Rediscover the Lost Art of Focus

woman trying to focus Does this sound like a typical occurrence in your day? You've just wrapped up one task, and before you move on to the next, you decide to take a quick break to see what's new on Facebook. Hey, look – your friend posted a link to an article in the New York Times. You click through to read, and when you're done, one of the related articles catches your eye. That one leads to another and then another. When you finally reemerge from the rabbit hole of link-clicking, you realize that half an hour has evaporated. Or perhaps your e-mail notification alert chimes, and you click over to find a reminder that your car is due for service. While you’re waiting on hold with the dealership to schedule your appointment, it occurs to you that you haven't checked the balance in your bank account lately, so you log in, and then you remember that you also need to pay your water bill. Before you know it, what began as a simple two-minute task has become a 20-minute derailment.

The cost of disruption

But a few distractions during the day are harmless and practically unavoidable, right? Not so much. All those minutes wasted here and there turn into hours that come with a high price tag if you're your own boss. When you're an entrepreneur, your time is your most valuable asset. When you're an entrepreneur, your time is your most valuable asset, and one of your most important responsibilities is being a good steward of that asset. Every minute frittered away on Facebook, YouTube, blogs and even mundane chores is a minute you're not spending innovating, selling or shipping. In reality, no matter how dedicated you are to your business or how deep your passion runs for what you do, staying focused can be a challenge. Between phone calls, e-mail, social media sites and routine daily to-dos, your attention is constantly being pulled in many directions at once. However, it is possible to quiet your mind and rein in the distractions, but to do so, you must recondition your brain. If you're serious about increasing your productivity, you must commit to a structured regimen of daily practice in regaining your focus, just as you would if you were training to improve your speed and endurance in running or cycling.

The Pomodoro Technique

One of the best methods for cultivating your powers of concentration is the Pomodoro Technique. In a nutshell, this technique is a time management tool that breaks the working day into units of 25 minutes called "Pomodoros." Use the clock as a time cop and obey it relentlessly. To get started, all you need is a timer, a notebook and a pen. When your day begins, make a list of all the tasks you must accomplish in order of priority. Set the timer for 25 minutes, and start working on the task at the top of the list. Focus on this task and only this task until the timer chimes. When the timer goes off, mark an x next to that task on your list and give yourself a short break of no more than three to five minutes. The purpose of this break is to let your mind rest and disconnect, so don't keep thinking about what you were just working on, and don't get wrapped up in responding to e-mail or returning a call from a client. Instead, relax, get up and stretch, read an article on your favorite blog or take care of one item on your personal to-do list. After every four Pomodoros, take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes. Then simply repeat this cycle until your workday is done. The key to success in implementing the Pomodoro Technique is to use the clock as a time cop and obey it relentlessly. Be sure to set the timer for breaks, too, so that you're not tempted to extend them beyond the allotted time. However, always keep in mind that breaks are equally important as the 25-minute Pomodoros, so don't work through them in your eagerness to finish your task, either. The breaks are there for a reason – to allow you just enough of a mental refresher to keep you razor-sharp without getting sucked into a vortex of distraction.

Put time back on your side

As you adapt to this new daily rhythm, you'll be amazed how quickly the clock ceases to be your enemy and becomes your ally. You'll also realize how many times throughout the day you habitually allow yourself to be interrupted by distractions like Facebook and Twitter just because they're there. Reclaiming lost time in your day is critical to getting the most out of your business growth efforts.With practice, it will be easy to tune anything and everything out for 25 minutes. Knowing there is a break ahead is a great source of motivation. When you're tempted to check e-mail or see who's on IM, look at the clock first, and make yourself stick it out, knowing you never have more than 25 minutes until the next break. The Pomodoro Technique is much more than just an exercise in self-discipline; it's also an invaluable resource to help you take control of your time and boost your productivity. Because you keep a running daily log of how many Pomodoros it takes to accomplish each task, you will develop a very clear picture of how long each activity takes, which will help you estimate and prioritize projects more effectively so that you don't find yourself racing to meet deadlines. You can also identify tasks that are absorbing a disproportionate amount of your time and develop more efficient ways of getting them done. Reclaiming lost time in your day is critical to getting the most out of your business growth efforts. When your focused work time is more productive and your downtime is kept in check, you'll be amazed at how much you can accomplish when you quite literally put your mind to it.

Further reading

To learn more about the Pomodoro Technique, download the free instructional e-book at