As an independent entrepreneur, your business lives or dies on the progress you make week in, week out. Let’s talk about some EFFECTIVE ways to stay focused on things that matter.
Avoiding distractions is utterly essential to your success, but that little device in your pocket…
yea, that one…
the one with the screen and the apps and the notifications…
that thing is hungry, and all it eats is YOUR ATTENTION.
When you’re scrolling through a Facebook feed or half-a-dozen videos deep into an unanticipated YouTube binge, do you know what’s happening?
Well, I’ll tell you what’s NOT happening: your business ain’t growing and your projects AREN’T getting done.
So, here’s the deal…
… we’re not recommending a puritanical approach to business where modern technology is abandoned. The internet is undeniably powerful for building massively successful online businesses, included our own.
But we must make sure we are using the tool, not the other way around.
“If you work for yourself, make sure you use the internet (and don’t let IT use YOU)”
As we’ve written before, your humanity is your greatest business asset. Through your humanity, you experience, intuit, empathize and create.
These are the core concepts of business success, and they have little to do with technology, smartphones, or the Internet.
What follows are 11 steps you can take today to break the Internet/smartphone addiction, re-engage with real life, and ensure technology is supporting your business growth, not hindering it.
1. Determine What Really Matters
Before you can focus your efforts, you first need to define what really matters to you and your business.
What are your goals? Who are you serving? What are you trying to achieve? What problem are you solving? Are you tracking vanity metrics or actual key performance indicators? Are you focusing on the right things?
Quite often we use our smartphones to fill-in the gaps throughout the day. When we’re not clear and intentional about what we want to achieve, those gaps can expand out to eat up big chunks of time.
When you’re unsure what achieving your goals will mean to your life, the short term dopamine rush of Facebook will inevitably win the battle for your attention.
Conveniently, negative patterns of behavior can help point the way to your True North. When you find yourself randomly scrolling through a social media feed, it’s a perfect opportunity to stop and ask:
- What is it I’m actively avoiding by wasting time in this manner?
- What is it I’m afraid of or unclear about?
- What is the important project or goal right now?
- Why is it important to me? Remind me why this goal/projects matters TO ME.
Often the answer to those questions will be exactly the thing you should be working on — the thing that really matters.
Another way to clarify what really matters is outlined in our productivity and vision live training (it’s free right now), which explores how to use a daily productivity journaling practice to find direction, motivation, and focus.
The training describes a simple process of getting clear about your intention and — this is kind of crazy, but it works — using affirmation and values to FEEL inspired about your project.
Our own Chase Reeves developed this training out of his personal work process and people are experiencing clarity and focus they’ve never had before using these exercises.
So, check that out if you’re interested, because when you know what matters, you’ll be better able to harness your phone to help you achieve those goals.
“When you know what matters your phone will be a tool, not a distraction.”
2. Consider How Your Smartphone Aids and Hinders Your Work
Much of what we do on our smartphone is the result of mindless habit.
We feel compelled to check our phone whenever we have a moment of free time. We can be on Facebook and scrolling through the newsfeed before we even realize we’re doing it!
TECHNOLOGY CAN BOTH HELP AND HINDER OUR WORK.
So take some time to become mindful and conscious of how you’re using your phone.
Monitor yourself for a day or week. Observe how you use your phone and the Internet. How much time do you spend checking things? How do you react when a new message arrives? Consider how that usage supports or hinders accomplishing what you established as really mattering in the previous step.
You may want to make a list of the apps you use on an average day, how much time you spend on them (Rescuetime can help with this), and whether they’re supporting your work, or distracting you from it.
The next few steps will help you with this, but there’s no substitute for simple awareness of WHAT you’re really doing with your internet and phone.
3. Turn Off Notifications
This Harvard Business Review article about the cost of continually checking email notes that several University studies have found refocusing attention on work after being distracted by email can take up to 20 minutes.
In addition, people can lose up to 10 IQ points due to being distracted by email and social media notifications.
The constant bombardment of notifications is not helping us get our work done. Luckily, this problem has a relatively simple solution: turn off your notifications.
Maybe you want your caregiver or your co-worker to be able to text you at all times. Maybe you want to be notified if someone posts to your business’ Facebook Page so that you can respond quickly. That’s all fine. But maybe you don’t need to know every time someone likes one of your Tweets or shares a Facebook post.
In our article, 10 Time Management Tips Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know, we explained how you can use the Eisenhower Method, popularized by Stephen Covey’s book First Things First, to determine the difference between urgent and important activities. Notifications feel urgent, but they’re almost never important.
You can’t do big things if you’re distracted by small things. Notifications are small things, so shut them down.
(For you Apple users, here’s a helpful article on how to perform a number of notification related tasks on your iPhone/iPad, including how to: remove apps from the notification center, turn off badge app icons, remove notifications from your Lock Screen, and more.)
“The constant bombardment of notifications is not helping us get our work done.”
4. Move Distracting Apps to Folders and Pages
Everyone once and a while, it’s time for a digital clean up…. Specifically, let’s look at the apps on your phone.
In the same way that cleaning and organizing a physical space like your office or home can help your productivity and mood, so too can digital streamlining.
When you monitored your phone use (see step 2) you almost certainly noticed apps you rarely use. Delete them!
For apps you use frequently, but find distracting, place them within folders. We’re using an out of sight, out of mind method here. Just put the apps in a folder where you have to hunt and peck a bit to find it, instead of keeping them front and center all of the time.
Save the main home page on your device for the apps you’ve determined support your efforts, but clear away the rest of the distracting clutter. When you unlock your phone, you should be looking at a collection of apps that reflect what really matters to your business.
“Phone tip: move distracting (but necessary) apps into folders away from your home screen”
5. Use Focus Tools
If you don’t have the self-control to timebox your day and stick to a schedule, some helpful tools can help support your efforts to stay focused.
Inbox Pause puts new emails on hold, so they don’t appear in your inbox until you are ready for them.
New Feed Eradicator is a Chrome plugin that replaces your entire Facebook newsfeed with an inspiring quote.
Freedom blocks access to websites, apps, or the whole internet for a chosen period of time.
Unroll.me sends one email a day to summarize all your newsletters.
Boomerang for Gmail allows scheduled emails to be sent later, come back into your inbox if people don’t respond in X days, and have emails boomerang back to you on a particular day when you can actually deal with it.
(For more email management tools, check out our article, Email Inbox Management Tips.)
6. Schedule Social Media Posts
Has this ever happened to you?
You hop on Facebook or Instagram to post relevant content related to your business, but before you have a chance to post, you notice something interesting in your feed. You read it. And then another post catches your eyes. You click through. Suddenly, it’s half an hour later, and you still haven’t gotten around to posting your content.
This scenario has happened to all of us at some point, which is why scheduling social media posts ahead of time can be extremely helpful. By scheduling, you’re able to consistently get your valuable social media content posted, without getting swept up into the black hole of social media time-suckage.
Scheduling a week of posts in advance can be an amazing experience in terms of both the time and mental energy it frees up.
Facebook has a built-in scheduling feature for business Pages.
Later is a fantastic tool that allows you visually plan and schedule Instagram posts, along with other social feeds like Twitter and Facebook.
Getting out in front of your social media posting by pre-scheduling it during a timebox allows you to return your focus to the real work of your business.
7. Timebox Specific Activities and Apps
Another way to manage your apps and prevent distraction is to use timeboxing, the process of assigning specific time slots and durations in your daily or weekly schedule for particular activities.
This can include social media and email. It works as a focus technique, but also a productivity method because people tend to complete tasks quicker when they are assigned a specific timeframe or deadline.
- Need to tame your Instagram addiction? Only check your feed on coffee breaks.
- Wasting too much time on Youtube? Limit your video watching to the bathroom.
- Is email dictating your daily focus by putting you into a constant reactive mode instead of a proactive one? Only check email twice a day.
We’re not party poopers. If watching 20-minute videos of cats being frightened by cucumbers brings joy to your life, by all means, keep watching! But watch during your lunch break or before you go to bed.
You don’t have to stop doing the activities you enjoy. You just have to manage your time in such a manner as to ensure you aren’t distracted from your deep work.
“You can’t do big things if you’re distracted by small things.”
8. Get Clear on What’s Next
A crucial step in removing digital distractions is making the thing that matters to you (i.e. your work) more important than the potential distractions.
When you love your work and are deep in a flow state, distracting notifications stop being an issue.
In step 1 you identified the big picture of what really matters, but big picture goals can be vague and nebulous, and that’s exactly where distraction lives. Understanding what matters most just isn’t enough. You need to know what specific steps you are going to take right now.
Deciding you want to lose 50 pounds is an excellent goal, but how are you going to do it? What food are you going to eat for your next meal? What exercise regime are you going to implement? Those details are crucial.
An excellent way to identify the steps you need to take is by working backward from the desired end state. If the desired end state is a sale to a customer, ask yourself, What needs to happen directly before the sale? And what is the step before that one, and the step before that? By working your way backward in this manner, you’ll identify what you need to do to get started today.
When you’re confident you know what needs to get done, you’ll be a lot less likely to start itching for the distracting pleasures of the internet.
“When you love your work and are deep in a flow state distractions can stop being an issue (here’s how)”
9. Create Action Momentum
There’s excitement and energy that comes from stringing together a series of successes, and the more success you have, the more the thing you’re working will become attractive to you.
This is a thing almost all of us experienced. (If you haven’t yet, keep it up, you’ll notice it randomly one day.)
The more you set your intention (step 1: define what’s truly important) and then take action towards that intention, the more “ACTION MOMENTUM” you generate.
And this is a big deal!
Why? Because the whole internet sometimes feels like it’s out to get you. And sometimes the group text is on fleek! (i.e., sometimes group SMS text messages can be exhilarating and fun.)
It’s in this CRAZY DISTRACTING world that we have to try to shepherd our projects into the real world. It’s delicate, it’s feeble, it’s gentle work to keep an idea alive, to keep inspiration and motivation alive.
So, we need all the help we can get!
And this “action momentum” is one of the biggest aids we have. It’s like a powerful wind that always blows when you’re sailing out far enough.
You want to continually move in the direction of doing the work so that you can begin to gain a sense of momentum. There’s excitement and energy that comes from stringing together a series of successes, and the more success you have, the more the thing you’re working will become attractive to you.
It’s like going for a long run: at first, you might feel uncomfortable or unsure of how it is going to go, but then you fall into a comfortable rhythm that turns the previously uncomfortable process into a pleasurable experience.
You want to create that same pleasurable feeling for the business building tasks you have in front of you each day. The more energizing your work, the more focused you’ll become. The magic happens on the ground at worker bee level. When you consistently do the work, momentum becomes the norm.
“Action Momentum: energy that comes from stringing together a series of successful actions”
10. Continuity Between Projects
As with the period of time in-between smaller steps in a project, there’s also a danger of getting caught in the down time between larger projects.
When you’ve accomplished something big, but aren’t sure what’s next, you can quickly fall back into old patterns of distraction.
At Fizzle we try to have continuity between our big projects. When one project is starting to wrap up, we begin thinking about (and get excited for) the next project.
This is a really important point here. It’s kind of advanced Aikido level stuff. We explain it more in depth in the podcast below.
Knowing what big thing you’re going to be working on next is fantastic motivation to finish up your current project. And that motivation will, like so much of what we have discussed in this article, help keep you focused and distraction free.
BONUS: Take a Digital Detox
If you implement the first ten steps we’ve covered here and still find yourself addicted to time wasting activities online, it just might be time for a digital detox.
When you simply cannot give up the habit of checking your phone, it’s a big red flag telling you it’s time to turn your device off.
Put it away in a drawer. Walk away.
Take a day, or a weekend, to live your life without the internet.
Go outside. Spend time with your loved ones. Take a trip.
Pick up a paint brush or a pencil — do something with your hands that isn’t scrolling.
When you return to the internet after some healthy time away, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find Facebook, Instagram, Candy Crush, Kim Kardashian’s booty, and your email inbox will be there waiting for you.
We promise the world won’t end just because you put down your phone for a weekend and lost yourself in what really matters.
Go deeper with this podcast episode:
We recorded a lively conversation about these tips and go into a bit more depth on each one. Enjoy! (And subscribe if you haven’t!)
A Renewed Relationship with Your Phone
With these eleven techniques, you’ll be able to reframe your relationship with your smartphone and the internet into something healthy and productive.
When you’re excited by your projects, you’ll be less attracted by distracting activities, and when you minimize the distractions, you’ll get all the more excited about your work.
It’s a cyclical process.
You’ll still get that endorphin rush you used to get from checking your notifications, only now you’ll get that rush from checking off items on your To Do List.
When the work you WANT TO DO is more energizing and exciting than your addiction to technology, you’ll be able to pursue your business goals with renewed vigor, engagement, and focus.
And when you’re clear about what’s important, what you need to do next, and how technology can help get you there, there’s no telling just how much progress you’ll be able to make.
“10 Ways to Cut Internet Distractions so You Can Focus on What Really Matters”