Since starting my business nearly 6 years ago, I have struggled maintaining focus. When I am busy I can maintain focus much more easily than when I am not busy. That doesn’t make sense to me: you’d think with the head space that quiet and no pressure offers that I would think more clearly. Apparently not. So, I made it my mission to find out how I can maintain focus and be as productive in the quiet times as much as the busy times. Three things made a difference for me and they are:
- Do It
- Know It
- Mix It
1. Do It
Before setting up New Voice I worked at General Electric for 14 years and got used to pressure, working against tight deadlines and with different types of people. I didn’t realise how much I had been moulded by that environment until I found myself sitting in front of my desk, in the first month of being my own boss and struggling each day to get something constructive done. I would stare blankly into space, “thinking” but ultimately not making any progress on key things. That was 6 years ago and whilst I have learnt to manage myself much better, I still find myself procrastinating when I have too much time or too many choices. I know I am not alone in this and there is lots of great advice out there about how to move the needle on things and my mantra is similar to Nike, “Do It”.
No matter how big the task might seem or how many options you have to get it done, just starting it is the biggest step you can take. I had that lesson very recently.
A few months ago, I wrote a couple of articles describing what my 2 chocolate labradors taught me about leadership. I really enjoyed writing the articles and they were really well received by people so after listening to a colleague talking about the value of eBooks, I decided I wanted to turn those articles into an eBook. OK, great. I had the idea and then…….. nothing. I would talk to my husband about it and get really excited about it and then the next day, do absolutely nothing on it. Until, one day a couple of weeks ago I took myself by the shoulders, gave myself a good shake and got stuck in.
I remembered my husband talking about Upwork, a site he uses at his work when he needs some freelance work being done and I thought I would take a look. Well, this was the catalyst for me to take that first step and now I am really close to getting the eBook out there and even more excited about it! I have no affiliation to Upwork so this recommendation is purely about how it made me take that critical first step. There is so much talent you can access through that site it’s bonkers! I know there are other similar platforms but I found Upwork particularly easy to work with. I am one of those people if it becomes too hard, I switch off and try something else, I am not the best problem solver…. luckily I married a man who is! Anyway, at no point did the set up process or posting of the job or selecting the right freelancer etc become too hard so I figured it all out myself!
The image at the top of this article is a portion of the amazing work done so far on this…… more to come!!
2. Know It
I mentioned earlier the way of working I learnt at GE: it worked well for me in that environment but it has taken me nearly 6 years to realise that it doesn’t help me working for myself. At GE, I didn’t really need to be self motivated or decide what to do next: I had two bosses, a team of direct reports, a group of colleagues, my boss’ boss and a myriad of other people and processes that gave me work and made me busy. So, naturally when I left that environment, I thought I would revel in the opportunity to be the mistress of my own destiny and decide what I do and when I do it. I didn’t have to work from 9am to 9pm, I could have long lunches and spend time on me. In reality, it felt like I was ‘cheating’ by not being at my desk, in front of my computer, I wasn’t working if I was spending time on ‘me’ plus it was very disconcerting not having anyone to be accountable to.
Sure, I had myself to be accountable to but I have no problem letting myself down…..
So, I realised I needed to change and introduced a couple of things that made a big difference:
- Created a daily list of things to do – this covered everything work related as well as the house, the dogs and myself
- Gave the ‘To Do’ list to my husband so that I had someone other than myself to be accountable to
- Left the house at least every other day to work at a different location, whether that was Starbucks, the library etc
That worked for a while and then I got busy with a big project and life was good. It has been like that for the last 4 years or so and then earlier this year, things became slow, I didn’t have a lot to work on and I felt myself slipping and being really unproductive. And then I found myself at a regular networking session that had a speaker whose speciality was Productivity! Hello! And boy, did that work. Colin Boyd runs the Productivity Academy and his processes and tools are spot on. They are not mind blowing but I think that’s what works – they are simple, easy to implement and effective. I will let you find out about what he does but if you are struggling to really get everything done, then take a step back, go back to basics and re-learn the methods that are effective for you. Just because you have been doing it one way fir the last number of years doesn’t mean it’s right for you now or the environment you are working in.
3. Mix It
I often compare myself to a Magpie – continually distracted by the shiny things. Reason is, I love having lots of different things to focus on and have to do, it keeps me motivated and makes me feel needed. Strange then, that the work routine I set for myself from the beginning was to sit at my desk from 9am to 5pm, with only 1 hour for lunch which was typically eaten at my desk. And that would be everyday I didn’t have a client meeting. And then the assumption that I really should check emails in the evening too, you know just to make sure the imaginary world I was Queen of hadn’t imploded due to my absence. I made such an ass of myself!
No wonder I struggled being productive. And I worked that way for years!
2016 has been a revelation. So far, it has not been my strongest year financially, operationally or commercially but it has been my strongest year in figuring out what I want, what I need and what I have to do about it.
It has taken courage and there have definitely been some questionable moments but I am so glad I have had to mix things up, try new ways and just suck it and see. I have realised how resourceful I can be, how creative I am, how amazing my husband and close friends are and what’s really important.
The key was taking the time to learn through reading and reflection. Just because I wasn’t typing words down or writing in my books didn’t mean I wasn’t working. For some of you, that might sound so obvious and it is! But, as explained before, I have had years of working in an environment that working every hour meant you were working hard. It’s a really hard habit to break!
Now I make sure I listen to my head and body – some mornings I need to have a couple of hours exercising before I sit at my computer because I am just not ready or focused enough. Other days, I want to get straight into it and may do some exercise over lunch or in the afternoon. If I keep looking out my window at the sun then I’ll take the hint I need a break, take the latest book I am reading and go sit in the sun for an hour. The key is giving a timeframe to things, setting the timer and when the buzzer goes off I may be ready to switch to something else or if I am in the throes of some amazing work then I’ll reset the timer and keep going.
So, keeping focused is hard work. It takes a number of different strategies but trying new things is what keeps it fresh and enjoyable. I smile more these days because I am doing work that I love, in a way that I enjoy and it’s producing the results I need.