It’s 10:00 p.m., and you’ve been at the office since 7 a.m.
The bad news is you’re still plowing through your email, and on your third cup of coffee. Even worse, you’re only halfway through it, thanks to employees who share your co-working space loudly discussing their latest Netflix binge.
You’re low on focus, low on patience, and certainly low on sleep.
Any of this sound familiar? Such is the life of an entrepreneur.
In addition to the leadership challenges you’re working around the clock to overcome, you’re forced to do battle with the same obstacles we all struggle with: filtering distractions, sorting an overwhelming to-do list, and increasing efficiency in everyday tasks. These struggles can seem insurmountable when you’ve got so much on your plate already.
As a leader, you’ll never help your business reach its highest potential if you’re drowning in daily minutiae. Try a few of these basic tricks to make sure your focus is where it needs to be.
1. Recognize when your plate is full
Knowing when to say “no” is probably the biggest startup challenge founders face. In a small company, it’s simply not possible to do everything that seems attractive. Eventually, you’ll be forced to forego great opportunities in order to focus on your core goals.
You can’t afford to say “yes” to everything that comes across your desk. When you do, you lose focus, which just puts more distance between you and your goals. The good news is that as an entrepreneur, you determine what’s core to your business.
2. Sort the ‘today’ from the ‘right now’
It’s important to sift through your overwhelming to-do list each day and prioritize. Follow Stephen Covey’s advice from his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and label each task for the day as either urgent or non-urgent. Write them on a whiteboard, and keep your tasks easily visible when you wake up in the morning or when you first get to the office.
Knowing the difference between “pressing” and “absolutely critical” is vital to your success. Chances are good that almost everything on your list is important. Having a plan of attack when you start your day will keep you calm and more focused as the hours pass.
3. Accept your limitations
Entrepreneurs can often be stubbornly independent. Everyone has heard the saying “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself,” but it likely holds a special place in the hearts of entrepreneurs.
You might have a background as a developer and can’t keep your hands out of the code. Maybe you have marketing experience that means you can’t help but interfere with launch initiatives. The reality is that you don’t have time to do hands-on tasks that your team should be responsible for. After all, if you’re in the trenches, who’s leading the team?
It could be that entrepreneurs are just more passionate about their work than most people, making it harder for them to resist being pulled in all directions. Learn the difference between work that drives your team toward key goals and busy work that only raises your stress levels. Applying yourself to the former and minimizing involvement in the latter will help keep you from becoming a victim of entrepreneurial burnout.
4. Encourage your team to take ownership
Distinguish yourself from the hordes of obstinate entrepreneurs who need to have a hand in everything. Delegate tasks the right way.
Before you delegate a project, consider: Is this the person best equipped to handle it? Putting responsibility on the right person helps you step back, rather than constantly looking over an employee’s shoulder (stressing you both out). Ask yourself whether the project is vital to your operation — this will keep you from spreading finite resources too thin.
In any case, if no one immediately comes to mind to take on a task, it’s best to avoid sending a group email in the hopes that someone will take ownership or request that your team “brainstorm” what to do with it. These aren’t solutions, and they just generate more emails, conference calls, and endless meetings that slow down the process.
In the business world, you never know when the next big decision will come along. Clear your plate, get some sleep, and make sure you have the mental bandwidth to tackle those big questions when they arise.
This article has been edited.
Ari Rabban is the CEO of Phone.com and a veteran of the IP communications industry. Phone.com’s virtual phone service builds on the digital VoIP industry experience of its founders to deliver a complete suite of enterprise-grade unified communication services at an SMB price. Ari was named among the Top 20 Most Influential People in VoIP 2012 and currently serves on several boards, including the New Jersey Tech Council. Connect with @arabban on Twitter.