Focus, People! (How to Cope with Entrepreneurial ADD)
I have a confession. Like many entrepreneurs (most?), I have EADD, or Entrepreneurial Attention Deficit Disorder AKA shiny ball syndrome AKA “SQUIRREL!” issues.
This simply means that, as an entrepreneur, I am an idea person and can be easily distracted. Sometimes this means my brain is constantly coming up with new businesses. Sometimes it’s coming up with ways to improve how something is done (my business or my clients’). Sometimes it’s because everything else seems to need to take precedent (kids, laundry, filing, email). Other days, like today, it’s visiting Facebook, LinkedIn, and taking calls, all while I’m trying to write this blog.
If you are an entrepreneur, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you’re an entrepreneur who isn’t working in your genius, you’re probably experiencing this nearly all the time.
Look, this does not mean that you have a problem. You aren’t a failure and you don’t need meds. In fact, I’d argue that people who are so interested in the world around them that they can barely take a step before finding something else exciting on which to focus are the ones who are changing the world. They are making the connections that stretch our imagination and result in the profoundly different products and experiences we see around us. Some companies, like Alphabet, even have a whole manifesto based on a vision of doing things that other people think are crazy. (Check that out here.)
Still, it’s hard to get anything done when everything is so interesting! (Or at least distracting.) And if you can’t get anything done, then no one will see your vision come to light!
So the question is, how do you tame these demons? How do you focus when there’s so much going on in your brain?
If you’re an idea person, or are working on multiple projects, you’re in luck. I have some tried and proven ideas that will help clear your brain so you can work on what’s most urgent, most of which are surprisingly low-tech.
I strongly suggest paper and pen/pencil/markers rather than using your computer because the act of physically writing tends to let your brain know that you’ve taken care of whatever is bouncing around in your head more than typing on a computer. In fact, studies show that when people take notes by hand, they retain the information better than if they take notes on a computer, and when people sleep better when they write things down before they go to sleep. (I know I’m not the only one with a notepad on my nightstand.)
Plus when you write things down, you’ll get to SEE your work in real life, which lets you know that you have easy access to your ideas. (It’s a psychological thing.)
Get a notebook — preferably a composition notebook or something where the pages won’t tear out that easily — and jot those ideas down. Use one notebook with Post-It notes separating sections, or keep separate notebooks for each topic. Use words or pictures. But the key is to get these ideas OUT of your brain and ONTO paper.
Get a pad of paper that is used on easels and put several pages along a wall in your workspace. Label each page with a project. Every time a thought comes up about one of your ideas or projects, write it down on that paper. Different colored markers and sticky notes are great for leveling up this technique.
Create lists, but organize the lists by topic. Topics can be anything that works for the way you think. They can be by project (project 1, project 2, etc.) or by task (emails to write, articles to write, calls to make, website updates, etc.). Don’t be afraid to get detailed, especially if you’re prone to overwhelm. This will allow you to take on one small task at a time.
Determine your exit plan and post it somewhere to remind you of what it is. This may sound weird, but I’m serious. Decide what your ideal exit plan will be and set your timeframe. Do you want to sell your business in five years? Do you want to hire someone to manage it in 3 years? Do you want to get to a point where you only have to work 20 hours a week or not at all (other than overseeing basic work)? When you have an exit plan, you literally create space to focus on your primary business by letting your brain know that there’s a timeline and you’ll be able to focus on your other ideas later.
If your brain is being overrun by to do lists, rather than ideas, then schedule some time in your day to knock out that list.
Then, go for a walk outside, preferably without your phone.
(The caveat is, of course, that if your handwriting is illegible, then a computer might be the way to go. In those situations, print out your lists so that you can make notes and cross them off.)
For your To Do lists, be sure to cross off your completed items. I use a highlighter because it’s visually neater than scribbles or crossing off, and the color differentiation allows me to ignore the highlighted items and focus on what I need to do.
I literally have a composition notebook that I use for the business ideas I have, each marked by a tab. I write down ideas and thoughts that pop into my head, as well as note resources I find. When I get serious about the business, then the new business gets its own composition book until I start to organize and build the company, at which point it’s necessary to computerize everything. (However, I still use a composition book for my To Do lists.)
If you’ve got a million ideas in your head, how do you put them aside so that you can focus on your core business? Let me know below or email me.