As someone who runs multiple small businesses, one of my least favourite questions is “Any big plans this weekend?” followed closely by “What are you up to tonight?”
Because the answer is nearly always “Working.”
Building up a business means sacrificing a lot of your time. Researching, planning, and implementing technologies. Figuring out your target market. Getting your marketing strategy sorted. Nurturing your relationships. Finding an affordable and sustainable stream of high-octane caffeinated beverages … the list goes on.
With such a grueling assortment of must-dos, even the most determined entrepreneur can start to lose focus. I’ve already lost focus three times while writing this, and I’ve barely made it through the intro! (Just kidding, it was four times. I’m super professional.) Taking steps to combat burnout is an important part of maintaining focus, but there are other steps that you can take to help you cultivate a superpower-level focus.
Figure out where and how you work best.
You can find a lot of one-size-fits-all approaches to concentration out there in internetland. A lot of articles will recommend having a dedicated area to work in, to keep it free of clutter and sound, and to dress professionally when you sit down to work because it puts you in a productive mindset. And that is all wonderful advice … for some people.
But we don’t all work the same way.
Some people actually concentrate better with music or ambient sounds playing in the background. For example, I’m writing this article in a crowded cafe playing a 1960s rock soundtrack. Some people prefer dressing comfortably to donning business casual—I do most of my book editing in pyjamas and a lot of my freelancer friends swear by sweatpants. We all have different brains and work more effectively in different contexts. Experiment until you find a setting that works best for you. Maybe your sweet spot is working from your front porch wearing an adorable animal onesie (if that is the case, please share your Insta handle in the comments.)
Figure out when you work best.
The early bird may get the worm, but not everybody likes worms. While many people do feel a lot sharper and more alert in the AM, many others are card-carrying night owls who find that their energy rises as the sun goes down.
Just to make things more complicated and interesting, sometimes having a low energy level can actually be an asset and help you think more creatively:
“For most adults, problems that require open-ended thinking are often best tackled in the evening when they are tired, according to a 2011 study in the journal Thinking & Reasoning. When 428 students were asked to solve a series of two types of problems, requiring either analytical or novel thinking, their performance on the second type was best at non-peak times of day when they were tired, according to the study led by Mareike Wieth, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at Albion College in Michigan. (Their performance on analytical problems didn’t change over the course of the day.) Fatigue, Dr. Wieth says, may allow the mind to wander more freely to explore alternative solutions.”
Theoretically, you could lifehack your schedule to tackle analytical tasks in the morning and wild brainstorming between 1:00pm and 4:00pm, when most adults feel a dip in the energy levels. If that level of planning seems a bit extra, just focus on pinpointing the time of day that you feel most productive and able to focus. The best part about being an entrepreneur is that you can set your own schedule and take advantage of your brain’s peak concentration times. Want to ring in the witching hour by nailing down your sales goals for the month at 2:59am? Go for it. Prefer to research new vendors at 9:00am? You do you!