Every year as we prepare to transition from December to January, we start getting introspective. It’s a new year. This year, we’re also launching into a new decade.
And while it would be nice to think that the New Year will immediately end the nightmare that was 2020, it’s not as easy as all that. Yes, the calendar will change. I have a hunch people will find it easier to remember to start dating things 2021, but the year and the effects will linger. Even with an approved vaccine for the Coronavirus – it’ll still be months before even half of the country that wants the shot will have the opportunity to get it. We’ll still be wearing masks, we’ll still be working from home.
So I’m not going to do a lot of talking about new year’s resolutions and goal setting. Instead, let’s talk about keeping on top of the things you already are worried about, may be behind on, and probably punishing yourself for.
A lot of people joked that 2020 was destined to be a year of seeing things more clearly, and in a way, it was. We learned truths about ourselves and our lives that we haven’t had to face before. We’ve found new skills and stretched old ones. And we discovered that maybe things weren’t exactly the way we always wanted to believe they were. While parts of 2020 will linger into 2021, there are things we can do to make 2021 a better year. Starting now.
First, let’s acknowledge where we’re starting from. In most cases, entrepreneurs are defined by their wide-ranging focus and jumping from idea to idea. It’s in our DNA. The hard part is taking the necessary steps to fully execute an idea before leaping to the next one that pops into our heads. We need to at least get it to the point that we can sell the business or hand it off to others to run. And that can be difficult, whether you actually “suffer” from ADHD or just have shiny object syndrome.
The first step, as Lady Gaga would say, is to embrace that you were “Born That Way.” Fighting it is only going to make you miserable and angry. The key is finding ways to help you eliminate distractions and focus. Preferably in a way that keeps you productive, happy and on-track.
I’ll admit, sometimes I have a hard time focusing at home. Even though I’ve had a space set aside for my home office for years, it’s often easy to get side-tracked. And I’m not even talking about wandering into email or Facebook while I’m working, although that happens too. Sometimes it’s just that I’m too comfortable in my space. In the old days, as odd as it sounds, I would go to Starbucks, put music in my earbuds and write. The distractions of the busy coffee shop actually helped me focus more on what I was doing.
While most of us still can’t go to a coffee shop or corner café to sit and work – or rather, they can’t accommodate us – a change of scenery is still helpful. Make sure your laptop is fully charged and go to a park or even to your back porch. Let the difference work its magic in you. A filmmaker friend used to go to Disneyland every day to work on his scripts. Just being there, in the presence of people who were constantly in a state of wonder, enjoying the happiest place on earth put him in the right mindset. Being in the outdoors and feeling the sun has been proven to have positive effects on our well-being.
FOMO For You
Choosing to shut off your social media and email alerts will also do wonders. Getting distracted in the rabbit hole of social media or Reddit is easy for all of us. But use it for good. Studies have proven that seeing the alerts and not clicking them creates cognitive dissonance in your brain that needs to be resolved. Similarly, clicking on alerts literally causes a chemical reaction in your brain, dumping dopamine into your system to make you feel good.
Use the addiction of social media to your advantage. Shut off the alerts, so you don’t create that gap in your mind that wants to be filled. Not forever, but for the 15-30-60-90 minutes you’re working. Then open whichever app you like and click on the updates. Don’t feel rushed, anxious, and forced to ignore what you really want to see (whether you know it or not). Instead, reward yourself for finishing your task with social media clicks. You can actually train yourself to work the opposite of how the engineers at Facebook and Twitter have designed the app experience.
I’ve already kind of hinted at this, but let’s be explicit. Scheduling time on your calendar for work and/or separate tasks is not only a good idea, it’s necessary. We make a lot of promises and statements with our “outdoors voice” – even if it’s just thinking to ourselves. But our subconscious is always active – and it knows, if it’s important, you put it in your calendar. That’s why we have a calendar, to remind us of that important meeting or phone call.
So make sure you are telling your inner mind that work is important – put it on the calendar. And be as specific as possible. If you need to accomplish a specific task on a particular day, schedule time for that task. You have no idea how much this will help you not only organize your time, but when you cross a task off your list, you get a little jolt of dopamine rewarding you. Make work a priority by making sure you get pleasure from doing it.
Ready, Set, GOAL!
I know I said I wouldn’t talk about goal setting, but I want to share with you this new approach. This radical approach dovetails with what I’ve already talked about. And unlike most goal setting approaches, it doesn’t focus on discipline, but passion. I think you’ll like this.
So there is a tiny bit of planning upfront, but bear with me. Pick a day each week where you’ll set your goals for the next 7 days. I like scheduling a time on Sunday afternoon, around 4:30, for fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. We’re only setting goals for seven days, not where we’ll be in five or ten years. These are not huge goals – they’re trickle goals. Not too big.
Quick sidebar – you do want to have that vision for 5-10-20 years set in your mind. You should schedule some time between now and December 31st to lay that out. I recommend spending at least an hour visualizing those signposts. What does your life look like, feel like, taste, smell, etc., at 20 years? Write it down. And I’m completely serious, engage ALL of your senses. Spend about twenty minutes. Then repeat it for 10 years, and for 5. After the hour, take 10-15 minutes to re-read it all, then come up with a few concrete steps you need to take over the next few years to start that into motion.
Getting It Done
Now, take those daily trickle goals, and cut them in half. Yes, in half. You want to set a goal for each day that you have zero doubt in your mind you can accomplish. My initial goal took 10 minutes to complete per day. There isn’t anyone who can’t find 10 minutes in a day, even if it’s 2 in the morning and you’re exhausted, you still have 10 minutes.
Schedule the time to complete it, on your calendar. “At 11am, I will spend 10 minutes doing this task, accomplishing this goal”. When you’ve reached your goal? You can stop and celebrate. You’ve accomplished something today. You’re off the hook. Watch TV, scroll through social media, do whatever you want.
And if you’re excited and in the zone and want to continue? Then continue. Work as long as the passion inside you burns. And when you’re done, celebrate. Repeat this every day. You’ll more than likely find yourself going longer on most days. But if you’re having a bad day, you don’t feel even worse cause nothing’s gotten done.
Altering Brain Chemistry
The reason this approach works so well is because it rewards you for getting things done rather than disciplining you for not being, well, disciplined. You see, when you have all these things in your head you need to accomplish, this mental checklist, and you don’t finish it, a chemical called cortisol is released into your brain.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that causes an increase in your heart rate and blood pressure. It’s your natural “flight or fight” response that has kept humans alive for thousands of years. Normal levels of cortisol also are released when you wake up in the morning or exercise. But too much cortisol can make you more stressed, increase your waistline and contribute to other health issues.
Dopamine, on the other hand, plays a role in how we feel pleasure. It’s a big part of our unique human ability to think and plan. It helps us strive, focus, and find things interesting. Low levels of dopamine may negatively affect your mood, motivation and memory. As we get older and play less, we generally have less dopamine spreading through our brains.
Creatives and entrepreneurs usually have a bit more dopamine in their brains – most of the time. In fact, the quest to maintain levels of dopamine may be part of why entrepreneurs bounce from idea to idea. The beauty of taking this goal setting approach is that it maintains and even elevates dopamine levels – while igniting and focusing your passion on the thing you’re working on at the moment.
You get more done, feel better, not worse, and improve your physical and mental health.
The Future Awaits
2021 will not be the cure for all our ills. There is no switch that’s triggered when the ball in Times Square drops that makes all the stress and pain of 2020 go away. But while the square will be empty this New Year’s Eve, the lights on the ball will shine brighter and farther than ever before. The world is ready for some good news. John Krasinski even brought back his YouTube sensation for a holiday episode.
Embrace who you are as a born entrepreneur. Take steps to make the changes in you that help propel the changes in the world you want to see. Set realistic goals that inflame your passions. And this time next year? We’ll all be in a better place – a much better place. If you need help with your business dreams, please reach out. We’re going to be doing more to help small business owners succeed this year too. Let’s Grow The Dream together.