Evolution comes with a price to be paid upfront. This price takes the form of distractions that push us away from the important and pull us towards the urgent. To stay focused, and in consequence, productive, seems impossible in today’s attention economy. It’s an economy with a weird and unprecedented business model. One that revolves around stealing your eyeballs in order to make money. You are being sold to advertisers who are willing to pay for whatever people are paying attention to. Still, beneath this manipulative model lies a precious resource that is limited and irretrievable – YOUR TIME.
Startup entrepreneurs fail when they lose focus. According to New York-based CB Insights, Among the 20 primary reasons that startups fail, the No. 11 reason, cited by 13% of polled failing startups, is: “getting sidetracked by distracting projects, personal issues, and a general loss of focus.” Studies show that our span of attention is decreasing because of many distractions. One study found that it takes 25 minutes to return to our original task, after being distracted. Another study found that people switch activities every three minutes, either distracted by speaking with someone, making a call, or working on a document.
Since your attention is a scarce resource that depletes due to distractions, you need to set up a system for managing this resource. The system is made up of 4 interwoven elements.
First, Awaken the witness within. Our habitual thought patterns have produced unconscious activities that draw us away from focusing. When we practice being conscious to what we are doing, we become a witness. When we notice our distraction without being judgmental, we take a step closer towards identifying our deeply-ingrained destructive habits. We notice how playing video games, for example, is questionable when we should be doing next day’s business assignment.
Witnessing comes as a result of being conscious. The goal is to be attentive to what’s going on around us and to what extent we are away from achieving our goal. Practicing consciousness entails us to notice when our mind is hijacked by distractive shiny objects that take us away from what needs to be done here and now. Being conscious helps us stay present and identify whatever drains our energy.
Second, Develop the hunter-gatherer mindset. To manage the early stages of running a business, the startup entrepreneur need to espouse the hunter mindset of our ancestors. They survived by hunting; in order for their families to eat, they must make a successful hunt for the day, every day. Likewise, today’s startup needs to wake up every single day with one goal in mind: to make money in order to feed himself and keep his business running. Getting customers is the way to grow his business. Only when achieving this goal on a daily basis can the entrepreneur relax and enjoy the rest of his day.
Third, Scheduling breaks. Small intervals help you stay focused and renew your energy. Taking small breaks – 10-15 minutes – every hour or an hour and half of uninterrupted work, motivates you to finish the task at hand. But don’t confuse activities that renew your energy with the ones that sap it. Getting up during the breaks and taking a short walk, for example, invigorate you and keep you focused when getting back to work. While, checking work emails, checking social media, or responding to notifications do little to renew you.
Fourth, Stand your ground. Having clarity on what you want to achieve along with creating good habits will help you resist the temptations. The surest way to beat the shiny distractions is to build your life around successful habits and routines. Such routines will help you avoid fatigue caused by exhausting distractions. It is hard to stay focused when you are derailed every few minutes by making a call or speaking with someone. Still, before installing successful habits, you need to get into the habit of stopping the wrong behaviors very early before they take over.
To regain your lost focus in today’s attention economy seems a daunting task. The disguised enemy behind stealing this focus is the vast array of distractions that render us unproductive. It is through being conscious to what drains you; being adamant on achieving your goals; and standing ferociously in the face of these distractions, that retaining your focus can eventually be achieved.