Get Over It: That Terrible Inability to Focus

Our fearless panel provides their best tips for keeping your eye on the prize.

Colleen DeBaise By Colleen DeBaise

It’s called “bright shiny object” syndrome. You’ve got so many new ideas running through your mind that you lose sight of the big picture. And it’s a common problem, especially when you’re just launching your business.

One female entrepreneur, Aki Otelo Williams of DC Home Buzz, told us via our 1,000 Stories research project that she got the “entrepreneur dizzies” when she started — “I wanted to do everything,” she said. Another business owner, Dana B. Meyers of Booty Parlor, said she’s “naturally opportunistic” (like most entrepreneurs) so focus remains her biggest challenge. “I want to do everything, try everything, say yes to everything!”

We’ve asked our impressive group of entrepreneurs and small-business experts to weigh in.

What’s your best tip for staying focused when you’re starting a company?

ali brown 2“Bright shiny object syndrome” is the worst enemy of the woman starting a business. “Ooooo look at this! Ooooo how about that?” But remember in your startup stages, your first focus should be making money. Period. Otherwise you will lose your dream. What’s your fastest path to a full time income on your own? What are you selling? Who are your clients/customers? Where can you find them? And how can you compel them to buy from you? Keep it simple. Write down new ideas as you get them, but focus on getting off the ground and making money ASAP.

Ali BrownAliBrown.com, @alibrown

Judi Henderson-TownsendI hired a business coach that I meet with twice a month to keep me focused. Even though I consider myself highly focused, I needed to change, delegate or re-prioritize the things I was focusing on in order to grow my business to a new level. Without the guidance and expertise of the coach, I would have continued to do things the way I always did. And the coach is always there to nudge me when I fall back into old patterns.

Judi Henderson-TownsendMannequin Madness@mannequinmadnes

jen grooverThis answer might be a bit different than what you expected. When an entrepreneur’s passion for business kicks into high gear, the first thing to go usually is self-care. When self-care goes, so does your mental clarity — which has direct impact on your focus, creativity and productivity.  When your body is fueled properly you can focus better and accomplish more.  Drinks 64oz of water a day. Eat proper portions of energy-producing foods (such as avacados, nuts, etc) and stay away from energy-zapping foods, like sugar-laden and white-flour foods. Lastly, make exercise a daily part of your routine — no matter how many emails you need to get through.

Jen GrooverJenGroover.com, @jengroover

James Waldinger Lack of focus often separates the entrepreneurs and ventures that succeed from those that don’t. The key is to be proactive, not reactive, in how you tackle what must get done. Remember: You are your venture’s most valuable resource. So think about resource allocation before you dig into that Inbox to put out small fires. Ask “What would it cost for someone else to do this task (exactly as well as it needs to get done) vs. the cost of my doing it?” The goal is to free up your time to do those mission critical things that ONLY YOU can do. One useful exercise: practice explaining to a potential investor how you allocate your time. If you find yourself spouting off a laundry list of administrative tasks, it’s time to rethink your approach.

James WaldingerArtivest, @artivest

Joanna LordReducing “squirrel!” syndrome is a tough one. My tip for staying focused is to pay a lot of attention to your environment. Too often we think that if we just put on headphones or close our other windows we can focus — but there is much more to it than that. Reduce clutter, create the perfect atmosphere and have a clock staring right at you! The more aware you are of time passing, the more driven you will be to use it well. I invest in the right desk, chair, equipment to maximize productivity. Being an entrepreneur is a lifestyle, so don’t just optimize your work hours. Optimize your space and life for maximum productivity.

Joanna LordPorch, @joannalord

Rod KurtzAccept that you will lose focus. Often. Comes with the territory. The key is to not freak out about it. Once you know that, you’ll be better able to rein in your creative juices.

I’m a big fan of good old fashioned to-do lists, styled after popcorn sizes at the movies — small, medium, and mega. Post-it notes are my lifeline, and I make a to-do list every night for the next day. I like Post-its because they’re naturally limiting. Whatever I can fit on there is about all I can (and should) try to squeeze into a day. Then there’s a notebook-size list that tracks more weekly goals. And finally, a whiteboard-style list that tracks much bigger-picture projects. The sheer size of it is a way to keep the literal bigger picture in mind — and, in turn, help you keep your focus.

Rod Kurtz, @rodkurtz

ann mehlSpinach first. Your mom was right. Always tackle the most difficult task on your plate first thing in the morning when your energy and concentration level is at its highest. Get to the hard stuff as early as you can. The longer you put it off in favor of easier, lower priority matters, the bigger that mound gets (and the worse it tastes). Always keep the main thing the main thing.

Ann MehlAnnMehl.com, @annmehl

Jennifer WalshThe best way to focus is to write it all down. This helps gauge important tasks at hand. If it is written down you can visually “see” it and not just lose the thought in your mind. I call this the Grand Edit! We must take the time to write down what takes highest priority in the next 30-60-90 days and truly plan out from there.

Jennifer WalshPride & Glory, @behindthebrand

Angela Jia KimAs soon as you become an entrepreneur – and especially if you are also a parent and spouse – you enter into the Game of Priorities. 99% of what comes at you is noise, and 1% is what you get to laser focus on. Since I have three businesses, a daughter, and a husband, I’ve become good at compressing 100 hours of to-dos into 10 hours by the sheer power of focus. My employees joke and say, “She’s having a baby… leave her alone” when I’m outputting many projects. That’s the kind of passionate focus you need to manifest something you can be proud of.  Saying “no” is saying “yes” to priorities.

Angela Jia KimSavor the Success, @savorthesuccess

Adriana GardellaAccept that you can only pursue a limited number of opportunities, say three maximum, and keep your big picture goal in mind as you weigh various initiatives (e.g., attend a trade show? launch a social media campaign? expand into another city?).

Compare each initiative against your goal. If it won’t get you there, put it on hold.

Adriana Gardella, New York Times, @adrianagardella

felena hansonThere are two parts to staying focused. No. 1: Know your “launch sequence,” or where to place attention next. Writing a business plan helps, but having a mentor or advisor is key.  You can find these resources via your local SCORE office, business network or coworking space. No. 2. Have a solid vision statement and detailed goals, and run all new ideas through these filters.  Ask yourself, “Does this idea get me closer to my vision or will this potentially pull me off track?” If it’s the latter, then note it in an idea journal or a program like Evernote and revisit it down the line. Diluted focus = diluted bank account.

Felena Hanson, Hera Hub, @felenahanson

Posted: August 4, 2014

Colleen DeBaiseGet Over It: That Terrible Inability to Focus
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