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Focus is purposeful and planned

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November is National Novel Writing Month: although I have no intention of writing a novel, I do aspire to write a book one day. So, rather than spending November working on a great novel, I will focus on writing blog posts every day for the entire month. I have missed two days already, but that was mainly because I spent much of my weekend battling a raging beast that screamed, hit, clawed and jumped about like a lunatic: also known as my teething two-year-old. So, here we go – one month of writing.

Focus
Seeing as how my weekend was full of distractions I thought it would be fitting to start with focus. As an entrepreneur focus is one of your biggest allies. As I write this post I am doing so with purpose, planning, and focus. I woke up before everybody else in the house. I attempted to wake up before everybody else in the house (I’m a husband and father of two), I opened up Word and began writing; I have yet to check Twitter, Facebook, or email. Essentially, I planned to be here this morning at this very moment, with little to no distractions so I could write this post.

The same must be true when pursuing important projects in your business. Intentional chunks of time must be set aside in order to get them done. It can be really easy to let the small day-to-day operational things in the business drown them out. Sure, running pay roll, paying bills, reviewing the books, and keeping track of sales are important, but the truly important projects are things that will help your business grow and move forward. It’s those things you must apply focus to.

When you have focus you have true steadfast determination to get a tasks or project accomplished. This determination includes cutting out the fluff: anything that distracts or prevents you from quality work. Some examples include: emails, phone calls, social medial, staff interruptions, unplanned meetings (which should never happen), and a general failure to plan.

I have found the most important method to focus on projects and important tasks is to plan them. I use the KanBan system for work flow/to-do management; I schedule critical components of projects in my calendar, as is it were a scheduled meeting. I will even work remotely at times to avoid random in-office distractions.

Essentially I have found that focus is 100% purposeful. If you find your day constantly filled with distractions it might be time to make some intentional changes that will help you focus and master the art of productivity and getting things done.

Why you must make your big projects a priority

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Prioritizing your work is one of the most important things you will do at the start of each day. Those big projects you have will never get done unless they are first on your list to do.

I love the illustration David Allen provides in Getting things Done. A professor fills a jar full of rocks and asks his class if the jar is full, they reply yes of course. He then takes tiny rocks and fills in the gaps between the larger rocks. He asks the question again, is the jar full? His class then replies, of course, now it is full. Next, the professor pours in fine sand and fills in all the gaps between the smaller rocks. He repeats the question again, and this time the class is unsure. Next, the professor pours water into the jar that takes up the extra space be tween the rocks and grains of sand.

The point to the story is not, that there is always room for more, it’s that if you don’t get the big rocks in FIRST, you will never get the rest in! The jar is your schedule, the larger rocks are your major projects, the smaller rocks are the daily tasks necessary to run your business, the sand is the little things that always seem to pop up, and the water is every thing else you didn’t expect. If you don’t make room for the rocks first, then you will never even get them in the jar (on the schedule). Had the water gone into the jar first, not even the sand would have made it in.

The larger rocks are your big important projects – they are the things that will have the biggest impact on your company when it comes to growing your business. If you don’t take time each day to make those a priority, they will never get done.

I make it a point to work on my rocks every single day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Your day will always be filed with unexpected things that fill your jar, so make sure you have the rocks in first, otherwise they will never get the attention the deserve and need.

Top Five Productivity Apps and Their Specific Purpose

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Evernote

Evernote, productivity app!

Evernote, productivity app!

Evernote, although not my top pick is very useful for helping with productivity. It has very useful purposes, and keeping track of your to-do list is not one of them. I am not an Evernote expert by any means, so I’m sure the app has use beyond what I even know, but below is what I find most useful about the app.

1. Using it is a mind dump. If I think of something I need to do, a bill I have to pay, a phone call I need to make, or even a project idea, I will quickly open up Evernote and jot a quick note. I will later come back and reference it when I’m actually ready to put it into my more robust system for managing work. It’s very important to have a place you can mind dump, so ideas and work related things don’t continue to float around in your head.

2. Storing important information. I keep a note that contains important information such as my UPS shipping account, my insurance policy number and customer support numbers. Anything I may need to access on a regular basis I put in here for easy access. This is a valuable time saver and has probably saved me countless hours since I have created the “Important Stuff” note inside my Evernote.

3. It’s great for logging ongoing data; such as mileage for tax write offs, as well as taking photos of receipts to go paperless, pretty much anything you want to store long-term.

4. The app is very helpful for brainstorming, researching, jotting down random business ideas, and keeping that information in the cloud for you, so that you can come back to it later. The nicest thing about Evernote is you can have several different “notebooks”, and several different “pages” within that notebook.

Reminders/Siri (iPhone)

Okay, don’t laugh… Lets say I have something super urgent unexpectedly come up that I have to take care of later this afternoon. Rather than go through the long process of adding it to my calendar I will simply put my phone up to my ear and tell Siri to remind me to do that important thing at 4 p.m. and then I’m done. I can forget about it until I get the reminder, and I saved myself about a minute of having to manually add something else to my calendar. Reminders can be scheduled as well, but really you should be doing this in your calendar.

Calendar, the digital version with notifications

Don’t underestimate the calendar. Nobody can keep track of all their appointments in their head. I don’t care who you are, you have too much going on and that is just not possible. If you have ANY appointment at all that is scheduled at a specific time, it needs to go in your calendar app. I also highly suggest setting two notifications. One an hour before, and the second five to ten minutes before. I recommend the first one because you never know where you will be or what you will be doing an hour before your appointment, and you may need extra time to get situated, or prepare for the meeting. You should also use your calendar to mark important project deadlines and other action items that have to be completed by a certain date.

KanBan, LeanKit

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 5.49.38 AMI have talked about the KanBan system for organization and productivity in previous posts, but I can’t stop telling you about how amazing and life changing this system has been for me. Even if you don’t use KanBan, at least establish some sort of system, other than the standard “task list” that will help you visualize your entire work flow. The specific App I use is called Lean Kit, although there are several KanBan programs on the web.

KanBan is essentially a visual representation in column format of your workflow. My columns are: Choices (To-Do), Next, Today, In Progress/Waiting On, and Done. This allows me to see my entire to-do list, but not get overwhelmed with all that is going on. This visual way of viewing your work will relieve so much stress and will give you a peace of mind you didn’t know was possible.

I encourage you to move beyond the standard task list. I used to use Evernote to keep track of my to-do’s, but spent so much time just reading my list, of which half the projects were in progress or were awaiting information/action from other people. Plus, I’m not having to spend the start of every day re-organizing and re-prioritizing things.

Pen and Paper

Moleskin Journal

Moleskin Journal

Lastly, but definitely not least is the pen and paper method of taking notes and making reminders. I carry a Moleskin journal around with my everywhere. I use it for brainstorming, strategic planning, taking notes in meetings, crunching numbers, and just random doodles here and there!

There is something to be said for the tactile. I find I am able to focus a lot more during brainstorming sessions when I am using pen and paper, and there is an ease to note taking that a computer just doesn’t provide.

I’m also still a huge fan of the Post-It Note, even though I primarily utilize Evernote and KanBan for any mind dumping I need to do. I still occasionally will write something on a Post-It-Note, usually messages for other team members, or a simple action item I need to take on something.

Bearded Brothers was planned in Moleskin journals, so don’t forgo paper for a 100% digital life. If you are afraid of losing your notes, just make sure you take pictures of those pages and store them in Evernote. It does a great job at taking photos of documents, and making your hand written notes searchable.

These are just my favorite apps though. I’m sure there are loads of other useful productivity and business apps out there. What are some of your favorite apps, and why?