How to stay calm and focused (even if you’re now frantic and scattered).

You’ve been there. I’ve been there. We’ve all been there.

Successful entrepreneurs know how to avoid overwhelm.You’ve got a zillion items on your Too Much To Do List, they’re all demanding your time and energy and attention, you’re trying to take care of as many as possible, and the hurrieder you go the behinder you get, but you try to speed up anyway because things have to get done, and now there are things that need fixing because you hurried through them, and that’s on top of the original tasks…

How’s that working for you?

So often even successful entrepreneurs can be their own worst enemies by trying to do it all—simultaneously.  Perhaps it’s due to a lack of focus or discipline, or an unwillingness to delegate, or some other cause entirely.  But I’m coming to believe that frantic, scattered, bouncing-billiard-ball behavior is primarily a habit that we’ve gotten into.  And that’s good news, because it means it’s a habit we can get out of.  Here are three keys to developing the new you—calm, focused, and productive.

  1. Clear the decks.  I know from painful, personal experience: If I have anything on my desk other than my current important project, I’m at great risk for getting pulled off-task.  “Oh, it’ll just take a minute to handle this, and then I can get rid of that sticky note.”  Forty minutes later, I surface from trivial tasks to find I’ve made zero progress on the task I identified as crucial for growing my business.

    I offer you a challenge: Experiment for one full week with removing from your desk everything that doesn’t relate directly to your A-1 priority task. If we’re talking hard copy items, move them to a bookshelf, a table, the floor—it doesn’t matter where you put them, as long as they’re out of sight.

    This deck-clearing is perhaps even more essential for online distractions. How many windows do you have open on your computer right now? How many of them directly apply to the important task at hand? How many of them are for social media sites that will sound a distracting little chime any time a message or update comes through?
    Remove potential distractions before they suck you into a black hole of non-productivity, aggravation, and failure.

  2. Be ruthless.  That’s what it takes to clear the decks and to avoid letting your mind wander from the task at hand.  If I find my focus wavering, I’ll typically tell myself, out loud, “No, stop that. Focus!”  I’m willing to do this because I know I can easily walk over to where I stashed my papers so I can pull up the one relating to my next priority item, and the sites I want to check out will still be online when I’m done with my task. I’m not losing anything by focusing on one task at a time, and I’m gaining a huge amount in terms of productivity and results.

    Since we’re talking about a (potentially) whole new way of working here, don’t be surprised if this feels awkward and frustrating at first. That’s okay; you will form this new success habit if you commit to it. Learning to brush your teeth was very awkward when you were a small child, and look how well that turned out for everyone.

  3. Watch the clock.  I’ve found a clock and/or timer to be incredibly helpful as a productivity aid.  Most people tend to overestimate the amount of time they spend on important tasks and underestimate the amount they spend on unimportant ones.  A clock or timer will make it much harder to unwittingly lie to yourself.

    If you find it a challenge to stay focused, especially as you begin a crucial activity, try setting your timer for just 15 minutes. Any time your attention begins to wander, you’ll have an easier time pulling it back to the task at hand because you know you’ve only committed to it for 15 minutes. If you’re like most people, you’ll have gotten a solid enough start by the end of that time that you’ll be inspired to keep working. Yay, you!

Calm and focus can be yours.What other strategies and tactics have you discovered for staying calm and focused?  (Please note: While “relax in Bali” sounds like a wonderful recommendation, I’m asking for something a little quicker and easier to implement.)  Share them here so the rest of us can use them to cut ourselves a break!

By the way, thanks to Uncle Ariel for the “overwhelmed” image and Sequoia Hughes for the “serenity” image. I found both in the Creative Commons section of Flickr.

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