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5 ways productive business owners fight through distractions and stay focused

[BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR] No, multitasking isn’t something you should brag about. Retrain your brain to stay focused and boost your productivity with these simple tips.

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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.

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.

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.

Business Entrepreneur

How to effectively share negative thoughts with your business partner

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You and your business partner(s) are in a close relationship, and just like a marriage, negative emotions may play a role in the relationship.

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You and your business partner are in a relationship. Your business was born when you shared a common vision of the future and became giddy from the prospect of all you could do together that you couldn’t do alone. Now, you spend much of the day doing things together in collaboration. The stakes are high; there are obstacles to overcome, decisions to make together, deadlines to meet, and all the stresses of running a business.

It’s no wonder a business partnership can often be just as complicated and emotional as a romantic relationship. If you are struggling with your business partner, you might find helpful advice in resources originally targeted towards troubled couples.

Relationship expert Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein has explored how to share “toxic thoughts” with your partner. In a linked article, Bernstein describes toxic thoughts as distortions of the truth that cause us to overemphasize the negative attributes of our partner.

Some examples of toxic thoughts include blaming your partner for larger problems that aren’t really their fault, inaccurately assuming your partners intentions, or resenting your partner for not intuiting your needs, even if you haven’t expressed them. The defining characteristic of these toxic thoughts is that, although they may be based in the truth, they are generally exaggerations of reality, reflecting our own stresses and insecurities.

Just as much as in a love relationship, these toxic thoughts could easily strain a business partnership. If you find yourself having toxic thoughts about your business partner, you will need to decide whether to hold your tongue, or have a potentially difficult conversation. Even when we remain quiet about our frustrations, they are easily felt in the awkward atmosphere of interpersonal tension and passive aggressive slights that results.

Dr. Bernstein points out that being honest about your toxic thoughts with your partner can help increase understanding and intimacy. It also gives your partner a chance to share their toxic thoughts with you, so you’d better be ready to take what you dish out. It might be hard to talk about our frustrations with each other so candidly, but it might also be the most straightforward way to resolve them.

Then again, Bernstein points out, some people prefer to work through their toxic thoughts alone. By his own definition, toxic thoughts are unfair exaggerations of and assumptions about our partner’s behavior. If you find yourself jumping to conclusions, assuming the worst, or blaming your partner for imagined catastrophes, perhaps you’d better take a few minutes to calm down and consider whether or not it’s worth picking a fight about. Then again, if you’re self-aware enough to realize that you are exaggerating the truth, you can probably also tease out the real roots of any tension you’ve been experiencing with your business partner.

If you are going to get personal, shoulder your own emotional baggage and try to approach your partner with equal parts honesty and diplomacy. Avoid insults, stay optimistic, and focus on solutions. State your own feelings and ask questions, rather than airing your assumptions about their intentions or behaviors. Keep your toxic thoughts to yourself, and work towards adjusting the behaviors that are making you feel negatively towards each other. Your business might depend on it.

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Business Entrepreneur

Zen, please: Demand for mental health services surges during pandemic

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) 2020 has been an exceptionally hard year for many on a mental front. How has COVID-19 changed the mental health landscape?

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Man leaning against tree, affected by mental health.

As the pandemic stretches on, it continues to affect everything from jobs to plastic bags, but one major shift has come with mental health. According to the National Council for Mental Health, while demand for mental health services is up 52%, the capacity of mental health organizations have actually diminished. So…what does this mean?

Mental health startups get a boost

From tele-health to mindfulness apps, venture capital investments for mental health startups have already surpassed what was earned in 2019. And it makes sense; as more people are isolated for long stretches of time, there has become a greater demand for digital mental wellness services.

With COVID-19 predicted to spike again in the coming months, combined with shorter spans of daylight and less welcoming weather, the desire for these sorts of businesses isn’t likely to fade. If you have an idea for a neat app or website to help with mental well-being in some way, now is prime time to release it.

Companies increase mental health options

As the pandemic rages on, many companies have started to partner with mental health solutions for their employees. For instance, Starbucks has started offering free therapy sessions to employees through the mental wellness provider Lyra, and Zoom began to offer mental health seminars.

Of course, while smaller companies might not have the means to provide specific therapy, many companies have gotten creative with how they’re looking out for employees’ mental and emotional well-being. From providing virtual meditation sessions, to increasing self-managed leave, to connecting employees through book clubs or happy hours, there are a variety of ways that any company can help employees manage their psyche during these difficult times.

Resources are more accessible

Although therapy and similar apps do cost money (many apps include a monthly fee for the services provided), there are plenty of low cost alternatives available for those having a hard time. For example, many sites are offering free trials to services. There are also plenty of free or low-cost apps available to help you do anything from track your moods to manage your breathing. Or check out YouTube for videos to help with yoga or meditation.

While these resources are not a replacement for medication or talk therapy, they can help mediate some of the increased strain on our mental state that many of us are feeling right now.

In case of an emergency, there is also the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is available by phone call or chat 24 hours a day. If you or someone you know is struggling, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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Business Entrepreneur

The success of your business could be tied to your succession plan

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You can’t spell ‘successor’ without success. In the age of COVID-19, are the two mutually exclusive to your ventures?

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Women at desk with laptop discussion succession.

“Heir” is a weighty term. A fun pun, to be sure, through the beauty of English homophones. But seriously, unless you’re already 10% and up rich, talk of heirs and succession does connote a certain heaviness you may not be used to.

For those choosing successors, it’s the heaviness of accepting mortality. For the potential promotees, it’s the heaviness of accepting a multitude of responsibilities. Or buying ear poison. Either way.

We expect to deal with familial succession. As eldest (assuming he doesn’t outlive me), I’m in charge of flinging Dad’s ashes into a nicer section of the ocean and distributing all of his Cosby sweaters amongst the sibs, and I take the role very seriously.

As a serial-small-business employee though, I’ve only just started wondering what would happen if my boss died. Of all the ‘lose your job’ scenarios I’ve had waking nightmares about, that one in particular only cropped up for me a year ago. And now, with the coronavirus taking up our attention, more business owners than usual might be wondering the same thing from the other side of the desk.

What’s going to happen to my employees if I’m too sick to work? Have I set things up so that this company can survive past me? Does at least one other person know the combination to the safes?

If your business is big enough to have employees and advisors on deck, these are questions you need to have answered… Preferably in written, notarized form to ensure smooth succession.

So where should you start? Probably with a good talk.

If you have a next-in-command standing ready, but don’t have a plan yet, let them know that if the inevitable happens sooner rather than later, that you’d like them to step in. A frank conversation about their future with your brand, and actually asking them if they feel up to taking the reins is a great place to start. Otherwise, consider your network— who you might sell the business to, and who might know someone who knows someone.

P.S. If your VP says they’d rather run off and sail the world if you got hit by an asteroid next week, please don’t hold it against them.

We all know that ghosts stick around because they’ve got unfinished business, right? Don’t let your literal business be the shade that haunts your team! Take a deep breath and get the ball rolling on THIS side of the dirt… Ouija boards can only do so much.

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