How to Stay Focused as an Entrepreneur
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
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My previous boss, back in India, confused me a little. I often wondered if he had clones to his personality. How was he living so many lives at the same time? He was a founder of three companies. Yet, he would always have time for the slightest issue in any of his companies, anytime. No problem was ‘too small’ for him. He would never miss events where he was needed, he would always remember what he promised to us as employees and he definitely remembered what he delegated to us. Three years of working with him, not only taught me people skills but also taught me to value time and attention management. He taught me the art of being goal-oriented, taking quick decisions, being fearless and yet being empathetic to colleagues. One year down the line, I know what was his secret sauce. It was “focus”.
Most young entrepreneurs are struggling with focus in their daily lives. Living the life of millennials, we cannot even finish watching a three- minute video at a stretch as we lose patience. We check our phones in-between our meetings. We can’t listen to an entire panel in a conference. We do want to have our clones at different places, but do we have efficient and focused clones when we try to multitask? Here is what a few entrepreneurs have to say about how they stay focused on their daily lives and yet don’t ignore team culture:
How to Manage Your To-Do List
A to-do list is probably the most important tool to stay focused, but it is useless if you have all the irrelevant tasks filling it up. It is usually the first thing you see every morning. There is no one formula to have this list. Make it ugly or make it colourful and neat - this is your golden rule book for the day. Darja Gutnick, Co-founder and CEO , Bunch, a Berlin-based startup says, “I keep a task list and I reduce it to five core things I want to accomplish each day in the morning. I do the same for every week. I also tell myself constantly: Keep the eye on the prize, what is the most important thing today, that cannot slip?”
Susann Wiffler, Partner at Dr. Witzel & Partner, a legal and tax advisory business in Frankfurt adds, "There needs to be a balance between staying focused and not being inflexible. I always divide my time between big tasks and small tasks. I prioritize by looking for three to four most important tasks of the day. I am usually in line with 40 percent of the list and rest 60 percent is flexible as the day passes by. There are always unexpected opportunities or deadlines and I like to be flexible.”
How to Deal with Technology
If you ask me, technology is a trap. I struggle coping with it as a writer most of the time. Can't do with it, can't do without it. The key is to control technology rather than be in control of it. Ankur Warikoo, Founder, nearbuy.com says, “Personally, my biggest attention suck is my phone and my email. For my email - I have actively started pausing it - receive it only on defined times through the day. This brings in a lot of focus. For my mobile - for the past 2/3 years I have kept my phone always on silent and there are no notifications on my phone.”
However, Darja is connected to technology about 90% of the time. “I do turn around my phone though, when I need to focus, e.g. in a meeting or during an important task. After that I check it for burning red flags and then turn it around again to focus on the task. Repeat that about 50 times a day. I check emails about 3-5 times a day, not more often,” she says.
Ankur explains that the biggest thing for him- at a fundamental level - is that he has consciously trained his mind not to remember ANYTHING. No tasks to be remembered, no follow ups to be remembered, no birthdays. anniversaries, events to be remembered, no chores to be remembered. “Everything is on the calendar or through emails that I send myself, or from others that I mark to be boomeranged to me at a later stage. This frees my mind to think - and not remember,” he says.
Your Team’s Focus is Your Focus
There is no point of staying focused on just your own tasks as a founder. Your team’s performance is the key to your focus and company goals. So how does one practice attention management on own tasks and yet keep the team focused? Kirill Bigai, Founder, Preply, an online educational technology platform says, “As we scale, I have to ensure that the teams stay in sync and on track. Expectations are aligned ahead and I have allocated a day a week per team. Eg. Product on Mondays. Marketing on Tues, Wed is a day of execution and work, Thurs for Admin, Finance and HR and Friday for Customer Support and Tech. This has worked well for me and helps me refrain from jumping between tasks.”
It always works to include the team goals in your own goals, as Darja from Bunch does, “I ask myself everyday, how can I help my team most today? And then I put down five things, not more that I need to accomplish that day (keeping an eye on my weekly priorities and my monthly OKRs), then I execute until those are done, no matter what the time is. I don’t say no to team members that need help.” Her priorities are straight: customer > team > you.
Work-life Balance - Hell Yes, it’s Important!
Most entrepreneurs tell me that they love their work so much, that at times it is dangerous to not realise their long-working hours. In the long run, not having a life to detox outside of work will definitely be counterproductive. Meditation, healthy living, vacation and time with family/friends lead to more focus and productivity.
Darja from Bunch meditates with an app called ‘calm’ and has developed a routine for the weekends where she does not work on Saturdays and rather does something active, mostly by the water, SUP, surfing, windsurfing etc. On Sundays, she makes sure to spend time with her husband and then heads to prepare the week and do strategic work around 3 pm till 7 or 8 and rest for the rest of Sunday. “I also need to do sports two times a week. And I make sure I surf two times a year for minimum one week. If I don’t do this, I will be less productive, so I try to stick to it. When I am tired, I get my top five done and I then head to bed/rest. If I need to submit something on deadline that can lead to me sleeping at 9 pm but then getting up at 4/4.30 am and finishing it. Usually I get up at 6 am though.” Ankur too believes in waking up early and meditating, maintaining a journal, and writing everyday has helped him a lot in better focus.
A high-performing entrepreneur tries to keep a balance between individual goals, team efficiency, personal life and a healthy living. It might sound scattered at first glance but all these aspects are interconnected. The people in your life or company and your own health is as important as the next project you are bidding for!