For busy entrepreneurs with loaded schedules and brimming task lists, there’s nothing more frustrating than having the time to work but being so unable to focus that they feel that they’re getting nothing done. If it’s any consolation, know that your situation is hardly unique: even in a task as simple as reading, the average mind wanders from the task at hand anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of the time, according to Canadian researcher Jonathan Schooler.
But knowing that most entrepreneurs and professionals have trouble focusing doesn’t exactly help with your problem. If you want to improve your focus on a daily basis, and correct the chronic distractions you face, you’ll first need to determine the root cause of the issue.
So, if focus is a major concern in your work,the reason is likely one or more of these root causes:
1. Sleep deprivation
It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that missing out on sleep can make it more difficult for you to focus. You’re supposed to get seven to nine hours of sleep every night, but that’s a hard requirement for entrepreneurs; as a result, many end up being chronically sleep-deprived professionals unable to focus their full attention on whatever task is at hand.
A recent study by the Cognitive Neuroscience Society further explored this effect, noting that its primary effect is on selective attention — in other words, your ability to focus on one information source while ignoring another. Those who were sleep deprived had trouble differentiating between the two sources. Sound familiar? The solution here is to prioritize your sleep schedule, and get a full night’s rest as often as possible.
Your problem might also have to do with the number of distractions you surround yourself with; even the most talented professionals are prone to wasting time at work, with 89 percent of employees in a Salary.com survey admitting to wasting at least some time at work every day. The top distractions were talking or texting on the phone, gossiping, browsing the internet and playing on social media.
You can eliminate these distractions for yourself by using a browser app that disallows distracting websites, or by turning off your phone.
3. No priorities
You could also have trouble focusing simply because you aren’t sure what you should be focusing on. The typical entrepreneur has dozens of tasks on his or her plate at all times. So, if you’re one and unsure what to do next, you might jump among tasks frequently, leaving them half-finished, and only dedicating half your attention to any of them.
If this is your problem, you’ll need to work to establish a firmer system of prioritization.
According to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, stress and focus have a mutually dependent relationship. When we multitask, or focus on too many things at once, we experience more stress; and the more stressed we are, the harder it is to focus. To focus better, we all need to take time to slow down with mindfulness exercises and relaxation.
5. Lifestyle factors
Your lifestyle factors may also affect your ability to focus. Eating healthy, balanced meals full of complex carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats, and physically exercising on a daily basis, can help you focus better and be more productive throughout the day.
If you skip out on exercise and all your meals are either vending machine snacks or fast food, you won’t have the energy to focus on what needs to get done.
6. A chaotic environment
Like the constant-distractions issue, your chaotic work environment could also be responsible for your inability to focus. If every time you sit down to focus on a task, one of your employees comes into your office to ask a question, you’ll never get the chance to dedicate your full attention to any task.
You can control this variable by establishing firmer communication standards and trying to keep your work environment more organized.
If none of the above factors are affecting you, or don’t seem to tell the whole story, there’s a chance you could be afflicted with ADHD or a similar attention disorder. About 5 to 10 percent of children have ADHD, and 4 percent of adults currently struggle with it. Yet less than 20 percent of adults with ADHD have ever been diagnosed or treated. If you’re chronically disorganized, unfocused and restless, even after you correct some of the items on this list, you may want to talk to your doctor.
How many of these focus-corruptors can you identify with? Chances are, if you experience focus problems chronically, there’s more than one cause. Fortunately, each of these problems has an achievable solution, or at least a way to mitigate its effects.
The better you understand how your mind, body, and environment work together, the more control you’ll be able to exert, and the more focused you’ll be on a day-to-day basis.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!