As an entrepreneur, you know how important it is to stay focused so that you can tackle that to-do list every day and work toward your goals.
Easier said than done though, AMIRIGHT?
Since I started my own business, I can say that motivation, inspiration, and focus ebb and flow.
There’s a famous quote that goes something like this…
“You will never always be motivated. You have to learn to be disciplined.”
Learning how to channel discipline, while also honoring how I work best, has been a delicate balance that I’m just now starting to figure out.
I can honestly say that I’m now able to get a lot done in a day, but it isn’t because I’m a magical motivation machine. 😉
Over the last few years, I’ve identified four really helpful ways to recapture my focus to make progress on the things I need to get done.
Hopefully, you can put some of these things into action the next time you are struggling to find that motivation (or discipline) to get to work.
Use “If-Then” Statements
Dust off your cheerleading outfit and bring the pom poms. This is the pep talk your brain needs.
When something on your to-do list is less than appealing to you, put it in the context of what it’s going to do for you both now and in the future. Think about how checking that item off your to-do list will benefit you.
I always think about this in terms of my future self. When I just don’t feel like it, I will often think about what the cost/benefit is. What will I feel like after it’s finished? What benefit is there to actually doing this task?
For example, if I have to spend time organizing invoices and receipts, and I am less than thrilled by the idea, I will come up with an if/then statement that sounds something like this…
“If I get these invoices sent out, then my clients will pay me. Then I will make money and be able to do more to keep growing my business.”
This can apply to every aspect of your life– this doesn’t only work for business to-do lists. Grocery shopping does not ever sound like a thrilling way to spend my time. But when I’m hungry on Wednesday afternoon and there is a refrigerator full of food, I will be really glad I went shopping. Future Brittany will thank me for taking the time to get groceries (and so will the others I live with).
So the next time you are feeling less than inspired by your to-do list, give yourself those same pep talks. Think about what your future self would want. Think about where you want to be next year, next month, or even later today. Believe it or not, even the not-so-fun items on your list are pushing you in the direction of progress. Finding the ways those nuisance tasks are actually getting you closer to your goals will cause some sparks of inspiration to fly.
Change your scenery
If you are used to working from home, mostly by yourself, you know that sometimes things can start to feel a little monotonous. There are times that I feel really antsy sitting in my office. When that happens, I’m easily distracted, and I’m not getting anything accomplished.
That is when I know I need a change of scenery. Sometimes just working in a different location can cause inspiration to strike.
Changing locations can look like:
- • Working from your front porch on a beautiful day.
- • Moving to the dining room table for new surroundings.
- • Standing at the kitchen island to work for a bit.
- • Going to a coffee shop, library, or co-working space for a day to really break up the routine.
You may think that you are a creature of habit and that you work best when you keep your routine, but studies have actually shown the opposite. Your brain loves when you introduce it to new situations and settings. New surroundings trigger new motivation.
Think about the last time you started something new or were in a brand new situation. Chances are you felt a whole lot of different things, but your brain was most definitely engaged. Your brain is always seeking out novelty in new, shiny experiences.
So when your performance is less than lackluster, give your brain a new environment for it to recharge and refocus.
Whether it’s a new location in your home or escaping to a new space for the afternoon, you will be amazed at how fast you power through that to-do list when you change your scenery!
Take a Break!
Whew– this one is hard for so many people!
But I mean it… Take a break.
I know that this can feel counterproductive at the moment.
When you are spinning your wheels and staring at the flashing cursor on the screen, more than likely you start trying to push yourself through whatever you are working on. You just keep telling yourself that you have to get something done. Taking a break feels like the complete opposite of what you should be doing. You will never get anything done if you are taking a break.
But here’s the thing, research suggests that you shouldn’t be trying to accomplish tasks in huge chunks of time, to begin with. Studies show that most adults can focus on one task for about 20 minutes to an hour at a time. There are numerous studies that support a bunch of different times in that range, but the magical number that seems to get the most attention is 52 minutes.
So there is no point sitting there for hours at a time trying to power through. It just isn’t going to happen.
Plus, when you have to completely force something, you probably aren’t doing your best work anyway.
Sometimes your break can be a quick five-minute one. Get a snack and some water. Step out onto your porch for a few minutes of fresh air and Vitamin D.
You may need more than that, though and it’s ok! Remember those studies we talked about earlier? Most say a break of 15-20 minutes is ideal (with the sweet spot being 17 minutes).
(If you need some additional reassurance around this whole idea of taking a break, check out this article on LinkedIn for the research that will convince you it is just what you need!)
Some people thrive on low-energy breaks. You might want to catch a quick nap. Maybe reading a book or watching a show is more your thing. Those are GREAT options!
You may also fall into the group that cannot sit still for a moment longer. Being tied to your computer for hours is torture. If this sounds more like you, use those 15-20 minutes to have a dance party. Take a walk around the block. Get some chores done– load the dishwasher or change the laundry.
No matter what your break time needs to look like, be sure you take the time for breaks in your day. It should not just be when you are “stuck”. (But in those moments, that is probably when you need it most).
When you start scheduling breaks in your day or take breaks when you need them, you will be very pleasantly surprised to find that your productivity will actually increase.
Ask for Help
I am starting to sound like a broken record, but if you are anything like me, asking for help is something that is hard to do.
For years, I would work constantly trying to do it all myself.
Then I built a team to help me with my business tasks and started asking my friends and family to help me with other things that I was not getting to in my day. I cannot begin to tell you how much freedom it has given me. I actually get to spend my time doing the parts of my job that I absolutely love! My creativity and focus are at an all-time high.
If you are unfocused and unproductive because you are overwhelmed, you are exactly where I was. You need to find ways to ask for help.
I know that it can be really hard to let go of things and trust others to do the job you would do. It took a long time for me to come around to the idea that other people can actually do things just as well as I do. I do not need to have constant control over every tiny detail of every part of my life and business.
You may not be in a place with your business that you can bring on a team or hire people to take on some of your tasks. There are plenty of other ways you can get help in your day that won’t require you to make a serious investment.
Here are some things to try:
- • See if you can barter services or products with other entrepreneurs. If you are a social media manager but really need help with bookkeeping, find a bookkeeper you can make some social media posts for. I am willing to bet spending an hour on her social media will be more fulfilling to you than working on those bookkeeping tasks.
- • If you are trying to juggle taking care of your kiddos while working all day, see if you can rotate play dates with some other parents in your neighborhood. With so many people working from home now, there will be plenty of people that would be thrilled with the idea of a few quiet hours a week while the kiddos get the chance to play together in new environments.
- • See if you can outsource one-off tasks on Fiverr or Upwork. You can probably pay someone $20 to handle that copywriting task that you keep pushing to the bottom of your to-do list.
- • Find new ways to prioritize what needs to get done. There is no way you can do it all in a day. You need to be focusing on the tasks that keep your business running and flourishing first. Mike Michalowicz, the author of Profit First and Clockwork, talks about the Queen Bee Role. The Queen Bee Role is that whole idea around taking care of what your business needs to thrive before you do anything else. You have to protect the Queen Bee at all costs. Nothing else will run smoothly if you neglect these things. I highly recommend you check out Clockwork where he talks about this in-depth. It will really help give you perspective on what you should be getting done in a day and what to do about everything else.
If you do have the funds (even if they are limited) to bring someone on to help you with daily business operations, I highly recommend that you do. It will be the best money you spend. Start small- bring someone a few hours a week to help with clerical tasks or the part of your business that bogs you down. You will be amazed at how much freedom just that small investment gives you.
Just remember that everyone has moments, days, or weeks that are just not always productive. Motivation will come and go. When those moments strike, give yourself grace and be patient with yourself. Use some (or all) of my tricks to help get you over those hurdles when they arise. Dig deep for the discipline you have taught yourself to get you where you are. And when all else fails, take that break!