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8 Tips for Finding Focus and Nixing Distractions

Do you find yourself getting to the end of the day and wondering where the time went? Maybe you started out prepared to accomplish some very specific tasks, but somehow you just didn’t get to them. Putting out fires and dealing with lesser issues can pull people away from longer-term goals. But if that happens every day, chances are you won’t be in business much longer.

Here are eight ways to prevent letting distractions damage your productivity:

1. Make and post a list: There’s no point in making a list if it ends up under all of your unopened mail at the end of the day. Post it right where you will see it every time you look up, answer the phone or turn to your computer. By keeping it within your field of sight you can also keep it top-of-mind.

2. Shut your door: I know this seems like the opposite of good management practice. Aren’t you supposed to be available to employees when they have a problem? Well, if you aren’t focusing on your business they will definitely have a problem — finding another job. Right now as an entrepreneur it’s company first, employees second. And maybe if they can’t reach you they will take some initiative and solve their own problems.

3. Stand up when someone comes into your office: This means that your visitor can’t sit down and most people will get tired of standing and leave when their business with you is done. If someone is particularly long-winded despite standing, come around your desk and walk them out the door and down the hall. Then excuse yourself and head back to your office.

4. Limit outside attention grabbers: How often do you check email, Facebook, your cellphone? Do you take your own calls or leave that to a front-office person? Can potential suppliers get instant access to you when they walk in your office door? Every one of these is pulling you away from your main business. Schedule specific times to address these outside issues so that you have uninterrupted time to do your real job.

5. Get to the bottom of procrastination: Putting something critical off may be a matter of emotion rather than distractions. Are you afraid that you don’t have the skills to accomplish something important to your business? Do you feel that you don’t have enough information to do a good job? Are you nervous about the next step after your current project? Really spend time with a pencil and paper looking at the reasons why you aren’t tackling something and then figure out how to fix them.

6. Take small bites: This is anti-procrastination advice but it’s true whenever you have a hectic work day and don’t seem to get to those large projects. If you get started, you can accomplish more than you think with an extra 15-20 minutes every now and then throughout the day. Don’t wait for large blocks of time to get started or you may never get to it.

7. Clear your desk: if you’re ready to dive into a large project, clear your work area of other smaller duties. It’s so easy to catch sight of something that will only take a couple of minutes and stop working on the big stuff to address the little things. Don’t let visual distractions cost you important focused time.

8. Just do it: Close your door, turn off your phone, clear your desk and get started. Put a sign outside your office door with something like, “If it’s not bleeding, burning or quitting, tell me tomorrow.” If you remove all excuses and distractions, you may actually accomplish some of your main business goals even sooner than you expect.

by Matthew Toren

You check your email as soon as you wake up, and send text messages from just about everywhere. But if you’re not taking a break every now and then, you could be hurting your effectiveness, says Joanne Cantor, founder of Your Mind on Media, a Madison, Wisconsin consulting firm that helps companies manage cyber-overload.

Research backs that claim: A 2012 study by the University of California, Irvine and U.S. Army researchers found that being cut off from work email periodically significantly reduces stress and increases focus.

We know: You own a business. People depend on you. You can’t disconnect. But Cantor says that’s not really true. Maybe you can’t turn off your smartphone entirely for a week, but here are five ways you can buy some tech-free time.

1. Recruit a gatekeeper. “Our gadgets take control,” says Cantor. “Business owners used to have secretaries and other gatekeepers who understood the critical people who had to get through and had tactful ways of running interference with those who could wait,” she says.

An assistant or trusted second-in-command can field calls while you’re working on a project that needs focus or when you simply need a day off. If that’s not an option, change your outgoing voicemail message to tell callers you’re unavailable and let them know when you’ll be available to answer their calls. And, don’t forget to turn off instant messaging.

2. Schedule your prime time. The best time to be tech-free is the time when you are most productive or creative, she says. Perhaps you’re sharp as a tack first thing in the morning or get your second wind at 3 p.m. Think about your most productive times and block out those windows as you would an important meeting, she says. A disconnected hour or two several times a week can make a tremendous difference in your creativity, focus and the quality of your work, she says.

3. Use a distraction-blocking app. Even as our smartphones, tablets and laptops seek to monopolize our time, a collection of apps has emerged to help us disconnect. AntiSocial and Freedom are site blockers, making any time-sucking sites (like Facebook) unavailable for as long as you choose.

iPhones running the iOS6 platform and apps like I’m Sleeping and Ultimate Call Block offer “do not disturb” functions, but also allow you to whitelist certain people (your gatekeeper, spouse, or your child’s school for example) to bypass your settings and always ring through.

4. Change your culture. If you’ve spent time cultivating an “always on” workplace, it’s not going to change overnight, says Cantor. But change is possible. Work on a communication hierarchy for your team, setting boundaries for essential and non-essential contact.

For example, if the issue is urgent, reach out with both phone and text messages. Non-urgent issues will be communicated by email with a “please respond by” time. No non-urgent messages of any kind will be sent between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. That might not be your company’s game plan, but you can set boundaries.

“It has to be tailored for your workplace, but there has to be a discussion and agreement so that everybody’s on the same page about communication,” she says.

by Gwen Moran

Business networking comes with a host of positive benefits. From expanding your connections to learning from the pros in your field, networking plays a vital part in both your personal and business growth.

 

Kim Baird of Amazing Business outlines nine different ways networking can help you.

 

Generation of Referrals/Increased Business
Baird describes this as “probably the most obvious benefit” of networking. “The referrals that you get through networking are normally high quality.” Because of this, it makes it easier for you to follow up with these new connections, which often times leads to new business for you.

 

Opportunities
With each new connection you make, opportunities come along with that exchange. It could be job opportunities or partnerships, or even a chance to be a presenter at an upcoming event. You will find that the more you network, the more doors are opened to you for future ventures. Just be sure to pick and choose the opportunities that best fit your business model. Just because an opportunity is presented to you, doesn’t mean it’s the right fit.

 

Connections
There is a domino effect when you are networking. You may only be meeting one person, but that person’s network becomes secondary connections for you. Baird recommends that you “ask the right questions to find out if the person you are networking with knows who you want to know.”

 

Advice
You will undoubtedly build connections with people who are industry leaders and experts when you network. Listen to these people and ask them questions. Use their experience and stories as a learning opportunity for your own growth. Been wondering whether or not to make a move on something? Ask your expert connections for their advice.

 

Raising Your Profile
Baird says to make sure you stay visible during your networking. “Regularly attend business and social events that will help to get your face known.” This builds trust as well as a reliable reputation, so when opportunities arise, you will be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

 

Positive Influence
The crowd you surround yourself with does have a significant impact on you. Make sure you are “surrounding yourself with positive, uplifting people that help you to grow and thrive as a business owner” when you are networking.

 

Increased Confidence
Networking pushes many people out of their comfort zone. It’s why many people shy away from networking at first. But with anything, the more you do it, the better at it you get. While you may be unsure the first few events, you’ll be a networking pro by your third or fourth times.

 

Satisfaction from Helping Others
“Networking is full of business owners that have problems or issues within their business that need solving,” Baird says. Use your own expertise to assist others who may be in need. This helps strengthen bonds within your circle of networkers.

 

Friendship
Your initial goals in networking are likely to build business connections, but surrounding yourself with like-minded people often turns from just business to friendships. This is an added bonus to networking often and networking well. Baird says, “Some of my strongest friendships have been started by networking.”

 

Wealth, status, fitness, relationships – for most people, these markers are accomplished in pursuit of the ultimate goal: Happiness.

Collecting these achievements makes sense – who wouldn’t be happier with more money, a higher-profile job, better defined abs or a stronger marriage? But research has shown, somewhat counterintuitively, that major positive changes in life circumstances don’t necessarily translate to similarly significant upticks in well-being. (Two studies, one pertaining to newlyweds and the other to high-level managers who voluntarily changed jobs, illustrate this human tendency to quickly adjust to improvements, a process known as hedonic adaptation.)

If boosting one’s life circumstances isn’t necessarily the secret to boosting one’s happiness, then what is? Or is happiness, as with so many things, simply the result of a genetic lottery?

Sonja Lyubomirsky is a psychology professor at the University of California-Riverside and she’s spent the majority of her career studying happiness. She’s come to believe that in many ways, happiness is a skill. “Research has accumulated to convincingly suggest that a large portion of happiness may be under people’s control through the activities they choose and how they construe and respond to situations in their lives,” she and postdoctural researcher Kristin Layous wrote in Positive Emotion (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Here are three cognitive and behavioral strategies she says have been found to “reliably improve happiness.”

1. Remember: Life is short.

Contemplating mortality may seem like a backwards way of finding happiness, but a recent study co-authored by Lyubomirsky and currently in review suggests this may indeed be an effective strategy.

In the actual study, participants were either instructed to live the following month as if it was their last (in their current city) or to just keep track of their daily activities. Those in the first group reported higher levels of well-being at weekly check-ins during the four week trial, as well two weeks after the trial was completed. What’s more, their well-being increased over time and, the authors write, “mediation analyses indicated that these differences were explained by greater connectedness, competence, and autonomy.”

It’s easier to appreciate something (be it a meal, a vacation or a city) when it is finite; when a resource is limited, its value increases. By imagining time as scarce, the authors speculate, we can jolt ourselves into refusing to take the positives for granted, to “seize the moment and extract greater well-being” from our lives. It’s a subtle, but important, variation on the cliché ‘live every day like it’s your last’ (which, taken literally, would be ridiculous). Instead, it’s about recognizing that the good times won’t last forever – and appreciating them all the more because of it.

2. Shake it up.

As mentioned earlier, it’s surprisingly easy to adapt to a positive life event, be it marriage, a promotion or weight loss. As Lyubomirsky writes in her book, “even the most beautiful or noteworthy events are susceptible to the process of hedonic adaptation, whereby they lose their emotional impact over time and through repeated exposure.”

Previous research suggests variety helps combat this effect: College students report being less able to adapt to dynamic life changes, such as making a new friend or learning a new skill) than static ones (such as upgrading dorm rooms or receiving more financial aid).

Whenever possible, infuse variety into your life. This can mean finding a wider sample of enjoyable activities, as well as taking a break from certain ones altogether (which interrupts the cycle of adaption, enabling a renewed sense of pleasure when the break is over). Both strategies slow the process of adaption by creating a perpetual sense of newness.

3. Focus on others.

When it comes to happiness, effort isn’t always enough. In fact, high-levels of self-monitoring and self-focus have been associated with lower levels of well-being.

Which is why, as circular as the following statement sounds, actively working to increase the happiness of people close to you may be the best strategy to increase your own happiness.

In a soon-to-be-released study co-authored by Lyubomirsky, participants were split into two groups; those in the first group were asked to actively try and make someone in their lives happy for four weeks, while those in the second were simply asked to track their daily activities.

“People who took steps to make a friend, family member, or roommate happy reported increases in happiness compared to those who simply kept track of their daily activities, thus supporting our contention that focusing on the well-being of others is good for mental health,” the authors wrote. “Thus, focusing on a close relationship helps people obtain greater fulfillment out of their daily lives and feel more grateful for what they have.”

By Laura Entis

It’s the gospel of productivity in a maxed-out world: Multitasking helps you get more done faster. The only thing is, it doesn’t, says David Meyer, a cognitive scientist at the University of Michigan–where he serves as director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory–and one of the country’s leading experts on multitasking. “When you perform multiple tasks that each require some of the same channels of processing, conflicts will arise between the tasks, and you’re going to have to pick and choose which task you’re going to focus on and devote a channel of processing to it,” he explains.

Meyer has been at the forefront of research for several decades on how the brain processes information and copes with multitasking. He has investigated the brain’s speed, accuracy and memory in information processing while working with psychologist David Kieras for the Office of Naval Research. A study Meyer co-wrote on the limitations of multitasking (“Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching”) went viral in 2001, setting off the first awareness of the counterproductivity of simultaneous activities.

“When you perform multiple tasks that each require some of the same channels of processing, conflicts will arise between the tasks, and you’re going to have to pick and choose which task you’re going to focus on and devote a channel of processing to it,” he explains.

Meyer’s work has helped demonstrate that humans have distinct bandwidth challenges, which can make multitasking problematic. It turns out the brain’s ability to process information is limited in a variety of ways — from processing channels to limits on data volume, velocity and working memory — that confound true, simultaneous task actions.

Counter to common belief, you can’t do two cognitively complicated tasks at once, Meyer says. When you’re on the phone and writing an e-mail at the same time, you’re actually switching back and forth between them, since there’s only one mental and neural channel through which language flows. “If you have a complicated task, it requires all your attention, and if you’re trying to spread your attention over multiple tasks, it’s not going to work,” he says.

That’s heresy in a time-urgent world with the attention span of a macaque on crack. Meyer admits that multitasking is not only getting more prevalent, but it’s also “very often highly inefficient and can be dangerous to your health.” Even the most adept multitasker will “crash and burn” trying to resolve simultaneous conflicting demands, Meyer says. That means you could wind up sending the wrong e-mail; blow an account; have a “brownout,” in which too much access to the cerebral grid shuts down critical thinking; or worse, find yourself in a truly hazardous situation, such as driving while using a cell phone.

“When you’re driving, you have to use the language channel to talk, read signs, plan your next move. If you’re trying to have a cell phone conversation while you’re doing that, either the phone conversation will suffer or the driving,” Meyer says.

He points to the growing number of auto accidents caused by businesspeople sending work texts from behind the wheel. The conflicts triggered by incessant multitasking can set off chronic stress and slow you down, shredding productivity. In fact, trying to complete two or more tasks at once can take 50 percent more time or longer, depending on the complexity of the tasks, Meyer says.

The good news is that there is hope for the attention-span-challenged, in the form of self-regulation through better time management and scheduling. “If you’re disciplined enough, you can map out the usage of your time in a way that minimizes your exposure to interruptions,” Meyer explains.

Entrepreneurs are some of the most compulsive multitaskers–“macho master multitaskers,” as Meyer puts it — but he says you’d be wise to cool the scatterbrain jets and focus.

“If you want to be a creative entrepreneur, you ought to be setting aside large chunks of time where you just think,” he says. “Einstein was not multitasking when he was dreaming up the special and general theories of relativity.”

By Joe Robinson

Most of us think we understand how to hire the best talent.

Just put your feelers out on all the best job-finding resources telling potential candidates the specific qualifications you’re seeking, offering a great compensation package including health benefits and reasonable 401k.

Then wait for the resumes to start rolling in, right?
Wrong!

The trouble is that qualifications and specific skill sets only comprise half the picture, and offer no guarantee that you won’t come to regret hiring the person later on. You have no idea if they’ll actually listen to you or respect your authority, or what their “real” personality is outside the confines of your interview room.

Here are 3 great interviewing tips you can use to help avoid Hirer’s Remorse and all the expense and upset that comes along with it.

1. Always ask them to describe your company – in detail (Listening/Coachability)

If you’re recruiting under a certain level of anonymity (ie., the prospect knows nothing about your company going in to the interview), spend a few minutes telling them the core values and goals of your company. In all other situations, the candidate should already know all about you.

Ask the interviewee to describe your company in 30 seconds or fewer. Don’t fault them if they can’t get it right the first try. You’re just getting started and the answer isn’t important – yet!

Now you want to give the employee your version of a 30 second description of your company. Ask them to repeat what you just told them as best they can. Let them hash things out in their head before answering and allow them to try again if they falter.

Using this tactic, you’ve just learned: A) Their impression of your company and what you do., B) How well they listen., C) How coachable they are – i.e., listening then repeating in the exact details you offered.

2. Consider the airport layover analogy (Personality)

“Would you spend an airport layover sitting beside this person.”

This cliché scenario has been uttered a million and one times by recruiters all over. Still, this is great advice that applies to nearly every hiring scenario. There are few times when an employee’s personality doesn’t become a factor in Hirer’s Remorse.

It doesn’t matter how well educated they are, or how much real-world experience they have. If you don’t feel comfortable around this person during the interview, you might not ever. Nor will your current employees. Some people take time to come around, which is why you really need to do a gut check after the interview, perhaps extending the interview process to two or more in-person meetings.

If you’re hiring for a sales, marketing, or similar client-relations position: ALWAYS ask this airport layover question of yourself. How you feel is how your clients will feel, meaning Hirer’s Remorse is inevitable at some point, if you hire the wrong personality type for positions where being sociable is important, including positions where good teamwork is essential. If you’re hiring a remote computer genius/programmer, you can consider disregarding this tip.

3. Involve your current staff/partners (Maintaining Current Corporate Culture)

There are a number of different scenarios that might make up the interview panel you choose. Asking one or more employees to sit in on each interview with you is very important for maintaining your current corporate culture, and for insights into the candidates that you yourself may not pick up on. Interviewing is difficult work, for the interviewer and interviewee, and it’s so easy to miss something – positive or negative – that could help you make a smarter hiring decision and avoid Hirer’s Remorse.

Don’t just rely on supervisors and team managers to sit beside you in the room. Choose people that the job candidate will be working with directly. Preplan some questions they’ll be asking, such as “what if” scenario-type questions about what the candidate would do if there was an inter-office problem, or how they see themselves fitting into a special time-sensitive project that the company’s success hinges on.

Using this approach can really be a game-changer with regard to the types of answers you’ll get. Once you’ve finished with the interview, meet with the panel separately and use what David Priemer of Salesforce calls the “Gun to your head” yes or no question:

“Gun to your head… no explanations! I only want to hear yes or no! Would you hire this person.
“Yes or no answers are gut-level. Explanations and hmm-ing and hah-ing only muddle things up and make decisions more confusing. After you get a yes or no to the hiring question, ask them the airport question and demand a yes or no with regard to that scenario too.

This approach is in direct contrast to sitting around a conference table after the interview talking about the candidate’s qualifications, which are only 50% of the overall hiring picture. The other 50% is what most commonly leads to Hirer’s Remorse.

Satisfaction Guaranteed!

Use these 3 tips in your next interview and you’ll see instant improvements in the happiness of your employees – and yourself!

by Ivan Widjaya

Power Partners are business professionals who are in the same “industry” as you, who want to develop a mutually beneficial relationship. The purpose and focus of the business relationship is each partner striving to share referrals, ideas, clients and information.

Who Are Your Top Power Partners? Let’s think a minute – who do you refer your clients, your family and your friends to? Certainly people you know and trust and often times it is in fields related to your area of expertise. So, when does the opportunity to refer others most often come about? When they need professional services that are related to your business, right? These professions are natural referral centers for you; they are in your “center of influence”, they are who you want to develop a Power Partner relationship with!!

Where Do You Find Power Partners? Look in your database/contacts: follow your money… who do you give your business to? They are benefiting from you, so naturally you should be benefiting from them! Look to your “networks” whether it is a referral network, the Chamber of Commerce, a charity or service group, church, PTA, trade or social group, seek out the professionals that match your list of Power Partners.

What Do You Do With Your Power Partners Once You’ve Found Them? Reach out to them. Contact them and tell them what you want to do. Ask to develop a Power Partner relationship with them, explain how mutually beneficial sharing referrals, ideas, information, and resources can be. If this is not the type of relationship they are willing to commit to, find someone else in their profession who is.

When Does Your Power Partner Relationship Start? What are you hoping to gain from your relationships with your Power Partners? Referrals, ideas, information, resources? Then be prepared to first give these things. Show them how it’s done! Send them business, share a great idea, let them some meaningful information that can help their business. Once they see your efforts producing for them, they will want to give back to you!

How Can Power Partners Impact Your Business?

Once you have established these important relationships you will start realizing the benefits of receiving referrals, ideas, information and clients from them. Because you will be giving to them as well, you are establishing relationships that will last for years. Relationship marketing with your Power Partners can definitely impact your bottom line.

Developing relationships with Power Partners will not only help you generate more and better business for you, it will also reward you with satisfying personal and professional relationships to continue to build upon.

By Kelli C. Holmes

As an entrepreneur, you have a lot on your plate. Staying focused can be tough with a constant stream of employees, clients, emails, and phone calls demanding your attention. Amid the noise, understanding your brain’s limitations and working around them can improve your focus and increase your productivity.

Our brains are finely attuned to distraction, so today’s digital environment makes it especially hard to focus. “Distractions signal that something has changed,” says David Rock, co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute and author of Your Brain at Work (HarperCollins, 2009). “A distraction is an alert says, ‘Orient your attention here now; this could be dangerous.'” The brain’s reaction is automatic and virtually unstoppable.

While multitasking is an important skill, it also has a downside. “It reduces our intelligence, literally dropping our IQ,” Rock says. “We make mistakes, miss subtle cues, fly off the handle when we shouldn’t, or spell things wrong.”

To make matters worse, distraction feels great. “Your brain’s reward circuit lights up when you multitask,” Rock says, meaning that you get an emotional high when you’re doing a lot at once.
Ultimately, the goal is not constant focus, but a short period of distraction-free time every day. “Twenty minutes a day of deep focus could be transformative,” Rock says.

Try these three tips to help you become more focused and productive:

1. Do creative work first.

Typically, we do mindless work first and build up to the toughest tasks. That drains your energy and lowers your focus. “An hour into doing your work, you’ve got a lot less capacity than (at the beginning),” Rock says. “Every decision we make tires the brain.”

In order to focus effectively, reverse the order. Check off the tasks that require creativity or concentration first thing in the morning, and then move on to easier work, like deleting emails or scheduling meetings, later in the day.

2. Allocate your time deliberately.

By studying thousands of people, Rock found that we are truly focused for an average of only six hours per week. “You want to be really diligent with what you put into those hours,” he says.

Most people focus best in the morning or late at night, and Rock’s studies show that 90 percent of people do their best thinking outside the office. Notice where and when you focus best, then allocate your toughest tasks for those moments.

3. Train your mind like a muscle.

When multitasking is the norm, your brain quickly adapts. You lose the ability to focus as distraction becomes a habit. “We’ve trained our brains to be unfocused,” Rock says.

Practice concentration by turning off all distractions and committing your attention to a single task. Start small, maybe five minutes per day, and work up to larger chunks of time. If you find your mind wandering, just return to the task at hand. “It’s just like getting fit,” Rock says. “You have to build the muscle to be focused.”

By Nadia Goodman