Focus might as well be the currency of the twenty-first century. It’s hard to get, hard to keep, and yet it makes you a more creative and more productive individual. For me, a day without focus is a day lost. On the other hand, when I’m on a focus high, I feel like I can accomplish ten times more than on any one of those blah! days.
I’m an entrepreneur and startup CEO, so being able to maintain focus is crucial for my business. We’re in a growth phase at Daily Bits Of (We’re hiring! Want to join us?). But with growth comes a slew of projects to juggle day in and day out: from a new way to deliver our courses via bots, to adding more people to our team, to meeting with course creators. There are twenty tasks on my to-do list on any given day.
With increased focus being the goal, here are the habits that help me achieve it:
1. I get a good night’s sleep
What a slacker, you might say. That’s not how you get productive and down to business.
As a matter of fact it is, so allow this slacker to respectfully disagree with the gurus who think sleeping four hours a night is a virtue worthy of some sort of prize.
Research shows that sleep plays an important role in the formation and consolidation of memories, the processing of information and impressions, and the constant “rebuilding of the brain” that is caused by the experiences we have during the day. Quality sleep also plays a crucial role in learning.
And as an entrepreneur, I’m learning new things every day. I have to be able to actually absorb and process the information, if I want to make use of it later. I learned a few tricks to help me with better sleeping patterns from Lina Bodestad’s, a Swedish psychologist and course creator.
To improve your sleeping habits, start by thinking back and trying to remember a time in your life when you slept in a way that really suited you. Maybe it was in college, when you could take naps almost every afternoon? Or when you last had a holiday and could sleep for nine hours straight and feel like royalty doing it?
Consider how your current everyday sleep routines are different from your more optimal ones. Is there anything you would like to change? How could you do that?
Here’s one easy tip: stay away from any screens (be it your phone, laptop, or tablet) for a full hour before you go to bed.
2. I try to meditate daily
I’ve been trying to get into this habit for a while. I only committed to it after I took a course from another entrepreneur, John Turner of QuietKit. His approach is all about taking very small incremental steps towards a daily meditation practice. It doesn’t matter how long you do it, but how often you do it. That’s why John recommends starting with just two minutes and just focusing on your breath. Everyone has two minutes to spare, right? Instead of judging progress by the length of time for sporadic sessions, judge your progress by how many days in a row you meditate.
When you first try meditating, you’ll notice that your mind will wander or simply get in overload mode. That’s normal. In fact, a big part of meditation is practicing how you react when your mind becomes overloaded, by just quietly acknowledging to yourself that you’ve lost focus, and then bringing the focus back to your breath.
Meditation will help you increase your ability to focus because it will help you increase your mindfulness. This is the ability to be aware of what’s happening in any given moment, as well as be aware of the emotions you’re experiencing, but then being able to choose how to act, as opposed to letting your emotions overcome you.
The more mindful I am of how I spend my time and my mental resources, the easier it is for me to refocus on what’s truly important in the business.
3. I ask one strategic question: “What’s on your mind?”
Business coach extraordinaire (and my favorite Canadian), Michael Bungay Stanier, says that “as you’re pulled in different directions by proliferating priorities, distracted by the relentless ping of email and hustling from meeting to meeting, you lose focus. The more you lose focus, the more overwhelmed you feel. The more overwhelmed you feel, the more you lose focus.”
So Michael comes up with some questions to help you regain focus and reconnect with your team in his book and course, The Coaching Habit.
The first question is really simple, yet not very easy to answer: What’s on your mind?
I know I have a hundred things running through my mind every day. I imaging the same applies to all the people on the Daily Bits Of team.
Because it’s an open question, it invites your team members to get to the heart of the matter and share the most important issue. They’re not just telling you what you want to hear. You’re showing your team that you trust them, and that’s crucial in a startup.
And once you’ve asked this question, you can apply a framework that Michael calls the 3P model to focus the conversation even further. The challenge that they choose to talk about might be centred on a project (challenges around the actual content), a person (any issues with team members//bosses/clients) and a pattern of behaviour (a way that you’re getting in your own way, and not showing up in the best possible way).
The question is excellent for coaching, but I believe that it also helps on an individual level. It helps when I ask myself: “What’s on your mind?” and then hone in on the 3P model. It gets the challenge out of my head, and helps me clear my mind and actually start focussing on the solution, rather than the problem.
Yes, staying focussed long enough to accomplish quality work is a challenge. But with implementing a few simple habits, it’s not that hard to overcome. The key is not to try to implement too many new habits at the same time.