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The art of focus for founders

Time flies. It really does. Time is the only thing (or almost) money can’t buy. You will never get any time back. So better use it wisely.

What does that even mean? As a solo founder, I have TONS of things to do and, like everyone else, I have limited time to do everything. By limited time, in my case, I mean less than two days a week to work on Metrics Watch. It spreads over the week in chunks of at least an hour. Why? I decided to work four days a week, to have 3-day weekends with my wife and daughter. Besides, I work 15-20 hours as a consultant to help me bootstrap Metrics Watch. This setup of mine leaves less time for Metrics Watch. That’s fine. It’s my choice. I just need to deal with it.

I usually spend my Thursday working only on Metrics Watch. Other than that, I spend an hour or two at a time in general, every day. My setup requires me to maximize the time I spend, and how I spend it.

Focus is the main (only?) hack you can do to have "more time". The only way to have more time for what’s important is to remove what is not, or not yet important.

Focus is an art. It’s not always easy to stay highly focused, but you can totally improve that. Like many things, you will become better if you "practice" it a lot. It’ll pay off, I promise.

It’s hard most of the time. Here’s the thing I ask myself often:

What is the single most useful thing I can do now to improve Metrics Watch?

That’s a great question to ask yourself regularly. Obviously, replace Metrics Watch with what you want…:)

I’ll share a few tricks that help me stay focused.

Section linkEmails

Let’s start with an easy one. Try to cut your email time as much as possible. If you don’t need an email, it should not be in your inbox. No newsletter or very few, only the ones that are useful to you every time you receive them.

I tend to unsubscribe from almost all mailing lists.

Other than that, do not read each email as they get in. They rarely need an answer right now.

There is one exception I think to that: customer support. I’m a big fan of Intercom, and while I receive those emails, I make sure to get notifications via the mobile app too so I can reply as fast as possible. You can also receive them on Slack, with the help of Zappier.

Other than that, in general, your emails can be looked at only a couple of times a day. Find your routine.

I try to avoid starting the day with my emails. I skim through them in like 10 seconds when starting my day at 5 AM, to see if there is any emergency. Usually, everything can wait a little bit.

Section linkInterruptions & distractions.

Try to avoid all distractions and interruptions, as much as possible. Turn off notifications for anything that is not useful on your phone and computer. No, Facebook is not useful (unless it’s core to your business, maybe). Any non-work Slack is not required either, and you should relax notifications. Shut those notifications down.

If you have a hard time figuring out what you are doing most of the day or how you could save time, use an app like the great Qbserve or Rescue Time. It tracks what you do on your computer, including websites and gives you reports of that. I prefer Qbserve as it’s super well done, you pay only once and keep everything on your machine. Rescue Time sends that data to their servers. By the way, Qbserve is offered at a discounted price for a few weeks and have a free trial. I remove everything that is not work-related. You can also take a look at Quitter for Mac, which will hide or close apps after a period of inactivity.

If you work from home, and you find yourself doing dishes or whatever else during the day, ask yourself if it’s a good use of your time, at that time of the day. The answer for me is that it’s not. During the day, I work. If you have a hard time doing that, maybe working from home is not for you. Try co-working spaces or coffee shops.

Section linkPomodoro or equivalent

Pomodoro. Have you ever heard that? That’s a time-management method which consists of using a timer to break down work sessions in chunks of 25 minutes. Each session is called a pomodoro. Between each chunk of 25 minutes, you take a 5-minute break. Then each four pomodoros, you take a 15 minutes break. That’s the short version. Before each session (or at the beginning of the day) you set a goal for the pomodoro and during the entire time, you should focus only on that.

That’s a GREAT way to stay super focused.

I am not a huge fan of taking a technique and using it as-is without questioning whether it’s the ideal thing for me. I prefer to adjust things so that they fit me. I suggest you try it as-is for a few days and see how it goes. You can then change the intervals to be 15 minutes or 30 minutes.

I am doing pomodoros 25 minutes, but I don’t stop if I know I have only a few moments left to wrap up something or if it’s a bad timing to take a break. If you have many years of experience, you should know yourself enough to deal with that.

Section link"Just in time learning"

It’s fun to learn, right? I love that. But you know what? It’s certainly not always the best thing you can do when you are starting a company.

Instead, you should learn what you need to learn, now. Not more. I am trying to do that as much as possible.

If you learn today how to, say, do crazy stuff with email marketing, but you are not using those techniques now, chances are most of that learning is going down the drain. The key to maximizing your time learning is to learn what you need to learn now, not more.

Do you want to start doing email marketing? Great. Get the best resources to get you started and try experimenting as soon as possible. The best learning is going to come from what you try. All you want to do is to give you the basics or avoid the beginner’s mistakes.

Until last week, I never heard of "just in time learning". I heard about it on a recent episode of Startups For The Rest Of Us. Apparently it comes from Jeremy Frandsen from the Internet Business Mastery Podcast.

I really like the expression "Just in time learning" as it perfectly represents this concept and it’s a great way to stay super focused.

Section linkOne goal at a time

At the beginning of the year, I’ve set myself multiple goals. I wrote a few of them (3) on a whiteboard, and I was trying to focus on all three, at the same time. It didn’t work. One was the number of visitors on the site per day at the end of the quarter. The other one was the number of subscribers to the Metrics Watch Dispatch, our bi-weekly curated newsletter. The last one was monthly recurring revenue (MRR).

Useless. First, I don’t really care about visitors or email subscribers, not the numbers at least. Even the MRR at this point is probably not the ideal measure. I want more customers. Yes, more money, but if I have one customer that gets me to my goal, it’s great, but that might not help me learn what my future customers will want.

I erased those from the whiteboard. Right now, I have two numbers on it. The numbers of customers I have as of today and my target for the end of the quarter.

For me, having a single goal makes it super easy to figure out what is the best thing I can do right now. Will this get me to my goal of X customers before the end of the quarter? Yes, great, that’s a good sign. Can I think of anything better to get there? If I can, then I should probably do the other thing unless the time or money investment is massively more significant and unrealistic given my context.

Section linkFocus, but stay happy

With all that, maybe you think my life is boring? Well, guess what, I disagree. First, I love what I’m doing. Second, I let myself get distracted or do things that are not important. But when I do, I know I’m doing it for fun or some other reason. I organize local meetups, and it is of no help whatsoever for my business, at least, not directly. Even this blog is not the best thing I can do for Metrics Watch, but I enjoy doing it and sharing. I do it consciously. This is the key.

TL;DR: Focus on what’s important, now. "Always".

With that said, back on working on a customized weekly report for an agency so that they can send it to all their clients…more on that later.

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