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4 Quick Ways to Help You Stay Focused Making endless to-do lists can be counterproductive. Try sitting down with a pen and paper to do one of these writing exercises to help you refocus on what's most important to you and your business.

By Jason Womack Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Have you written yet another to-do list, hoping it would make you more productive? I can imagine you from here: rewriting projects that have been hanging on -- even forwarding an email to yourself to kick it back to the top of your inbox. This isn't productivity. It is a waste of time and, worse, a waste of focus.

Let me show you how you can regain control effectively. Each of the activities below is designed to get you focused on success and give you a shortcut to a more productive day. Pick any one of these prompts, grab your favorite pen and a notebook, and watch your day get better:

1. Make a list of your best customers. Remember learning about the Pareto Principle in high school economics? If you need a refresher, it's also known as the 80-20 rule -- the idea that 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your resources. That means 80 percent of your profits come from 20 percent of your customers and 80 percent of your sales come from 20 percent of your products.

What does this have to do with writing exercises? Make a list of all the customers you've done business with recently. Get this list to 50 or even 100 names. Then identify the top 10 to 20 customers who bring you repeat business, refer you to others and are most enjoyable to work with. Over the next month, find several ways to cultivate deeper relationships and referral partnerships with them.

Next to each customer name, write a list of three to five things you could do within four weeks to capitalize on that relationship. For example:

  • Invite them to a special event.
  • Subscribe them to one of your favorite magazines as a gift.
  • Call to thank them for being a customer.

2. Write a letter to a vendor. We live in an acknowledgment-starved society. When was the last time you wrote to someone new to your network? I don't mean an email or an invitation to join you in one of your social media communities. I mean an actual letter.

I have a daily routine: Each day I write one handwritten thank you card to someone I have met, worked with or received help from that week. I don't expect anything in return (no, I don't include a business card in the envelope). I simply want to let them know I appreciate them. Try this over the next month and see what happens.

With this tip, I'm going at a deeper meaning of what it means to me to "be productive." I know my efforts today may not result in immediate new business. By doing this kind of writing, I give those people another touch point. When I visit clients I have advised over the past decade, I have literally seen my cards on their walls or desks. I can't help thinking:
"On their desk, on their mind."

3. Create an inventory of what's not working. It's time to be honest with yourself, your team, your funders and your customers. Ask yourself: "What is getting in my way of being as effective as I can be?" Write down the answers so you see them in black and white.

Once you have this list, you can reach out to a mentor or business coach and schedule time for a conversation. By objectifying and then discussing these kinds of topics with someone you look to for support, you open yourself up to learning something new.

4. Write a first draft of an ideal day. I have written about many "ideal days:" days at work, days on vacation, days visiting friends, days racing a triathlon. Set a timer and for 15 minutes, write about a day in the future you could imagine going exceptionally well. What does it look, sound and feel like? Who is there? What are they doing? Are you wearing a special outfit?

The purpose of writing this in detail is to get your mind working toward outcomes that may seem fantastic now, but which will come true in the near to long-term future. The energy you create in writing these things down may just carry you into a more productive day.

Jason Womack


Jason W. Womack is founder of the Womack Co., a productivity-training firm based in Ojai, Calif. He also founded to coach a global community of entrepreneurs in skills to thrive in business. Womack is the author of Your Best Just Got Better: Work Smarter, Think Bigger, Make More (Wiley, 2012).


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