I’ve noticed this a lot recently: brilliant and ambitious entrepreneurs struggling to stay focused on their most important tasks.
“I keep getting distracted by little stuff like invoicing, social media, and responding to emails.”
“Major distractions can derail my whole day. Then I get nothing done.”
Have you noticed how difficult it can be to focus on the important stuff in your business when so many little distractions (and sometimes BIG distractions) keep popping up?
I’ve been there.
When I first started working for myself, I struggled with the constant stream of tasks I needed to accomplish in order to grow the business.
It seemed like even though I was working a lot, I wasn’t finishing the important tasks — and I wasn’t moving toward my goals fast enough.
The 4-step Simplest Productivity System
One day, while teaching a workshop on mindfulness meditation, a lightning bolt of clarity struck me.
What if I could apply mindfulness to reduce the distractions that kept derailing me?
I started experimenting with that idea. And from there, a new system emerged that changed my life.
Now, after teaching this system to dozens of entrepreneurs, freelancers, and academics, I’m thrilled by how well it works.
I call it the Simplest Productivity System.
And there are just 4 steps.
1. Focus on one thing, intentionally
Sounds pretty obvious, right?
But how many times do you find yourself pulled between an urgent email from a client + needing to send an invoice + planning your next launch + designing a marketing plan +…?
It happens to all of us. But that doesn’t mean you have to let the allure of multi-tasking suck you in (and keep you from doing your best work).
There are a couple of key components to this step:
- one thing at a time
- focus intentionally
First, When you sit down to work, take a moment to choose only one thing to focus on.
Even if you’ve got a mile-long to-do list, you can do your best work (and get more done) by focusing on one things at a time.
Second, intentionally decide what to focus on .
This means that you are pausing for a split-second to say, “OK, I’m going to focus on sending this invoice right now.”
Which means that while you’re sending that invoice, you’re not also checking email, flipping through insta, planning your big launch, or thinking about lunch (wait, now I’m thinking about lunch…).
Of course, these distractions will probably still come up on their own. So, when that happens, go to the next step!
2. Notice when distractions arise
Once you’ve decided what to focus your attention on, there’s a decent chance that you’ll get distracted while you’re trying to do that work.
And that’s totally OK! In fact, it’s normal human behavior to get distracted. You’re a human, right?
As humans, we’re constantly scanning our environments for threats and opportunities. But that doesn’t mean that we have to give in to the distractions.
So, what’s the trick?
After you’ve decided what to focus on (one thing at a time, intentionally), notice when distractions come up.
That means noticing when you open a new Chrome tab to go to Facebook. And noticing when you glance at your open Gmail tab.
And when a new idea pops up and threatens to derail the task you’re working on, notice that too.
Other kinds of distractions might come up, too. Sometimes they’re external. For example, as I’m writing this post, I can see a hawk circling outside the window. My focus keeps jumping to the hawk because I’m all like: “What kind of hawk are you? Are you hunting? You look cool!”
If you work in an environment with other people (yay, people!), then they might serve as a distraction. And that’s OK, too.
Whether it’s a hawk circling outside your window, or a co-worker who wants to know what you’re planning for the weekend, or any other kind of distraction (internal or external), the best place is to start with noticing the distraction.
Rather than ignoring the distraction, or giving in to the distraction, or getting frustrated by it, just notice it. Simply observe that it’s there.
Now for the fun part!
3. Pause + breathe
It’s at this point that most of us make a crucial error.
Here’s what normally happens: You realize you’ve been distracted. You feel frustrated. Then you force yourself to get back to work as fast as possible.
Resist the urge to get back to work as quickly as possible.
Instead, take a moment (seriously, just a few of seconds) to pause.
Take a breath. Feel the breath. Come back to the present moment.
4. Choose what to focus on next
Now you’re ready to mindfully, intentionally choose what to do next.
This is the step that makes it possible to prevent that next derailing distraction before it starts.
Take a moment to decide, intentionally, what one thing you’ll focus on now.
It might be the thing you were working on before you got distracted. Or it might be something else. You have the freedom to choose, in this moment, what to focus your energy on.
For example, if you’re focused on drafting a blog post, but then you get distracted by an email (that you don’t need to respond to right away), you can choose to refocus on drafting that blog post.
But if an urgent email comes in and you actually need to respond to it right away, then you can choose to do that too.
No matter what, you’re choosing where to place your focus. Free from judgment. Just do what you need to do, right now.
Simple Systems are Sustainable Systems
Here’s a quick summary of my Simplest Productivity System:
- Focus on one thing, intentionally
- Notice when distractions arise
- Pause + breathe
- Choose what to focus on next
The simplest, actually! And that’s why it works so well.
When you get good at using this system, you can move through all 4 steps in just a few seconds.
Try the Simplest Productivity System out and see what happens. You might just find that you get more done and get derailed less often.
Trainin’ Your Brain
When you use the Simplest Productivity System, you’re training your brain to notice what’s happening in the present moment.
That way, when distractions arise, you’re able to notice the distraction faster than ever before. Instead of getting stuck in a procrastination/distraction/doubt loop, you can guide yourself back.
No matter how many distractions arise, you can keep coming back to the work you need to do.
Even if a hundred distractions pop up every hour, that’s OK! (I certainly have days like that…)
The key is that you’re getting really good at returning your focus to where you need it to be. Even when distractions pops up, they’re powerless against the Simplest Productivity System.