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How to Stay Focused When You Feel Overwhelmed The secret is breaking down your tasks into five essential categories.

By James P. Friel

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Do you find yourself overwhelmed with all the tasks that you have to get done in a day? Do you sometimes struggle to stay focused or figure out what to do next? Time management and staying focused are difficult tasks for most entrepreneurs and business owners. When your to-do list is through the roof, it's hard to figure out where to dedicate your time and energy.

If you let yourself lose focus or work on tasks that you shouldn't be doing, you're not just wasting your time -- you're costing yourself money, because you haven't put your time to best use. If you are finding your focus straying and getting overwhelmed, you need to start implementing the Big Five, an easy tool to prioritize your tasks, figure out where you should be sinking your energy and get focused on what's really important.

Related: 3 Rules to Stay Productive and Not Overwhelmed

What Is the Big Five?

Most people take the approach of continuing to work on everything and hoping that they can make more time for what's important. Knowing your Big Five allows you to put first things first and then systematically offload or eliminate all of the other things you shouldn't be doing. If you spent 80 percent of your time on your Big Five, it would make a massive difference for your business.

Think about the five key areas that you absolutely have to do. These are the tasks that make up your company's backbone, that can't be delegated. Here's an example of a Big Five for a CEO or business owner:

1. Create content and be the face of the company.

2. Create new opportunities.

3. Create actionable plans for those opportunities.

4. Recruit, inspire and organize people.

5. Study numbers and monitor progress.

Your Big Five might look a little different, but it should include only things that are the highest and best use of your time.

Using Your Big Five to Stay Focused

Take a piece of paper and draw a horizontal line halfway down. Above the line, you're going to write down your Big Five. At first, you're going to have plenty of tasks you do that don't fall under that umbrella, from arranging meetings to ordering supplies. Write those down below the line. Once you have everything documented, look at the tasks below the line. Which ones don't fall under your personal strengths? Which ones make you groan just thinking about them? Which ones do you know you can pay someone else to do? Those are the ones you need to get off of your list to make time for your Big Five.

Don't hesitate to outsource or hire help. When you pay someone else to take care of the tasks on your list, don't think of it as paying for their time. Think of it as buying back your own. The more you can remove tasks that aren't in your Big Five, the easier it will be to stay focused. You won't be running around completing every task in your company. Instead, you'll have a much stronger sense of clarity and focus and will be able to maximize your strengths and contribution.

Related: How Leaders Can Deal With Getting Overwhelmed

There is one other that's really important to keep in mind: All of the things on your plate didn't land there overnight, and they won't be cleared off overnight either. Use your Big Five each day as a way to incrementally remove the things from your plate that shouldn't be there so you can focus on what should.

James P. Friel

Founder & CEO

Known by many as the King of Systems, and James specializes in helping entrepreneurs become successful CEOs. James says that breaking complex problems down into small actionable steps is his superpower.

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