Daphne Vandergrift Elizalde had been running her Newport Beach, Calif., art consulting business for 12 years when she decided to start a second company. For this lifelong multitasker, running two businesses didn't seem too daunting
But after she founded her customized chocolates business in 2010, juggling multiple tasks seemed more distracting than productive. Taking a phone call while also working on a packaging design, for example, meant she either focused too little on the conversation or had to go back and double check her work.
Elizalde finally decided to quit multitasking. When she began thinking of other unfinished tasks, she no longer tried to juggle multiple things, but instead jotted down whatever came to mind and returned to it later. “Cutting out that multitasking is very hard in the beginning,” she says, “but it makes a world of difference.”
As a small-business owner, you can spend entire workdays jumping from one task to the next. To help you cope, try these seven ways to regain your focus in as little as 60 seconds.
Related: 12 Tips for Time Management
1) Remind yourself why you’re in business.
You may lose focus if you fixate on negative thoughts about your work -- email is overwhelming; there's not enough time; no end is in sight. If you’re unfocused because of such distracting feelings, take a minute to redirect your mind by reminding yourself what made you get into business in the first place, says Ruth Klein, a Santa Monica, Calif., productivity coach who worked with Elizalde. You might think of three work-related things you’re grateful for or read a client testimonial to motivate you, she says.
2) List your top priorities.
Sometimes, you may have trouble focusing because it’s hard to decide what you ought to do first. In such instances, take a minute to write down your top priorities or tasks for the day, says Andrew Goliszek, author of 60 Second Stress Management: The Quickest Way to Relax and Ease Anxiety (New Horizon Press, 2004). “You can always look at that to do list, and it will get you back on track. It shows you concretely what you need to do.”
3) Synchronize your breath and body.
When you close your eyes for a minute and concentrate on the sound and feeling of your breath, you re-energize the body with oxygen, says Joel Levey, cofounder of Wisdom at Work, a Seattle-based productivity training consulting firm. Take a minute to coordinate your breath with a word or movement. For example, you can mentally say the word “here” with each inhale and “now” with each exhale, Levey says. You also can lift your arms overhead with each inhale and lower them with each exhale. When you match your breath with a word or movement, “you are synchronizing the frontal lobes of the brain that help you focus, the motor cortex that controls movement and the speech centers of the brain,” Levey says.
4) Drink a glass of water.
It may sound simple, but if you’re having difficulty staying on task, pause and drink eight ounces of water. While your impulse might be to grab a cup of coffee, too much caffeine can leave you frazzled. Try water instead. Not only will getting up to pour yourself a glass force you to change your thought process, it also will keep you hydrated, which makes you more alert, Klein says.
5) Download an awareness chime app for your smartphone.
Some smartphone apps can help you refocus by sounding an awareness chime at random times throughout the day, Levey says. Some examples include Insight Timer for $2 and ZenChimes, which is free. As an alternative, Levey suggests snapping your fingers as a mental trigger. “Just to have those little auditory pings throughout the day will remind you to get into focus,” he says.
6) Clear your desk -- and mind.
When your desk is cluttered, your mind can be cluttered, too. If you’re feeling unfocused, take a look around your workspace to see if papers are piled up everywhere. If so, Klein suggests placing everything on your desk in a box and putting it out of sight. "When we see a lot of papers and things piled up, we immediately go into anxiety,” she says. "If it's out of sight, it's out of mind." At the end of the day, spend half an hour organizing what’s in your box so you know what your next priority will be.
7) Place a distinctive object on your desk.
While it's important to keep your workspace free of distracting clutter, it can be useful to place an object on your desk that triggers you to refocus, Levey says. It could be something as simple as a flower, a candle or even a can of beans. By associating the object with the need to stay on task, you will be reminded to get back to work each time you look at it.