Why Entrepreneurs Are Constantly Distracted (and 6 Ways to Fight Back)
If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you find yourself struggling with distractions on a regular basis. Whether it's an email notification, a meeting or a new emergency to deal with, every distraction can potentially pull you away from whatever project you're working on. And that's not good because, according to Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, "Once thrown off track, it can take some 23 minutes for a worker to return to the original task.”
So, why are entrepreneurs so susceptible to distraction and what steps can they -- and you -- take to fight back against this vulnerability?
The susceptibility of entrepreneurs
Here are just a few of the reasons why entrepreneurs are more prone to distraction than other professionals:
The entrepreneurial mind. Entrepreneurs are innovators and thinkers by nature. They often specialize in multiple disciplines, and are forced to deal with problems in multiple departments at once. This style of thinking lends itself to multitasking and “shiny object syndrome,” the tendency to jump quickly from one focus to another.
Busy environments. Startups are notoriously busy. There’s a lot to do and not many people to do it, so entrepreneurs are forced to step in and juggle multiple responsibilities at once. Subordinates and partners may also need frequent assistance, with tasks like attendance at meetings or clarification on the plans they devise.
Tech tools. Entrepreneurs also frequently invest in high-tech tools to make them more efficient (and help them keep up with the competition), but those tools in and of themselves can also be distracting. For example, your smartphone ensures you’re always connected, but its constant notifications can pull you away from your most important responsibilities.
How to stay focused
So, what can you do to improve your focus? Here are six ideas:
1. Try focus apps. While technology can hinder your ability to stay focused, it can also enhance it if you know what to do. Try downloading focus-oriented apps that have the power to block out distractions for you. Some apps allow you to create schedules, so you can block access to certain apps or websites outside of certain parameters.
Others allow you to set timers and gain more visibility into how you’re spending your time. Either way, this technology can improve your focus and diligence.
2. Do one thing at a time. It’s tempting to work on multiple projects at the same time, especially when you have tight deadlines to work with, but it’s universally better to focus on one thing at a time. Jeff Bezos, for example, avoids multitasking at all costs, instead narrowing his focus to one problem or one task before moving on to the next one. This requires tremendous self-discipline in some cases, but once you’re used to the process, it becomes easier.
3. Disconnect periodically. Many modern distractions are rooted to the technology we use or to our proximity to other people. We get a phone call, an email, an instant message notification or even a knock on our door, and our focus is completely broken.
To remedy this, schedule specific hours during the day (or days during the week) when you can disconnect entirely and focus on your work. During this time, turn off notifications and let your staff know that you're unavailable; then, you can work heads-down as you see fit.
4. Know what your secondary priorities are. You’ll always have a long list of things to accomplish and tasks to complete, but you can’t make everything a top priority. Instead, spend time deciding what your secondary and less important priorities are.
Warren Buffett, for example, keeps a “not to do list” that keeps track of things worth pursuing that aren’t worthy at a specific time of his focus, his time or his budget. Staying organized this way can help remind you what’s most important and keep you from spending too much time on those secondary priorities.
5. Specialize instead of generalize. Also consider how you’re spending your time and optimize it so you spend more time doing what you do best. Elon Musk, for example, has stated that “At Tesla, we’ve never spent any money on advertising. We’ve put all our money into R&D, engineering, design and manufacturing to build the best car possible. When we consider spending money, we ask, 'Will this create a better product?' If not, we don’t proceed with spending the money.”
6. Consider hiring an assistant or delegating responsibilities. This way, you can focus on tasks that have the highest value and you aren’t distracted when doing them.