Time thieves and the power of focus

Lately, we’ve been talking about things like making plans for the year, creating weekly schedules by putting the big rocks first and then taking action. (It’s almost like we have a theme going on or something.)

Today’s video is all about focus and the time thieves that conspire to keep us from reaching our goals. (Not into video? Scroll down for the text version.)

As entrepreneurs, we have goals for our businesses – often big ones!

We take our goals and turn them into plans. (Right? You do have a plan, yes? If not…you may want to attend this: Groundhog Day Planning Workshop. It’s delivered online – and it’s free! Go ahead and sign up, I’ll wait here.)

If you’re like me, those plans may be a tad ambitious. (Last year I made a plan for the first quarter of the year. I completed it in December!)

We march into the year with our shiny new plans…and then it happens.

The invasion of the time thieves

These come in different flavours. Here are a few of the obvious ones:

All those hours and minutes of your life that you’ll never get back. Thanks, Buzzfeed.

Shiny New Ideas

These are my personal nemesis.

Because a lot of my clients identify as “creative” – they often have the same problem. (There was a lot of “me too” chatter when I delivered this presentation live in my Marketing Action Club meeting.)

Every day, I come up with new ideas. New products I could create. New services to offer. New workshops and webinars. New ways to market.

I can go for a walk and come back with an entirely new business idea!

Opportunities

These come from other people.

Someone at a networking event gives you a suggestion. A colleague invites you to put on a workshop together. A client suggests that you offer a new service (that is completely different from what you offer now.)

Or you go online and get assaulted by offers for free webinars that are selling attractive new programs – promising to solve all your problems – but only if you register by midnight tonight.

And sometimes these opportunities come gift-wrapped. You win a “free consultation” or a “free course.”

(I wrote a whole post on this: distraction or opportunity?)

Squirrels

Then there are the plain old, garden variety of distraction. The squirrels.

Interesting articles to read or videos to watch. Heated Facebook debates to weigh in on.

If we knew the true cost of these time thieves – we’d realize that they are keeping us from our goals.

But most of us do this instead…

I can attend this “business opportunity presentation” – it will only be a couple of hours.

We tell ourselves this terrible lie: this won’t take much time

The article will only take a few minutes.

The free consultation will only an hour.

The collaboration will only take a few days. Not even days. Just a few hours here and there.

And it all adds up.

Our time gets nibbled away.

If you manage to avoid the obvious time thieves – you may be burgled by the not-so-obvious one

We try to do too much at the same time.

We might have five big projects on the go. We spend our days trying to “multi-task.”

There’s no such thing as “multi-tasking” – we can only do one thing that takes mindful mental energy at one time.

You lose time when you move from one task to another because you have to:

  • Mentally stash the old task to pick up later
  • Find the place where you left off in the new task (and maybe find the file or email or fire up a different program)
  • Start working on the new task and get back into the flow of it

I liken this to closing one program on the computer and opening another one. It can take a few seconds (or longer if your computer is getting older. Ahem.)

Think this is too insignificant to be meaningful? How many times have you checked your email today? Facebook?

You have limited fuel: how are you going to use it?

Where shall I spend this? I know! I’ll portion it out with an eyedropper to 700 different things.

Your business fuel is time, energy and money.

Imagine this fuel is a can of gasoline. And your projects are cars.

You can spend all day running between cars, putting in a few drops of fuel in one, then moving to the next car. And as you move from car to car, you spill some on the ground.

OR…you can put all the fuel into one car and get some momentum.

Then, when that car reaches its destination, you can put some attention on the next car.

If you’re inching several projects along, none of them will move very fast. Your projects will be snails instead of cars.

The key to making this work?

Think sequential instead of concurrent

Instead of working on everything all at one time – switching back and forth and proceeding at a snail’s pace – try doing one thing until completion. Then move onto the next.

When you focus your time and effort:

  • You’ll complete things faster (no more losing time to switching costs)
  • You’ll see progress (one project completed instead of 12 barely started)
  • Your work will be higher quality (because you’re fully focused on the task in front of you)

This works for big projects and for the things on our daily to do lists.

(Be careful with daily lists. Make sure the things you are doing are leading towards your larger goals. It can be easy to fall into the trap of prioritizing minutia. This is where the Big Rocks strategy really pays off.)

Learn to say no!

Your time management ally.

We are bombarded with so much information, so many possibilities, so many opportunities – the only way to maintain focus is to learn to say NO.

Or at least “not yet.”

I don’t like saying no to all my great ideas, so I opt for “not yet” and put them into a “parking lot” – a long long long list of possibilities I could chase  AFTER I complete the projects I’m currently committed to.

Summary

  • Beware of time thieves. An hour or two here and there is no big deal in isolation but it adds up over time. (Especially if you are in the habit of saying yes to everything!)
  • Multi-tasking wastes fuel. Focus and finish faster.
  • Think sequential instead of concurrent. Do things one after the other instead of trying to do them all at the same time.
  • Just say no. Or at least “not yet.”

As a solo business owner, your time and energy are limited. Make sure you’re using yours well.

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