How to stay focused: Productivity in a distracted world

In a hyperconnected world filled with a constant stream of distractions, making the time and focus to tackle the important tasks that will move your vegan business forward can feel like an uphill battle. Especially when customers and suppliers are constantly trying to hijack your inbox with their own agendas.

But the ultimate ‘secret’ to get focused is tapping into the passion that fueled your decision to embark on this vegan business journey in the first place.

It is so easy to get distracted in this world we’ve built for ourselves, there is so much going on that just carving out that time to get an important task finished or to stay focussed on the things you need to do to move your business forwards… it’s hard! At times it can seem almost impossible. Sometimes, it’s hard to even clear the mental space to work out which are the important tasks, and what’s just people trying to hijack your agenda through your inbox.

But picture this: you wake up every morning with a clear sense of purpose, knowing that your business is not just driven by profit but also driven by a larger mission. Feels great doesn’t it. Well, if you’ve got a vegan business, then you’ve already got that. That’s likely why you likely started your business in the first place – but have you forgotten that?

Every day, 200 million land animals are killed to be eaten around the world. 200 million will be killed today, 200 million more will be killed tomorrow and every day after that. To put that figure into context, if you killed humans at the same rate that we kill animals, then every single person on the earth would be dead in less than 40 days. That is our current food system. And if your vegan business is indeed your form of activism, then that’s what you are fighting to stop. What more do you need to focus and motivate you that that?

When you have a vegan business, lives are literally at stake.

When you have a vegan business, lives are literally at stake

For you, the vegan mission is more than just a trendy buzzword or a marketing strategy; it’s the reason we do what we do. And when you connect with the reason you started a vegan business in the first place, it becomes a massively powerful tool for staying focused. It becomes the driving force that pushes you forward, especially when you’re faced with the challenges that you are always going to face in business.

Remember how passionate you were when you first turned vegan? It’s important to keep connected with those feelings to remind you why you are doing what you’re doing. So if you are struggling with your focus at the moment then the very first thing to do is take some time to reflect on why you started this journey. What inspired you to start a vegan business? Or even what inspired you to go vegan in the first place? Was it a personal health journey so now you want to help others improve their lives? Was it seeing the impact of animal agriculture on the environment and so wanting to do something about it? Or was it that anger, that burning desire to change our relationship with animals that you felt when you were first faced with your own hypocrisy about what you were eating and funding? When you first realised that the only way that you could have milk in your latte was because the baby cow who the milk had been intended for had been taken out of the picture.

Whatever emotion it was that made you want to make a positive change in the world, you need to keep connected to that. Use it to keep focussed on what you set out to achieve and the change you want in the world. 

 

Keeping connected with the cause

To keep yourself focused, you need to surround yourself with a community of like-minded individuals who share your values, like the other vegan business owners you’ll meet on our VBT member networking meet-ups. Go to vegan events such as Vegfest and Vegan Camp Out and listen to the speakers. Connect with those people who are also on a mission to create a fairer, cruelty-free world to remind you why wanted to have a vegan business in the first place.

It’s really important that you keep reminding yourself why you started your business in the first place. Go join a couple of animal saves if you get the opportunity, attend a vigil or go spend some time volunteering at a sanctuary. The more knowledge you acquire, the stronger your conviction becomes and the more focused you’ll be on achieving your business goals.

 

And remember to celebrate those vegan milestones and victories along the way. Building any business is not easy, never mind a vegan one, it requires dedication and perseverance. So take a moment to acknowledge your progress and the positive impact you’re making. How many people have you touched? How many seeds have you planted in your customers’ minds, even if you don’t advertise your business as being vegan? Maybe you’ve even started a few people on their own vegan journey – do you keep track of your own ‘vegan count’?

So yeah, this is all really good stuff. And if you keep connected to the vegan cause then you’re going to have more motivation, you’re going to have this burning desire that you can use – but your inbox is still full every morning!

You’ve got notifications going off all the time, and everyone is demanding meetings and Zoom calls. So, practically, how can we get better at this?

Separating out tasks

The first thing is that you need to know what you need to focus on. 

If you don’t have clear direction of what you need to achieve to move your business forwards, then it’s easy to get lost in the chaos of everything that lands on your plate that day. You have to remember that not all tasks are created equal. There are going to be some tasks in your business that are going to really move your business forwards and trying to clear your inbox probably isn’t one of them. They are the tasks that require you to clear your desk and spend deep time doing the work that only you as the founder of your business can do, to move your business forwards.

You probably already know what these tasks are. It might be setting up that marketing funnel or automation system that’s going to half the time and effort it takes to get customer enquiries. It might be that planning day to map out your new product offering. It might be writing those training guides so that your team don’t need your daily input to run the business. It might be researching that new technology that you know is going to make your business more efficient but you don’t understand. Or it might just be getting that VAT registration paperwork done so that you can move to the next level of turnover. Whatever it is, it’s likely to be a task that will a chunk of time that you don’t feel you have, a task that you’ve probably been trying to set time for it in your diary for months and the kind of thing that you’re probably going to struggle with if you keep getting broken off every ten minutes.

"You have to remember that not all tasks are created equal. There are going to be some tasks in your business that are going to really move your business forwards. Trying to clear your inbox probably isn't one of them."

So your first job is to identify these tasks and separate them from those that are simply part of the day to day running of your company. You can likely already name two or three tasks in your business right now that are going to move it forwards, things you have already decided to do but you haven’t got them done yet. These are the things that are actually going to get your business to the next phase. So commit to them, put a date in the diary when they need to be done by – because if you don’t, then they are going to become the things that are holding you back.

And one tip is to tie the completion of these tasks to an event. For example, if you’re looking to launch a new product or service, then commit to launching it at a specific event. Because no matter what excuses you might come up with, no matter what happens to your motivation, the date of that event doesn’t change. You might find yourself working until one in the morning the day before to get your new product ready for launch, but the task gets done by that date

Creating the right working environment

Now we know what needs to be done, how can you change how you work to improve your focus?

First, let’s start with your working environment. Your physical surroundings have a real impact on your ability to focus and be productive. A cluttered and chaotic workspace is just a reflection of what’s going on in your head. So make sure that you’ve got an environment that’s conductive to this kind of deep focus. And it might be that you need to have somewhere seperate for this kind of focussed work that’s away from your normal desk, such as your local co-working space. Noise-cancelling headphones are also the most amazing invention and I really recommend them, especially if you like to work in cafes and coffee shops to block out the distracting conversation at the next table!

Take a look around where you normally work and if you’re sat in a chaotic environment right now, what can you do to create somewhere where that is free from distractions and signals to your brain that it’s time to focus.  Personalise the space and make it somewhere that you genuinely enjoy being in.

 

Controlling technology instead of it controlling you

You might remember back in the 90s, there were little electronic devices called Tamagotchis. They were a massive fad that came from Japan: little plastic eggs with a really basic blocky black and white display on them. A little creature hatched on the screen and the idea was you needed to keep the create alive for as long as you could so that it could grow. You had to feed it or it would starve, you had to play with it or it would become depressed. That’s what our phones have become now. Tamagotchis. 

If you don’t use your phone for a few minutes then it starts trying to get your attention. You can be sat there trying to work and your phone will keep pinging away to tell you it’s just made a new college of some photos you took yesterday, or asking you if want to leave a review of that place you went to last night, or telling you that an item you were looking at is now on sale – and it just never stops.

 

But the great thing is, you CAN control all this. Technology’s default setting is ‘distracting’ but you can change that. It doesn’t matter if you have an iPhone or an Android, you can turn off notifications, you can set times when your phone will hold everything back because it knows you are busy. The same for your computer, most now have a focus mode, just Google how to turn it on and it will revolutionise your working day. All those emails and social media likes will still be there when you’re finished for you to catch up on, but your computer won’t keep constantly reminding you.

There’s also productivity apps you can use to block access to certain websites for a period of time. So if you find you keep jumping onto social media or if you can’t keep yourself from checking the news every ten minutes, then block those sites for an hour whilst you’re trying to get something done and you will soon train yourself out of it. Use technology to create the space for deep work and to allow you to focus – and you can use the same tools when you’re trying to switch of from work too. Don’t forget, at the end of the day, your phone still comes with an off button.

Getting better at managing your time

Once you’ve created this great environment for focussing, next you need to get better at your time management. And this is something you should look to embrace, because effectively managing your time allows you to maximise productivity without having to find more time to do it. If you can manage your time and focus, you can get twice as much done in the same period of time that you normally would.

So take a few moments at the beginning of each day or week to map out your priorities and schedule. Identify the important tasks that are going to move you forward and allocate dedicated time slots for them. Schedule important tasks in for the start of the day otherwise as the day moves on, things will drop in to your inbox, people will ask for quick phone calls, other tasks will take twice as long and you will get to the end of the day and won’t have done that one important thing you really needed to tick off your list!

"Schedule important tasks in for the start of the day, otherwise you will get to the end of the day and won't have done that one important thing you really needed to tick off your list!"

Batching tasks and activities

Another tip for time management is to batch similar tasks together. Have you ever had a day where you know you’ve got a Zoom call scheduled mid morning and it just kills your day? You think it’s not worth starting a big job because you know you’re going to have to break off for that Zoom call in an hour or so, or you spend time thinking and prepping for the meeting even though you probably don’t really need to. 

Instead of breaking your days up with meetings and being really inefficient, have a day of the week, or a couple of half-day slots, that are your meeting days. Use online booking systems like Calendly set to only allow people to book in meetings in these times. It’s not just meetings, grouping other activities is really useful too. If you check your email throughout the day it will hijack your agenda for that day. Tasks you already had on your list get superseded by an email that has just dropped in. Whereas setting an hour at the end of each day to clear out your inbox means that the tasks that you needed to get done got done, and many of the things that dropped in screaming that they were urgent have had a few hours to breath and mature in your inbox to take the sting out of them.

Activating 'cinema mode'

Also consider embracing what people call ‘cinema mode’. Think about when you are going to see a film at the cinema. That’s a period of time when you pay attention to one single thing, the film in front of you. You really focus for a couple of hours, you don’t get up to stretch your legs and make a cuppa, you don’t check your phone, you sit still for a couple of hours and just concentrate on what’s in front of you. And you can use this concept of ‘cinema mode’ too.

 Because if you know you’re going into a situation where you’re not supposed to be checking your phone for the next two hours then you just turn it off, or you put it away in your bag. When you go into the cinema, you make sure you’ve brought a drink with you so that you don’t have to go get one half way through. You make sure you go to the toilet before, you might bring some snacks in with you. So why not do the same if you really need to focus on a task for a couple of hours? Treat it as if you are going into the cinema to watch a film; let people know you’re not going to be contactable for the next couple of hours, turn your phone off, fill your water bottle and just focus on the task in front of you for the next couple of hours.

 

Creating a focus routine

Self-awareness plays a crucial role in being able to focus, and you might find that you naturally have ‘peak’ productivity times. We all have periods during the day when our energy levels are higher and our focus is sharper. For some, it’s the early morning hours when the world is still quiet, and the day holds promise. For others, it might be the evening when the distractions of the day have subsided. Take notice of your own energy patterns. When do you feel most alert, creative, and productive? Understanding your peak productivity times mean you can schedule the important tasks into those times, meaning you’ll be more able to concentrate on them.

Routine also plays a really important part in this. You can train your brain to get ready for work and focus. For example, you might get up and do a workout or meditate for 30 minutes, and that daily routine gets your brain in the zone and ready to focus on what comes next. French surrealist artist René Magritte used to work from his studio at home, but to start his day he would put on his bowler hat, kiss his wife goodbye and leave his home by the front door. He would then walk around the block and come back into his house by the back door and then go into his studio, which was his way of telling his brain it was time to work. At the end of the day, he would repeat the process in reverse: leaving by the back door, walking back around the block and then greeting his wife and hanging up his bowler hat as he re-entered through the front door!

 

You might create your own personalised ritual or routine that signals the start of your focused work time, with mental cues that prepare your mind for the task at hand. It could be something as simple as lighting a scented candle, playing a specific song, or taking a few deep breaths to center yourself, or it could be, like René, by going for a ten minute walk. By consistently performing this ritual before diving into your work, you condition your mind that it’s time to focus.

Banishing procrastination and perfectionism

And then finally, sometimes a lack of focus is just procrastination! Is the reason that you jumped on that email that just landed in your inbox not because it’s urgent, but it’s because it’s letting you put off the big job that you need to build up motivation to do.

Look to see if you can break down your big important tasks down into smaller manageable ones that can be done separately. If you’ve got something that you think needs a full day to do, and you just never seem to be able to book that day out, then break that task down and tackle it incrementally instead. So if you’ve got a proposal to write that’s going to take you half a day, break it into smaller tasks so that you can fit them into smaller individual chunks of time. 

You can do this for anything, use online project management tools like Trello to break the task down and then work through those tasks in order as and when you can so that you complete the bigger project incrementally.

Another common roadblock is perfectionism – you know, where you strive for something being perfect and get trapped in an endless cycle of revisions and self-criticism. If we’re being honest, perfectionism is just a lack of confidence, it’s a delaying tactic. If you’ve revised your website three of four times before launching your business, that’s not perfectionism, it’s because you feel more comfortable constantly revising you website than actually launching your business. 

So instead of aiming for perfection, shift your focus to progress and improvement. Whatever your business, the company you have now isn’t the company you’re going to have in three years time, perhaps even in six months time! It’s going to evolve, it’s going to change. You will discover new opportunities and find new customers, so any time you spend trying to get anything perfect is just wasted time – because it’s going to change anyway. So whatever you are working on, just aim to get it good enough. Know that it’s going to keep evolving and changing anyway so just get it done and move on.

A bullet point recap of what we’ve covered in this article:

  1. Sometimes it seem that vegans hate making money! But sometimes there is no practical way to take your vegan business to the next phase without having to spend more money than you currently have, so you need to get over any money aversions you have.

  2. Many businesses grow through self-funding. They take the profits they generate and re-invest that into the business. This means you keep full control of the company and stay in charge of how that money is spent, but you need to be generating that money in the first place.
  3. Most businesses that need funds will look at borrowing that money from a bank or other financial lender. This is a tried and tested way to grow, but remember that is money that you have to give back. And if the computer says ‘no’ then you are going to leave empty-handed.

  4. Banks are not the only people who will lend you money. Private loans from friends and family can also give you access to money, often in a more flexible and affordable way. You can even lend your own money to your own business and earn interest from doing that.

  5. Investors are willing to take the extra risk that banks aren’t and some investors may bring a deal of business experience with them. But be ready for them to want a larger percentage of your business than you might be comfortable giving up. Also note that there are different kinds of investors, from angel investors to venture capitalists, and you need to find the right fit for both your business and your ethics.

  6. Crowdfunding can be a brilliant way to raise money – if you have a crowd! If you’re thinking about this route then do your research, reach out to others who have done it successfully to get the real story of how it works. Remember that 75% of crowdfunding campaigns fail to reach their target so find out how to be part of the 25%.

  7. Where there’s a will there’s a way. Lending and investing aren’t the only ways to get funded. You may find a grant or an incubator scheme, you might be able to negotiate better payment terms with suppliers or you might even come up with a novel way to generate cash. Remember that someone made a million dollars selling pixels on their website homepage for a dollar each!

  8. Start now. Everyone I know who’s successfully funded a business wish they had started having conversations earlier. Reach out to people who have done it and start having those conversations now.

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