Entrepreneurs and business builders face an enormous challenge. Aside from needing to learn new skills rapidly, we have more tasks to complete every day than we have time for.
This ongoing challenge has driven me to experiment, practice and implement using proven methods for executing at a high level. Over the years I’ve adopted many principles that have worked well for me and my clients and many that have not.
My baseline is always results. As a business builder, I’m not interested in theory, I need results.
It seems like everyone wants you to think there is a magic pill for productivity, time management, and getting more done. We see companies advertising super brain power supplements, gurus sharing their “secret” methods for getting more done, and click-bait articles suggesting the top 5 things you can do to be more productive.
The liberating truth, proven time and time again by science, is that you need to focus on doing less, better.
Multitasking Is Overrated (i.e. It Doesn’t Work) Early on I needed answers because my approach wasn’t working. As a coach, I needed to market to my audience, generate qualified leads, have conversations with prospective clients, serve my current clients, chase down outstanding issues, and make time to hone my craft and develop my offers – quite often, all in the same week!
Initially, I tried to do everything at once – check mail, answer questions, and work on all the projects mentioned above, simultaneously by “multitasking.” Within five minutes I would start to write a newsletter article, and then switch to answer email as it came in.
I would join a call or webinar and continue working on other projects at the same time. It looked like multitasking in all its glory – never losing a second, and always getting work done. The truth is, I was all over the place.
At first, I thought I was making progress. Multiple pieces of work were inching forward albeit very slowly. Then I realized how many mistakes I was making and how long I was spending trying to remember where I left off and what to do next.
In other words, I was wasting a tremendous amount of time and energy constantly switching between tasks and often finding myself returning to work that I could have finished in one dedicated chunk of time.
Scientific research has validated my subpar results. Research conducted at Stanford University shows that not only do serial multitaskers take longer to switch tasks than others, but they also have difficulty organizing thoughts and filtering out the irrelevant information.
Why Do We Still Do This When We Know It’s Ineffective?
The irony of this is that most of us instinctively know that multitasking isn’t effective – and yet we still try to do it.
The prominent theory about the necessity for multitasking is based on evolution – that it could have been life-saving to proactively seek out further information such as the sights and sounds of dangerous predators, or similar threats.
The big difference in our modern society is the sheer volume of input that we are exposed to and how this has taken us beyond an evolutionary need and thrown us into dangerous territory.
Information scientists have quantified all this: In 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986 – the equivalent of 174 newspapers. During our leisure time, not counting work, each of us processes 34 gigabytes, or 100,000 words, every day.
Given how technology has increased our productivity and efficiency, many of us want to feel like we are doing as much as possible and leveraging modern-day tools and resources to the fullest.
It’s rewarding to think we can make the most of every moment, consume a wide array of content, and out-work those around us. Focusing on one thing at a time can seem so old school.
As an entrepreneur, I can attest to how technologies such as texting, e-mail, instant messaging, video-conferencing, document sharing, etc. can be seen as enhancers of productivity.
These tools have increased our expectations of what we think is possible despite their remarkable ability to continually distract us. We are encouraged to take on more than we can handle and we chronically overuse these tools while continually switching them throughout the day.
This could explain why those who deliver the highest results are consistently focusing on less vs trying to maintain an ongoing portfolio of grandiose projects with minimal execution.
As I write this right now, with some honest self-reflection, I can’t help but think of the countless occasions where I have blamed my lack of execution on having too much to do, and not being able to focus on one thing.
There is little doubt that technology has played a significant role in fostering a multitasking culture. Our attention is constantly being fought for by companies like Apple, Facebook, Instagram, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Netflix… each with their own set of addictive, dopamine driving notifications and feeds.
I have enough self-awareness to know that my brain floods with pleasure-driven chemicals when I see message alerts, “likes” and reposts. Unfortunately, these incessant buzzes encourage us to split our attention and lead us to believe we can do more and have more in every moment.
We’re being sucked into this lie over and over again, at the risk of our own sanity and ability to execute at a high level.
What To Do Instead: Focus → Flow → Results
Given that we know multitasking doesn’t work for the vast majority for us, what can we do instead?
As a famously talented procrastinator, I have come to identify that being highly productive is more about being in a state of flow than adhering to any particular process. So the important question becomes, “How can I place myself in an optimal state of flow?”
Flow come from one thing – focus.
When you choose to become fully absorbed in the task at hand, by removing distractions and committing fully, you’ll naturally enter a flow state.
We’ve all experienced this feeling, where words flow, ideas pour freely, and we lose ourselves in our work. Proactively entering this state will lead to our most productive and highly efficient selves. And it all starts by having the courage to admit that we cannot do everything at once.
If you’re anything like me, you tend to jump around and attempt to complete multiple things at once. Whether it’s driven by a sense of boredom and lack of discipline, do yourself a huge favor and acknowledge that science (and most likely your results) show that there is a better way. Once you can accept this, commit this formula to memory:
Focus → Flow → Results
What does FOCUS really look like? It looks like choosing a singular thing to place your attention on for a specified period of time. And once you’ve done this, you are going to create space by removing all distractions. You might need to switch your phone to airplane mode, put headphones on, close browser tabs, shut your email down, whatever it takes to give you the space you need.
The more you allow yourself to become immersed and absorbed in one particular activity, the faster you will enter your flow state.
FLOW is the state where you can most easily access the ideas, intelligence, and brilliance that you have within you, but rarely have the opportunity to emerge because of your inability to slow down, clear away the distractions, and focus.
Research states that most top performers in any realm are dedicated to creating at least 2 – 4 blocks of uninterrupted focus time every week. The optimal time required to drop into a flow state is anywhere from 90-minutes to two hours, with 90-minutes being the minimum time required to get any real amount of creative work accomplished.
Ask yourself, “Are you prioritizing a minimum of 2-4 time blocks of 90-minutes of distraction-free focus time into your week?”
By deliberately creating 2-4 (or more) time blocks to move your most important ideas forward every week, you will generate so much momentum that RESULTS will become inevitable.
Understand this. Executing at a high level is 100% your choice – it’s not a mythical state that comes and goes on its own schedule. You are entirely in control. And once you realize this, it can be a liberating moment.
Liberate Yourself – Focus On Doing Less, Better
I’ve found that committing to doing less is liberating. Where I once heaped pressure on myself to get as much done on as many things as possible, I now dedicate myself to doing less, better.
As an entrepreneur who has so many things vying for my attention, my ability to discern what’s most important and then ruthlessly cutting away everything else, is a game changer.
Here are my top suggestions for doing less, better:
- Plan your week ahead. Spend 20-30 minutes during the weekend to identify the single most important thing that needs to get finished in the coming week.
- Identify your Focus Time. Block out 2-4 chunks of time on your calendar where you can work, distraction-free, on your most important project for the week.
- Don’t bite off more than you can handle. No more than two projects in a month, especially of you’re a solo-entrepreneur or have a really small team.
- Start and then finish. Commit to finishing one project before taking on a new one.
- Hell Yes or No. When deciding whether to start something new, if you feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yes!” – then just say “no.”
If you find yourself working on numerous projects, and none of them seem to be getting the traction or creating the momentum you desire, consider implementing the suggestions above.
It was difficult for me me accept that I couldn’t do everything at once, and that trying to do it all was sabotaging my ability to create the impact I desired. No matter how counter-intuitive it may seem, commit to doing less, and doing it better.