Staring at 14 open browser tabs, I get distracted.
How is my Minecraft city coming along? Distractedly, I click away to watch another tutorial.
Or, I open Disney Plus to watch the latest Marvel creation.
Or, I start filtering through my thousands of unread messages in my email’s promotions tab .
Do one of these scenarios sound vaguely familiar?
For business owners, the struggle is real. And most of this procrastination and shiny object syndrome comes from too many decisions.
So call it decision fatigue.
Call it procastination
Call it over multi-tasking.
Whatever you call it, you might find yourself behind on all your work a month or two later, wondering where all your time has gone.
I have found the following 6 tips to be incredibly useful for focusing and getting through insane to-do lists in a limited time.
1. Limit Computer Use
Computers are easily the fastest writing tool I have. They are also the most distracting.
When I need to brainstorm or structure my thoughts, pen and paper remove distractions. If you’re spending your time procrastinating, move away from your computer.
2. Organize Your Lists
The great value of a list is the fact that you can put certain decisions in a safe place and only think about them when you need to.
When I am working on my weekly to-do lists, I use a leather bound bullet journal. You can find your own at Hobby Lobby for approximately $10 or if you want something a little nicer, go check out your Etsy Journal options.
Shopping lists are interesting at my house because I need fast and convenient so I use the Notion app on my phone. But my wife needs to be able to have undistracted thought processing when thinking about meals and such. She uses a paper pad on the refrigerator. As you can see, an organized list looks different for different people.
When I am working on projects for clients or at Aletheia Christian College, we use a variety of project management tools and lists.
When everything I need to do is written down on a list, and the lists are organized in a useful fashion, I don’t have to think through “What’s next?” I just go to the next item on the list and work on it.
3. Put First Things First
When I’m overwhelmed, I do the dishes and the laundry first.
These are urgent, but they are not really important to do first. If you are not familiar with Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important Matrix or with Steven Covey’s interpretation using an urgent/important quadrant, you should take time to research that a little more.
When I think of what is important in my business activities, it is managing employees and volunteers, creating content, and measuring marketing. For most busy business owners, we need to find time for the important activities of managing our employees, managing our systems, and connecting with customers. Everything else needs to be secondary. The really distracting, urgent things should be put off for a time when they can be done in a batch, given to someone else to do, or stopped entirely.
4. Let Yourself Get Lost in A Project
When I get started writing, I enter the creative zone where words flow and time flies. This can happen with any task we put our mind to. When you get into that zone, don’t interrupt it until you complete some portion of the work.
Keep in the zone until you reach a natural stopping point before decide to check email, respond to phone calls, or get a cup of coffee.
Some people will do this to a clock using timeboxing, sometimes called a Pomodoro Technique. This is when you purposefully plan to focus on one task for 25 minutes or 20 and then take 5 minutes to do something else entirely.
I personally find the clock too distracting. When I am in the zone, I might get what I need to do done in 10 minutes or in 50 minutes. Artificially stopping myself to add a distraction is a personal productivity killer but many people use time boxing to increase their focused work time.
However you do it, just give yourself permission to get lost in a project. If you’re working from home, take time to go write in a coffee shop where kids cannot come tell you about the latest dinosaur they created. If you work in an open office, put in headphones or find a cubicle where you can write quietly.
5. Ask for Help
When a server gets triple or quadruple sat, decision fatigue begins to set in. Who do I help first? How do I respond to this request for ketchup, this request for bread, and this request to place their order?
If you have been in the food service industry, you know that this is the point you have to ask for help. Whether it is someone listening to you process everything you were doing, or grabbing a server or manager who can get some guests drinks, a server who asks for help is able to continue working with joy.
In the same way as a business owner, it can be too easy to think “everyone is too busy to help me.”
That is false. Always.
Whether it is a friend who can just try to look you in the eyes as you process through everything that needs to be done to feel like you are not behind or if it is moving employees from one project to another, you can find people who not only can but want to help you get through overwhelm and decision paralysis.
Breath and ask yourself: Who can I ask for help?
6. Embrace Rest
There are times where we need to stop doing; stop processing and let our brains and spirits rest.
Body builders understand this principle but it is much older than modern biological sciences.
In setting up the nation of Israel, God prescribed rest at regular significant intervals: one day in seven, one year in seven, the year of jubilee after the 7th 7. Add in all the holy days and the nation of Israel spent significant times resting.
Whether you try to follow a Mosaic rest interval or behave a little more ADD, find time to rest, to stop your business.
Modern research shows a significant decrease in efficiency after 50 hours per week, so if you are like me and most other business owners, you need to take time to rest or face decreasing margin on the returns of your time.