Ten Tips to Help You Focus — And Get More Done

Last week, I contacted several late-blooming entrepreneurs and asked them to share time-management tips that help them run their business.  As the responses began arriving, it wasn’t long before a theme emerged.

Focus is king.

“Establish your goals and objectives and then focus like a laser on accomplishing them,” said Bill Cheeks of ABBA Associates, which conducts personal finance seminars. “I do not get confused or sidetracked.”

That’s easier said than done.  A client pops in. Your computer freezes. A big product order arrives suddenly. The overnight delivery guy needs a signature. Interruptions and the unexpected are inevitable for entrepreneurs.

And then there’s the never-ending list of tasks associated with running a business. “Trying to do too many things at once can scatter your focus and make you feel as if you’re just bouncing around, unsure of the best direction to take,” said Sharon Dillard of Get A Grip, a franchise company that refinishes kitchen countertops and bathtubs.

How can you maintain the focus needed to get things done?  Start by borrowing some ideas from people who know how.  Here are ten of their tips:

1) Limit your to-do list. “I keep lists of no more than 10 items and cross them off as they are finished,” said Licorice International’s Ardith Stuertz. Some people prefer lists that are even shorter.

2) Break down tasks. Sharon Dillard’s advice? Start with one major goal or project — then break it down into small, bite-size steps.

3) Get organized. Avoid the annoyance and distraction that comes from being unable to find things when you need them. “I take meeting notes and place them in separate folders – online and/or file folders for each client or project,” said Bruce Summers, a personal historian.

4) Plan in advance. “I’m a big believer that poor planning leads to poor performance,” said Patemm’s Grace Welch, whose company specializes in baby changing pads. Welch, a mother of four, also uses check lists and a white board to keep track of family activities.

5) Have a separate home office. Some home-based entrepreneurs can concentrate while working at a kitchen table or in another high-traffic area. If you aren’t one of them, take action.

6) Share your calendar. This is another tip that’s important for home-based operations. “Keeping my schedule known to everyone in the house helped tremendously in concentrating on my business tasks at hand and minimized interruptions,” said Mike Kane, owner of Michal Austin Kane Photography.

7) Prioritize. Elizabeth Erlandson, Ardith Stuertz’s business partner at Licorice International, sees this as an essential skill. “I don’t waste time on things that I am not good at or that others can do much better than I can,” she said.

8) Keep it simple. RetiredBrain’s Art Koff limits his use of tech-based time management tools even though he considers himself “very net literate and technically savvy” for an almost 80-year-old entrepreneur. But he does like to meet with his business partners via online meeting hosting sites, which streamline document sharing and save time.

9) Don’t procrastinate. Dreaded action items can be distractions when they’re hanging over your head. “Start with the hardest task on your to-do list,” advised serial tech entrepreneur Jim Kelly. “If you leave the hardest to the last, you’re sure to run out of time.”

10) Delegate fully. “Leaders want to give responsibility, not authority,” said SavvyRest’s Michael Penny. “I try to give both.” Ultimately, this increases focus because people don’t have to interrupt you to ask permission to do something.

Have other time management tips to add to this list?  Please feel free to share them below.

 

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About Lynne Strang

I'm a writer who blogs about 40-and-older business owners. I am also the author of "Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs: Eight Principles for Starting a Business After Age 40." Outside of work, I enjoy reading, cooking, vegetable gardening and exercise (especially cycling).
This entry was posted in Business, Career Changes, Careers, entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Retirement, Success and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Ten Tips to Help You Focus — And Get More Done

  1. Tips to focus are always in need, thanks, Lynne! #3 really made a difference for me. My former IBM’er sister taught me file naming protocols that have cut my time searching for docs and images down to almost no time at all. I’m still working hard at #4!!

  2. These are great tips – I have employed many of them myself.
    Diana

  3. bwsummers says:

    Thanks Lynne, great list of tips. One additional one is to take time to collaborate, often a colleague has novel new faster way of doing something, or can benefit from your expertise, I find this leads to referrals to and from colleagues and improved client deliverables.

  4. Not quite 40 says:

    I am dreadful at procrastinating, fiddling with this, that and the other. The best tip I ever had was: “Use a timer.”

    If you have a hard time settling to do a task, or you have quite a lot to get through, set a timer for 20 minutes. Work on the task for 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, STOP. Put it to one side, set the timer again and do something else. You can go back to tasks, but you *have* to stop after 20 minutes. Also, after 3 sessions of 20 minutes, set the timer for 5 minutes and have a break.

    If you only have 20 minutes to do something, it is amazing how much you get done in the time. It sounds odd to be chopping and changing so often, but it really truly works. There is even science behind it as you brain gets an endorphin boost every 20 minutes.

  5. Love these tips. #6 especially being a mother of 4 🙂

  6. Edward Cheng says:

    Reblogged this on My Two Cents on Random Stuff and commented:
    Quick tips that would help you get back on track!

  7. Hey your tip No: 6 is awesome; thanks in advance; I am going to try this.

  8. Hi Lynne. The book you sent us at Great Harvest this spring just crossed my desk. Thank you. Bonnie Alton is an inspiration! I see you know my friend Bill McKechnie, now of Five Guys, too. Glad I found your blog — looking forward to reading.
    Debbie Huber at Great Harvest

  9. Lynne, as I am in the early stages of embarking on my own architectural practice, I’m finding that tip #4 keeps jabbing me in the ribs. To me this has been my fulcrum around which all thing will ultimately be decided. Planning for now as well as having a strong, clear vision of the future is certainly a factor in a strong business. I keep hearing this one over and over again. Thanks for the great topics.

    • Lynne Strang says:

      You’re welcome. I think #4 presents problems for a lot of people. We tend to spend too much time working IN the business and not enough working ON the business. It’s human nature to focus on the immediate, I guess.

      • I imagine you’re right. For me this is the most helpful take away from The E Myth Revisted, and other great books on this topic. It’s not a hard concept to understand, but it seems more difficult to implement.

      • Lynne Strang says:

        Thanks for mentioning The E Myth Revisited, which should be credited with the “work on your business not just in your business” idea. Michael E. Gerber’s E Myth book series contains a lot of concepts like this one. I agree that seemingly easy ideas can difficult to implement. Execution separates good businesses from the rest.

  10. Hi Lynne, great article and I am a late bloomer too. One thing I found immensely helpful and something I resisted for years is a timetable. When I ask my clients “how would they spend their time like money?” they often don’t know. When we spend money wisely, we budget, we know where each penny and cent goes and on what. What about time? Have we allocated/budgeted our time for maximum return?
    I think the main point of resistance for me is that I associated a timetable with being restricted and school-like. However it has freed up so much mental energy and I am on purpose now.
    Keep up the great work.

    • Lynne Strang says:

      Excellent idea. A timetable can be a great time management tool as long as it isn’t too rigid. I think the best ones have some flexibility (to allow for the unexpected) and build in some “me” time (which each of us needs). Thanks for commenting.

  11. vendermejor says:

    Reblogged this on vendermejor and commented:
    Siempre es útil recordar como “centrar el tiro”

  12. by Yoli says:

    Reblogged this on For You With Love by Yoli and commented:
    Good advice!

  13. bestofbetters says:

    Indeed very useful and practical tips. I have tried to include many of these in my schedule and though it took time for the family to get used to , they have definitely been very helpful. And that secret also lies in myself sticking to this even if I don’t feel like…being a work from home woman…or else the family starts taking for granted once again 😉 Loved your post.

    • Lynne Strang says:

      Thank you. Time management is a constant challenge for those trying to juggle business and family responsibilities. Your kids (if you have them) will view their afternoon soccer practice as far more important than your client’s 5 pm deadline. Sticking to at least some of these tips may ease the household stress a bit.

  14. I found that making myself responsible was not working as well as I had hoped when I worked from home. I then found that renting a regular space at a co-working office worked wonders and made the perfect blend between having a real office while working for someone else and having no office while working from home. Anything you can add about co-sharing or co-working spaces?

    • Lynne Strang says:

      I’ve heard good things about these types of spaces. They often include access to a conference room, which provides a professional setting for client meetings. They also present the opportunity to meet and network with other tenants/professionals — and possibly collaborate on projects. On the other hand, people who need quiet to focus may not do well in a co-shared space where there’s some noise and limited privacy. Sounds like it’s been a good choice for you, however.

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