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?
“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.
I 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.
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.
Accept 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
Spinach 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.
The 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.
As 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.
Accept 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.
There 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.