Focus

Dan Schawbel: How can entrepreneurs stay focused on their businesses while eliminating all distractions?

Marc Chernoff: Entrepreneurs (or anyone who wants to achieve their goals for that matter) need to do two key things. First, focus on the right things, and second, be ruthless about eliminating all distractions.

Several research studies have shown that people never get more done by blindly working more hours on everything that comes up. Instead, they get more done when they follow careful plans that measure and track key priorities and milestones. So if you want to be more successful and less stressed, don’t ask how to make something more efficient until you’ve first asked, “Do I need to do this at all?” Simply being able to do something well does not make it the right thing to do. I think this is one of the most common problems with a lot of time-management advice; too often productivity gurus focus on how to do things quickly, but the vast majority of things people do quickly should not be done at all.

Once you know you’re actually working on the right things, eliminating all distractions for a set time while you work is one of the most effective ways to get things done. So, lock your door, put a sign up, turn off your phone, close your email application, disconnect your internet connection, etc. You can’t remain in hiding forever, but you can be twice as productive while you are. Do whatever it takes to create a quiet, distraction free environment where you can focus on your work.

Schawbel: What do most entrepreneurs get wrong when it comes to how hard it is to build a business?

Chernoff: As a professional blogger in the personal development space, this one is easy because it’s something I help people with on a daily basis:

Most people think their goals, business ideas, relationships, etc. will be 20 times easier to build and maintain than they really are. People want things, but they haven’t really wrapped their minds around the sacrifices necessary to achieve them. In other words, they think about the benefits and not to the costs.

If you want the benefits of something in life, you have to also want the costs. If you want a fit body, you also have to want the sweat, the sore muscles, the early mornings at the gym, and the low-fat meals. If you want a successful business, you have to also want the long days, the late nights, the risky business decisions and deals, and the possibility of failing fifty times to learn what you need to know to succeed.

Schawbel: What are some of your best productivity hacks?

Chernoff: My wife, Angel, and I have so many “hacks” that help us get the right thing done, but here are three of my favorites:

Create and observe a TO-DON’T list. – A ‘TO-DON’T list’ is a list of things not to do. It might seem amusing, but it’s an incredibly useful tool for keeping track of unproductive habits, like checking Facebook and Twitter, randomly browsing news websites, etc. Create one and post it up in your workspace where you can see it.

Mindfully focus on the positive. – As Shawn Achor describes in his book The Happiness Advantage, a recent scientific study showed that doctors who are put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis consistently experience significant boosts to their intellectual abilities than doctors in a neutral state, which allows them to make accurate diagnoses almost 20% faster. The same study then shifted to other vocations and found that optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by over 50%. Students primed to feel happy before taking math tests substantially outperform their neutral peers. So it turns out that our minds are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative, or even neutral, but when they are positive.

Invest a little time to save a lot of time. – How can you spend a little time right now in order to save a lot of time in the future? Think about the tasks you perform over and over throughout a work week. Is there a more efficient way? Is there a shortcut you can learn? Is there a way to automate or delegate it? Perhaps you can complete a particular task in 20 minutes, and it would take two hours to put in place a more efficient method. If that 20 minute task must be completed every day, and a two-hour fix would cut it to 5 minutes or less each time, it’s a fix well worth implementing. A simple way of doing this is to use technology to automate tasks (email filters, automatic bill payments, etc.). Also, teaching someone to help you and delegating work is another option. Bottom line: The more you automate and delegate, the more you can get done with the same level of effort.

Schawbel: How do you go about selecting the right people in your life that can help your business and avoid the wrong people?

Chernoff: This is a tough one, but there’s no doubt that you are the average of the people you spend the most time with. And that’s why it’s not always where you are in life, but who you have by your side that matters most. The key is to spend more time with nice people who are smart, driven and open-minded about personal growth and opportunity. Use websites like meetup.com to search for local community groups of people with similar passions, goals, businesses, etc. These people are out there.

The bottom line is that relationships should help you, not hurt you. Surround yourself with people who reflect the person you want to be. Choose friends who you are proud to know, people you admire, people who care about you and respect you – people who make your day a little brighter simply by being in it. Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the energy and hope out of you.

Also, consider finding yourself a great mentor or three. If you study the lives of enough successful people, it becomes obvious that most world-class performers in all fields – athletes, musicians, entrepreneurs, artists, etc. – had incredible mentors, coaches or role models who made the activity of practice worthwhile and rewarding. Human beings are socially inclined, and when we get the idea that we want to join some elite circle up above us (a circle of mentors), that is what really motivates us to achieve greatness. “Look, they did it. I can do it too!” It may sound overly simplistic, but spending time with people who are great, or just spending time studying them, can be one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself.

Schawbel: What’s your best advice for being able to persevere in anything that you do?

Chernoff: Two words: Keep going!

Even when things go terribly wrong – and they will – don’t be afraid to get back up – to try again, to love again, to live again, and to dream again. Don’t let a hard lesson harden your heart.

Life’s best lessons are often learned at the worst times and from the worst mistakes. There will be times when it seems like everything that could possibly go wrong is going wrong. And you might feel like you will be stuck in this rut forever, but you won’t. When you feel like quitting, remember that sometimes things have to go very wrong before they can be right. Sometimes you have to go through the worst, to arrive at your best.

Yes, life is tough, but you are tougher.

Keep going. Keep growing.

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