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5 tips for productive business owners to fight through distractions and stay focused

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Multitasking isn’t something you should brag about. Retrain your brain to stay focused and boost your productivity with these simple tips.

business owner staying focused on work without distractions

As a small business owner, you have a lot on your plate. And if you aren’t careful, daily distractions can prevent you from accomplishing what you need to get done. But how do you stay focused?

Practical suggestions for eliminating distractions

Research suggests that the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to just eight seconds today. For perspective, that’s shorter than the average attention span of a goldfish! And if certain offenders are worse than others, business owners would have to be near the top of the list.

It’s not that the human brain is less capable of focusing today than it was a decade ago. The problem doesn’t lie within – it can be found without. It’s the direct result of the onslaught of new distractions competing for our limited focus.

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As a business owner, your responsibilities run deep and wide. And if you aren’t careful, you can easily become overwhelmed and rendered useless. Here are some practical ways to fight back:

1. Centralize communications

As a business owner, it’s not uncommon to have half a dozen communication channels open at one time. Between email, phone, SMS, Slack, and social media messages, you find yourself constantly tending to notifications across a spectrum of isolated platforms. The result is constant back and forth movement that’s difficult (if not impossible) to keep track of. One way to fix this is by centralizing communications.

There are numerous ways to centralize communications, but a social intranet is a fantastic option – particularly if you can find one that integrates with G Suite (or whatever collection of tools you use).

2. Block distracting websites

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We all have our favorite go-to websites. These are the sites that we mindlessly browse when we’re looking to kill time or avoid doing work. News sites, blogs, and social networking sites are all good examples. And though there’s nothing technically wrong with any of these, they become problematic when they keep you from important tasks.

If sheer willpower isn’t doing it for you, try using some sort of website blocking tool that prevents you from visiting these websites during work hours. (Here’s a list of some of the top options.)

3. Create email time blocks

Email is a time killer! The average business owner receives well over 100 emails per day and, if you aren’t careful, managing your inbox can become a full-time job.

One of the best techniques is to create email time blocks. These are blocks of time – between 15 to 60 minutes – that you dedicate exclusively to email. And then during the rest of the day, you log out of your email account and reserve your focus for other tasks.

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You might think this sounds impractical, but it’s really not. A 20-minute email block early morning, late morning, early afternoon, and late afternoon is enough to keep you in the loop without totally eating away at your schedule.

4. Silence your phone

Your phone is another attention magnet. By silencing your phone for large chunks out of the day, you can keep your focus on the tasks that matter. (If you have an assistant, ask them to filter your calls for you and only pass along the ones that are urgent and necessary.)

5. Avoid multitasking

 As Americans, we love to brag about multitasking. We flaunt our ability to juggle multiple tasks at once like it’s a badge of honor. But no matter how skilled you think you are at multitasking, there’s simply no evidence to suggest you’re getting more done. In fact, all of the research indicates you’re preventing yourself from being as productive as you could be.

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As Travis Bradberry writes for Forbes, “Multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.”

Bradberry points to additional research from the University of London that found multitasking also lowers your IQ and leads to long-term cognitive impairment. In other words, it doesn’t just impact short-term focus. It also inhibits long-term results.

Reclaim your focus and boost productivity

Focus can be difficult to cultivate. But if you want to enhance your productivity and output, it’s a critical element in the equation. From centralizing communications to eliminating your reliance on multitasking, a quick and thorough response is a must.

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Larry Alton is an independent business consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship. When he's not consulting, glued to a headset, he's working on one of his many business projects. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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