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January 2019

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Staying Focused as a Small-Business Owner
How to remain aware of operations on macro and micro levels

Everyone gets distracted from time to time. For those running small businesses, distractions are not only more frequent but also more detrimental to success. Staying focused is a key tool every small-business owner should have in their toolbox.

Fewer is better

Most successful business owners agree that starting something is easy, but finishing it is hard. Apple CEO Tim Cook once explained that one of the core principles Steve Jobs instilled in the company was the need to stay focused on doing only what you do best. “It’s easy to add … it’s hard to stay focused,” he said in a Charlie Rose interview. “And so the hardest decisions we make are all the things not to work on.”

For startups, discovering the one thing that will make you stand out and that customers will value is crucial to success. Attempting to do too many things at once will fracture your attention and also your budget and other resources. It’s better to focus on a single service at first. “Google started by performing searches, Amazon sold books and Airbnb enabled homeowners to rent out rooms. None of them had to fulfill more than those core functions to be successful,” wrote Next-Insurance CEO and co-founder Guy Goldstein in a March 2018 article for Entrepreneur.

Working to provide the best product in a specific niche is much easier and will set you apart more than trying to tackle too many things at once. Branching out should come much later when you have already found success.

Daily focus

Focusing on the big picture is important, but as a small business owner, you also need to stay focused as an individual on the micro scale. That is to say, you need to be able to focus during daily tasks or meetings, to get through the day productively without getting bogged down by the myriad of distractions facing small-business owners. Entrepreneur.com asked 40 entrepreneurs what they did to stay focused throughout the day, and though the answers varied, three common themes ran through the core of most: break down tasks, put the phone away and stay active.

Break down tasks

There are many reasons to break down tasks into steps. Many people simply find it helpful to break down workload into digestible chunks. This allows you to focus on one task — and one task only — at a time. You’ll get more done by arranging your day’s work sequentially than by trying to do everything simultaneously. You can also break down tasks that would normally take a long time into smaller, more easily-manageable nuggets. “I try to break everything into small tasks,” said Luis von Ahn, co-founder and CEO of Duolingo. “I’m not good at doing things that take months, but I am good at doing things that take a half an hour. I break things down into 15- to 30-minute pieces.”

Put the phone away

Many entrepreneurs find it beneficial to take time away from devices and screens. Some elect not to check their email more than once an hour, while others simply dedicate a specific time of the day to responding to them. Others take the more drastic measure of outright deleting the email app from their phone to minimize distractions. “I removed both Safari and the news app from my phone,” said Lyft co-founder and President John Zimmer. “Reducing noise from my phone makes it so when I’m in a meeting, for example, I’m the most focused.”

Stay active

Medical scientists say that exercise helps improve and maintain memory and concentration, and many entrepreneurs concur that going outside and staying active helps them retain their focus. “I wake up and go for a run in Central Park every day,” BANDIER founder Jennifer Bandier said in a December 2015 interview for BusinessInsider. “Having an hour dedicated to fitness and well-being allows me to focus more intently on my work-related tasks for the remainder of the day.” Many entrepreneurs find that they come back to their work with more clarity and focus after having exercised, or even simply after having taken some time for themselves.

As a small-business owner, it’s important to stay focused both on the big picture and on the smaller tasks in front of you every day. In both cases, avoiding multitasking is key. Do everything one step at a time, delegate or postpone distractions to a more convenient time and stay on top of your own physical wellbeing.


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