For busy entrepreneurs with loaded schedules and brimming task lists, there’s nothing more frustrating than having time to work, but being so unable to focus, it feels like you’re getting nothing done. If it’s any consolation, you should know you’re not alone; even in a task as simple as reading, the average mind wanders from the task at hand anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of the time.
But knowing that most entrepreneurs and professionals have trouble focusing doesn’t exactly get rid of the 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.
If focus is a major concern in your work, it’s probably attributable to 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 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night, but for entrepreneurs, that’s a hard requirement to meet; as a result, many chronically sleep deprived professionals end up being 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 its primary effect is on selective attention — in other words, your ability to focus on a task while other things are happening in the background. Sound familiar? The solution here is to prioritize your sleep schedule, and get a full night’s rest as often as possible.
2. Distractions. 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 self-reported surveys suggesting that 89 percent of employees waste 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 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 their plate at all times, so if you aren’t sure what to do next, you might jump between tasks frequently, leaving them half-finished, and only ever dedicating half your attention. If this is your problem, you’ll need to work to establish a firmer system of prioritization.
4. Stress. 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 are focusing on too many things at once, we experience more stress, and the more stressed we are, the harder it is to focus. If you want to focus better, you 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 exercising, 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. Along similar lines as the constant distractions, 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 by trying to keep your work environment more organized.
7. ADHD. 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 correcting 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, it’s more than one. 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.