later this week; I’d better get registered.”

Say hello to the rabbit hole.

Because if you step away from your blog post, there’s no telling where you may end up – or for how long.  You go to register and you can’t remember your password, so you go to look it up in the file where you stash your passwords, but you can’t interpret your own secret code, so you try a bunch of options back on the registration page, and you finally get in, and you notice a useful link to the speaker’s website, so you go there and get caught up reading one of her posts, and you comment on it, then you follow a link to a self-assessment tool mentioned in someone else’s comment, and you sign up for that….

Not that I’ve ever done anything like this, but if I had I’m sure I would have found it massively frustrating to realize hours had passed and the blog post was not even begun – far less published.

Resist the temptation to do the easy before you do the important.

Yes, it may be satisfying to delete all the junk emails caught by your spam filter, or to stop and shovel off the top of your bookcase, but while you’re doing that, what potential money-making activities AREN’T you doing?

Taking “just a minute” to do those fun little tasks can carry a huge opportunity cost. You not only break your concentration; you waste time getting back on track when you finally pull yourself back from what distracted you.

Distractions can be endless.Even worse, distractions are like a plate of spaghetti: It’s hard to take just a little nibble, because one thing is tangled up in another and another and another….Anyone who has emerged, dazed and glassy-eyed, from a Facebook marathon knows how easy it is to lose large chunks of time by checking out “just one more link.”

Decide how to decide.

This is Step 2 of the 5-step Take Action Now System™ , which I developed to keep myself from going crazy and which I now use with clients who would also like to experience what sanity feels like.

If you don’t take time to clearly establish decision-making criteria for your business, you’ll always struggle with trying to figure out what deserves your time and attention and what is simply a distraction.

But if you are clear on the activities which address your strategic goals, you’ll have a much easier time saying “yes” to what moves you forward and “no” to what gets you off track from those goals.

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Which distractions are most problematic for you? What have you found to be most useful in resisting their siren call?

Or are you at a point where your struggles to figure out what you should be working mean you can’t distinguish distractions from important projects? If that’s the case, maybe I can help.

I specialize in showing entrepreneurs who are up to their adenoids in choices how to decide what makes sense to do now/later/never. This typically lowers their blood pressure and raises their productivity, since they move from feeling overwhelmed to feeling confident and in control of their day.

Like I said, I may be able to help you; on the other hand, I may not. We can’t know one way or the other unless and until we explore the possibility that we’d be a good fit for each other.

There’s an easy, efficient, risk-free way to do that: a get-acquainted call. In just 30 or 40 minutes, we’ll be able to ask each other some questions and get a good sense of whether we’d make a great butt-kicking team or not. Whatever the conclusion is, we’ll both feel good about it.

If that sounds worth exploring, you can set up that conversation by calling me at 319-270-1214 or emailing me with “I’m feeling strangled” in the subject line. We’ll have a talk and see what shakes out.

(Thank you to Jason Sturner for his image of Creeping Charlie and David Pursehouse for the plate of spaghetti. I found both in the Creative Commons section of Flickr.)

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8 Responses to Are distractions strangling your business?

  1. laura says:

    “Remember that even useful activities can be distractions at the wrong time”. Oh, I used to NOT see this one but it is so true and something I must re-examine right now. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

    • Kathleen Mavity Kathleen says:

      My pleasure, Laura. I think that one of the things it’s hardest for me to accept is that sometimes it really is appropriate to say “no” to something good in order to have the resources to say “yes” to something better. Fortunately, there will never be a lack of opportunities for both of us to learn this!

  2. Sarah says:

    This is excellent, Kathleen! Ah, the Rabbit Hole. I’ve ended up deep into it more times than I care to admit. One thing that has helped me is to recognize my own patterns of energy. I’m so much better in the morning, while the afternoons are difficult for me to focus on big, important projects. So, I know that focusing on the important things first thing in the morning is not only good for my productivity, it’s necessary if I want them to get done.

    • Kathleen Mavity Kathleen says:

      Thanks, Sarah.

      Awareness of what doesn’t work is always the essential first step to creating better results, so woohoo for you in figuring out your most productive work time. I can appreciate your early-morning focus, even if I can’t relate to it at all (I’m not really even in my body until about 9 a.m.).

  3. Lilia Lee says:

    Wonderful reminders on how to keep focus on what is it right now. I like the idea of deciding ahead of time on how to decide. This is an important one, simply because by not having a way to discern, one winds up blowing like a weather vane.

    • Kathleen Mavity Kathleen says:

      Yup, “decide how to decide” has been a major sanity saver for me, Lilia. It makes it easier to say “no” so I have the space and energy and resources to say “yes” to something better.

  4. When I follow my task list all is well… easier said than done on some days. I also find that limiting my time – and AVOIDING the rabbit holes early in the day – are winning approaches for me. I feel like the mid-afternoon is a better time for me to ‘surf’ and doesn’t take me off my game too much because if I follow my list in the a.m., I’ve usually accomplished a lot – and it serves as a welcome break! Learning my own daily rhythms and being open to how I feel in the flow of the day is really helpful, too.

    • Kathleen Mavity Kathleen says:

      I’m so with you on the “easier said than done” comment, Cena!

      One factor that has a HUGE impact on my productivity is not just having a task list, but having it sitting on my desk when I walk in first thing in the morning. I am definitely not a morning person, and if I wait until today to create my task list for today, I’m already starting out behind. Instead, knowing what’s on today’s schedule before I even sit down at my desk boosts my confidence, gives my brain a chance to start working without straining itself, and makes for a far more productive – and less distracted – day.

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