For the Easily Distracted Entrepreneur: Staying Focused in 2018

  •    A freelance reporter and writer based in Philadelphia, Pa., Dinah previously worked as a staff reporter for The Associated Press and Dow Jones Newswires.

Any small business owner or freelancer bursting with ideas and overwhelmed by projects may need help staying focused and organized. This is especially true for the easily distracted entrepreneur.

Shiny objects - email, Facebook, the phone, the dog — can sidetrack anyone, leaving you foraging for important papers or just trying to figure out how to start your workday.

If you find yourself bouncing from task to task, becoming more frazzled as you struggle to make real progress, consider trying a new tack to minimize distraction and establish some order.

A combination of meditation, planning, written goal-setting, bite-sized work sessions, productivity apps, accountability buddies, exercise and delegation may work for you. Here are a few tips to consider for getting organized and on track in 2018.

Write down your daily goals and steps for getting there — and follow that plan

"Storing all of your goals in your head just isn't enough; if you don't already create daily goals, it's time to integrate this into your routine. Every morning, make a short list of milestones for the day," says Hannah Wright, co-founder and CEO of cloud HR software firm HR Partner.

"The act of recording your goals is much more powerful because you are far less likely to forget your tasks, and it also allows you to hold yourself accountable," says Wright.

Licensed clinical social worker Kelsey Torgerson recommends that people set a schedule for the day, figuring out what needs to be done immediately, within the week and within the month. "Stick to a schedule so that you know you'll spend at least an hour on this task before moving onto the next one," she says.

ADHD author David Greenwood batches together similar or smaller tasks to complete in one stretch, which helps him "get in the zone" on projects.

Your daily goals should be part of a larger objective.

"Every business owner should be operating from a strategic plan. This plan should include an overarching vision, a path to achieving that vision and the milestones that need to be hit along the away," says David Scarola, The Alternative Board's chief experience officer.

Break your work into manageable pieces — and take breaks

By unpacking a major goal into smaller steps, you'll see progress and gain momentum and confidence to propel you toward your overall objectives, emotional intelligence coach Harvey Deutschendorf says.

S. Frances Robbins, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner with an online therapy practice, recommends establishing time blocks for working on specific tasks, starting with 20 minutes.

"Remove all distractions. If no internet is needed to complete this task, turn off your WiFi," she says. "If you need the Internet, then turn off the notifications and limit your screen to only those areas you need to complete your work."

Take a short break after this dedicated work session, said Robbins, but set a timer, "or your 10-minute break could easily turn into an hour."

Free or low-cost time-tracking apps like TimeCamp, Time Doctor and Toggl, project management software like Wrike and Asana, and your trusty computer, paper or cloud-based calendar can help you stay focused, organized and on top of business.

Tech entrepreneur Mike Brummett, founder and CEO of startup Sensory A.I., keeps a Google Keep tab open, using the note-taking service to set reminders for tasks, follow-ups and even prompts to go get some fresh air.

Tend to mind and body

Exercise, meditation and mindful focus on breathing can help keep you centered, calm and on track. Rest and good nutrition are important, too.

"Getting the proper sleep is critical. The brain repairs itself during sleep and it's one of the best ways to ensure you have the ability to focus the next day," says Greenwood, author of Overcoming Distractions: Thriving with Adult ADD/ADHD. "By the same token, exercise needs to be a part of your life. ... I need to get some type of physical activity at least every 48 hours or I have issues with focus."

Twenty minutes to an hour of exercise a day can keep your mind focused, according to Robbins.

Mindfulness, through meditation, focused breathing or other methods, can also be effective.

"Help your brain stay focused by taking breaks for deep breathing, and just build them into your schedule so that you know they're coming," says Torgerson.

Brummett says mindfulness and meditation apps like Headspace have "helped on those mornings and afternoons where there are important meetings or personal events that seem to overwhelm my mind."

Physically limit distractions

You may need to close a door, get away from your regular work space or find another way to tangibly block distractions.

"Noise-cancelling headphones are my godsend," Brummett says. "You can shut out the world when you're in the zone and keep up the momentum."

Limit your personal social media accounts and your access to them, perhaps checking only once a day. The same goes for any other internet rabbit holes that tend to steal your time and attention.

If you find that you can't resist Twitter or Facebook, try an extension like Work Mode or StayFocusd that will block them for you during work.

Find an accountability buddy to help you stay committed to achieving your goals

"Clients who struggle the most with getting focused really benefit from weekly accountability check-ins from either a coach, friend, family member or colleague. This looks like someone sending them an email or text to ask them what their three main accomplishments were the previous week, and what their three main priorities are in the coming week," said career coach Rebecca Beaton.

"I personally do this with a friend each week — we both check in with each other," she says, "and I find it helps me to laser focus in on what's important, while avoiding 'shiny object' syndrome."