Question

As a small-business owner, how do I stay focused and pursue one goal? How do we really get things done without getting distracted?

--Shawn Chhabra, host, “Winning the Game of Life” podcast

Answer

Running uninterrupted, computers produce amazing outputs. Such is the case with our brains. The miracle of computing can’t match the marvel of the human mind, but borrow a few of its features and you’ll operate at high mental efficiency, reducing distraction while maintaining focus.

Follow your user manual. Brains make excellent central processing units, but weren’t designed to be data-storing hard drives. Forcing that function depletes mental processing capacity. A mini-recorder at your desk can be helpful.

Determine the “next action.” Big picture thinking creates big ideas, but your brain needs some line-by-line code to operate efficiently. Continual focus on only the overarching goal can overwhelm your software into an endless loop. Identifying your next very specific action frees your RAM to think, while also keeping things moving forward. If your goal is to reduce office supply costs, your next action might be “call Susan for a list of vendors.” For a moment, focus on that action item, and when it’s complete, identify the next small action.

Understand that your CPU doesn’t make value judgments. You know what’s most important for your goal, but your processing brain treats everything as equally important. If you’ve kept some functions from your Jack-and-Jill-of-all-trades start-up days, simply because they’re enjoyable, you’re drawing the same mental energy as you use toward your bigger goal. Delegate subtasks.

Set office hours. We think our brains remain at peak processing power amid tiny interruptions from others. Current research is debunking the myth of mental multi-tasking, so entertain smaller issues only during a set time each day.

Establish free-up Fridays. Commit to a pre-weekend hour of reviewing every project in your neural pathways, assigning next actions to each, and save processing time with a faster Monday boot-up.

About the author

Jim Arnold is a communications professor at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.