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.
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
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.
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.
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.
If you’re easily distracted, you’re more likely to thrive as an entrepreneur
(ENTREPRENEUR) If monotony and boredom at work- well bores you, it’s possible you may fit with the other entrepreneurs with a quick and constantly changing career.
When Bill Gates was a kid, he knew he liked messing around with code. He couldn’t have known how it might evolve, but he, like other entrepreneurs, was willing to live in the distraction, focusing on details when needed, but always learning, moving on, taking risks and growing in the process.
Some of the most successful folks among us are not content to sit and make widgets every day. They cannot thrive in a detail and focused work environment. So, it may come as no surprise to know that people who are more easily distracted are also more likely to thrive as entrepreneurs.
According to this study, if you are intelligent and get distracted more easily, those two qualities combined will likely enhance your creativity. And, that creativity and ability to use distraction as an advantage can be channeled to create new things, jobs, companies, etc.
For those of us who are more easily distracted, who enjoy doing different things every day, and who like learning, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review suggests a good option is to find a career path that provides the right amount of distraction and which is a great fit for your personality. If you do that your talent is more likely to be apparent because you are playing to your strengths. Also, if you are working in your sweet spot you will be more productive and motivated.
Maybe not surprisingly, the top job for those who live in distraction is entrepreneur. The term “easily distracted” often comes with a negative connotation, but considering an entrepreneur is taking risks, making things happen and creating companies, ideas, products that may have never existed, this spins that idea on its head. Entrepreneurs are the chief cooks and bottle washers of the world. They ideate, create, hire and inspire. None of that is possible in a monotonous work environment.
“Unsurprisingly, meta-analyses indicate that entrepreneurs tend to have higher levels of ‘openness to experience,’ so they differ from managers and leaders in that they are more curious, interested in variety and novelty, and are more prone to boredom — as well as less likely to tolerate routine and predictability,” according to the HBR story.
Other careers that are great fits for those of us (me included) who enjoy distraction are PR/Media Production, Journalism and Consultant. What these fields all have in common is, there is never a dull moment, switching from task to task is pretty commonplace, and you will do well if you can be a generalist – synthesizing information and weeding out the unnecessary.
Not sure where your strengths lie? Here’s a quick quiz to give you some feedback on how curious you really are.
This app lets you swipe right on the co-founder of your dreams
(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) It’s said that business can be a lot like dating – and Tertle is taking advantage of that to find you a vetted, high-quality co-founder with a few swipes.
Much like there is a dating app for every romantic match possible, there is now a way to match with your ideal co-founder. And the name will help you ease out of your shell when connecting with your new partner.
Tertle is a new online app that helps you find the co-founder that best suits your needs. According to developers, “Tertle sends you frequent, vetted, high-quality co-founder matches via email or WhatsApp based on things that matter to you – giving you precious time back and putting an end to endless profile crawling.”
So how does it work? Like any other matching app, you first start by creating your profile. Tell Tertle a little bit more about you and what you’re looking for in a co-founder.
Next comes the vetted matching. Tertle will match you up based on things you both care about – like your skill sets, location, values, and interests. Finally, you connect and chat. Receive weekly 1:1 video chat calendar invitations at a time that suits you.
When answering why Tertle was founded, developers wrote, “We, like you, are startup fanatics. Finding the right co-founders is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make in pursuit of a successful venture. We think there’s nothing currently out there that really hits the mark in helping like-minded co-founders easily connect—and so, Tertle hatched.”
As a reviewer pointed out on Product Hunt, the safest (and most heard about) route when selecting a co-founder is to choose someone you went to college with or have a long-standing relationship with. However, this may not always be an option and so it’s nice to have a little help from profile-matching algorithms.
Tertle developer Ryan Connaughton appreciated the Product Hunt feedback and expressed the following, “In terms of the algorithm, I’ve been matching people manually to test the waters while also working on a simple algorithm as MVP (what skillsets they’re looking for and location IF thats also important to them).
Following an MVP, my thinking is I can vet harder with more in-depth data collection (personality types, values, problems spaces of interest, etc). Of-course this will require a much deeper user-research/spike piece first before I can get to the right solution.
In addition, there can only be so much ‘filtering/vetting’ you can do before you have to get some hard validation that this is the right person – that being, actually working together. So assuming that I can get the prerequisites above right and there’s interest, I think there’s then potential of guided mini-hackathon style projects or some kind of ‘trials’.
Worst case scenario: You meet someone new, learn some stuff, give each other feedback for you to grow and have fun building something. Best case scenario: All of the above, plus the problem/solution holds water and/or you form a continued lasting relationship.”
The site boasts being free to beta users forever; so, if you’re on the hunt for a co-founder, it may be worth it to join the waitlist and see what’s out there.
Freelancers, this social site seeks to skyrocket your networking experience
(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Contra promises freelancers a new way to flex their experience by leveraging professional relationships in a bold take on networking and – at its core – hiring in general.
In the modern technical world, freelancers act as nomadic one-off hires that come aboard to complete a job and then are released back into the void. The rise of the gig economy and similar services has delivered new opportunities for those who need work and those who want to provide it, with entire platforms built around this idea of temporary employment. This is certainly viable and has given individuals more reach than ever before across networking systems.
However, these services tend to have some limitations – each job is isolated and usually cannot guarantee follow-up work with the same company. Workers may not be building themselves up meaningfully – lasting relationships with businesses aren’t guaranteed, interactions with colleagues might be brief, and long term freelancing might be viewed negatively. It can function alongside a career path, but is not necessarily a replacement for it (or at least is more difficult).
Maybe this could be blamed on the status quo and attitudes regarding employment, where extended tenure at the same company connotes loyalty and merit. There’s been some push against this in recent years given the way widespread platforms have enabled job seekers, but the hesitancy remains. Corporations want to hire quality candidates, but favor in-house employees that have proven themselves.
This is where Contra comes in, aiming to improve how freelancers function in the greater context of their industries. Based on their pitch, it does this by first placing a larger emphasis on networking, and then uses this as a way to reframe how we think about freelancing’s efficacy. Contra suggests that professional relationships hold more significance than traditional metrics. After all, referrals are king.
Put another way – people are your best bet to securing continued and new jobs, so let’s turn away from things like how long you’ve been somewhere and instead favor referrals, offering a path to focus on what you’ve done. As co-founder Gajus Kuizinas says, “…We are giving people the tools to describe their proudest career moments, publicly thank the people with whom they’ve worked with, and begin accepting inquiries for future opportunities.”
The hiring process might need a modern refresh
Maybe Contra isn’t saying it in so many words, and perhaps this is a harsh way to think about it, but maybe our current models for evaluating employment are misguided. There’s an emphasis placed on working at the same place for an extended period of time and at prominent companies. Those aren’t bad indicators by any means – there is something to be said for working at well known and established corporations.
But this can be hazy and gloss over what exactly someone did, which can hurt or diminish their contributions. If we focus on the positive, proactive question here of hiring qualified individuals, then what is the best thing to look at? The work.
Nothing is as accurate as looking directly at the results someone has produced – that is what matters. Quality outweighs where you were or how long you were there. Turn the attention away from “this is a series of one-off projects all over the place” and instead zero in on how all of those things best represent someone’s skill set.
This brings up a second problem – how can you best show this when trying to get new gigs? Sometimes a portfolio can’t speak primarily for itself, or legal contracts prevent divulging assets, or someone may not be the best at selling themselves. Even with a killer inventory of projects, there are still hurdles to overcome.
A one-two punch: Looking directly at what matters
Contra has a solution for this – flex those high profile relationships you’ve made. If you’ve got people eagerly talking about what you’ve done, they absolutely will show off your work. And they’ll do it with a level of excitement that will make a solid and lasting impression. After all, they’ve already received the fruits of your labor, and they’ll happily talk it up.
It’s a brilliant approach that puts a bigger emphasis on reinforcing your experience through the use of those around you. Contra’s solution is elegant – let’s allow our users, contributors, makers, and freelancers have access to a platform where they can build out a network of people who can vouch for them, and then actively utilize that social aspect. Keep your resume and portfolio, sure, but use it in tandem with those who will elevate you.
It’s a move toward something more alive.
Contra’s Community Lead explains, “Before joining the Community team at Contra, I was a freelancer who desperately wanted to make new connections with clients and other freelancers. Though — don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just want to network for the sake of networking. I wanted to make relationships with people who I could learn from and be inspired by. When using other freelancing sites, I realized I needed more from these platforms, not a quick one-off project with strangers (I don’t dig transactional interactions).”
It’s like a supercharged LinkedIn – instead of just listing out a bunch of static bullet points and hoping that coworkers drop by for a kind word, Contra’s hope is to take that latter part and make it the central focus. It’s a one-two punch of having a network of willing hype people alongside a portfolio and/or resume. This can include other freelancers, established employees at respected companies, or even well known veterans striking out with new startups.
The benefits don’t stop there – now a freelancer has greater access to mentors and inroads to bigger companies. Contra is providing solutions to things that plague the independent consultant route by creating support during all parts of the networking process – education, securing relationships, building upon past successes, improving a portfolio, and creating a network of reliable, helpful colleagues. It is empowering a freelancer to realize their true potential.
Voice over text
By providing a social backing component to the networking, job hunting, and freelancing process, Contra effectively resolves many of the shortcomings such a career path might adversely afford. It helps build out a way to repeat contracts, levels the playing field by projecting experience and results, and provides ways toward self improvement. It gives voice to someone by building up a support team – there’s safety and strength in numbers.
In a way, this feels like a modern and refreshing take on the freelancing process – something a bit more real and personal in the business world. We are social beings – let’s let others speak for us at times, even when it comes to our professional lives.
In a new world where there are dozens of communities, why shouldn’t there be one more devoted to the job search and hiring process? Contra’s platform may deliver just that to networking as a freelancer. It will be exciting to watch.
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