Do you love shiny objects? I know I do. I love the feeling of doing something new and dreaming up new ideas… I could do it all day everyday. And when I started my business, that's exactly what I did.
As a result, I constantly felt like I was failing. Missing deadlines, forgetting about important tasks, avoiding my inbox… it was a recipe for disaster.
Looking back 4 years later I realize now that what I went through in that first year was the perfect storm of untreated ADHD symptoms.It was NOT the personality flaw I kept telling myself it was… but rather a very real battle that I was struggling to win.
Now, I’ve been able to grow Anchor Design Co. to multiple 6 figures, figured out the focusing strategies that work for my brain, and I’ve learned to give myself more grace than Keleigh of 4 years ago ever understood was possible.
Today, I’m sharing more of my story and the three most effective strategies for staying focused and consistent that I’ve picked up over the past four years. Whether you’re living with ADHD like I am, or you just want to work more efficiently and find ways to be more consistent these are strategies that you can use to be more productive and find your focus, even when it feels impossible. Let’s dive in!
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008. How to Stay Focused & Consistent from a Business Owner With ADHD
Do you love shiny objects? I know I do. I love the feeling of doing something new and getting really excited about it and creating things and coming up with ideas... I could do it all day everyday. And in the past that's exactly what I did.
When I first started my business it was easy to focus for the first 6 months. I was so excited about what I was creating and that energy Fueled me to get things done. Even the boring stuff, even the stuff that wasn't creative or super interesting, like managing my inbox, got done simply because I was so excited about having a brand new business and I was fueled by The newness of it.
I had wanted to be a business owner my entire life. I used to tell my mom that I was going to have the Victorian house by the water, a glass house in New York City, and I was going to own an art gallery / Cafe / bookstore. as a kid, and throughout high school, and throughout College I always had a new business venture. Whether I was selling hand-knit scarves on etsy or homemade pies to the other students in my dorm, I always had an idea I always wanted to turn it into a business. But without fail once I got over the excitement of getting started I would give up and move on.
So when I started Anchor Design Co. I remember thinking to myself that I finally found it. The thing that I love so much that I could really follow through, that I could really focus and be excited about it for the Long Haul. But then after about six months the newness started to wear off. I started to find myself feeling bored by the less exciting things in my business and getting easily distracted.
I remember thinking, “ here you go again. Throwing away something that could be great.” I remember talking it up to a personality flaw, feeling like it's just who I was, destined to fail.
I loved my business and loved my clients but I had no idea what I was doing. And so every time things didn't go according to plan I felt like a failure. And especially after the newness of my business wore off, when I started to really struggle with focusing, I constantly found myself getting into trouble. Missing deadlines, forgetting about things, avoiding my inbox. A true recipe for disaster… and the pressure of feeling like I was constantly messing up build-up and compounded until I finally took a step back from my business to Completely reorganize myself.
It's been 4 years since then and looking back I realize now that what I went through in that first year of business was the perfect storm of untreated ADHD symptoms. And very much so NOT the personality flaw I kept telling myself it was… but rather a very real battle that I was struggling to win.
When people think about ADHD they think of kids in elementary school who can't sit still and constantly interrupt the teacher. And while I definitely was that kid that's not exactly how it shows up for me as an adult. But the truth is most people don't even realize that ADHD often carries through into adulthood and for many more means undiagnosed until they're an adult if they ever get diagnosed at all.
Now today I'm not here to talk about ADHD specifically but I think it's important to know where I'm coming from when I approach focus. I'm not coming up from a place of perfectionism. I'm not coming from a place of overachieving. And I'm not coming at it with a type A personality.
I'm coming at it as someone who believed that it wasn't possible for me to focus and follow through on things for most of my life. I'm coming at it as someone who struggles to get started. who often looks at tasks and feels the weight of the world in them. As someone who very much learned the hard way just how important focusing and being consistent matters, even when I really don't feel like it. Which is most of the time. So if you've ever felt any of those things, and this is for you. And if you haven't felt those things and you're just looking for strategies to help yourself grow within your own business you're in the right place. Whether you struggle with ADHD like I do, or you just want to work more efficiently and find ways to be more consistent these strategies can work for you.
Today my goal is to give you simple and actionable strategies that you can use to be more productive and find your focus, even when it feels impossible. So let’s go ahead and dive right in.
My first tip is for anyone who struggles to get started. If you ever look at a task and feel like it's too big or too much or too time-consuming, this is for you. And my tip for you is to start timing things.
I often find that when I'm struggling to start something it's because whatever that thing is, it looks like a mountain in front of me. It feels like an enormous obstacle that I need to go around just to get it done. And in my brain it usually sounds something like “I don’t feel like it.” and not in a lazy sort of way but a “ this feels too big for me to take on right now” kind of way.
you might experience this when you're actually starting something that's big. Maybe you're signing up for a new tool to use within your business and it feels like a lot to take on all at once. But you also might be experiencing it in smaller, day-to-day tasks like managing your inbox or posting on social media or writing a blog post. These are all things that in the past I found myself avoiding because I feel like I don’t have time, like it’s too big to deal with in that moment.
the reality is though it generally isn't something that's actually that big of a deal. And what I really needed was to show myself exactly that. It's like my brain was struggling to understand that's sending an email only takes 3 minutes or unloading the dishwasher takes less than 5 minutes and I needed proof in order to believe it.
when I realized this I started timing things. It started around my house. I would avoid cleaning and picking things up because it felt like an all-day task, like once I started there was no end in sight.
so one day I set a timer on my phone for 30 minutes and started cleaning. I ended up finishing before the timer went off. I remember feeling shocked that it took as little time as it did and the next time I needed to clean I remembered how little time it actually took when I timed it I found it easier to get started. My brain had the proof that it needed that this wasn't such a big task.
so I started doing it in my business too. Managing my email inbox has always been something that I've struggled with, partially because I find it really hard to separate my emotions from what people say. so I would always take it really personally when someone would have something negative to say about my business or service I was providing or product that I was offering. And we all know that people really let loose online wear no one can see their faces. So when somebody had something negative to say they really go for it. And it feels so crushing.
So especially at the beginning of my business when I was already really overwhelmed by my own lack of focus, managing my inbox felt like an enormous task. and because it had such an emotionally large impact on me it felt like something that would take forever. The reality is answering an email only takes a minute or two. and so I started timing it. I would time how long it took me to answer an individual email and I would set a timer for how long I could spend answering emails. And even if I didn't beat the timer it's still helped put the task in perspective. It shrunk what felt like an enormous Mountain back into the molehill that it actually was.
And you can use the same strategy to help put those tasks that feel too big into perspective. What is it in your business that feels like a mountain? Is it scheduling social media posts ahead of time? Is it writing blog posts? Is it answering emails, like it was for me? Is it scheduling a weekly email newsletter, or following up with needs?
Think about what in your business you avoid because it feels like a task that is just too big… And then try timing it. Time it and see how long it actually takes so that you know exactly how big it actually is. this might not give you new motivation that never existed before but what it can do is remove the obstacles that stand in your way from taking action. And sometimes it's not that you have a lack of motivation sometimes it's just that you placed an obstacle between yourself and the task and you need to remove it before you can step forward.
Put a Value on Everything
My next tip for you is to put a value on everything you do and if it doesn't contribute to growth then table it or delegate it.
And when I say value I don't necessarily mean money. I just meant figure out the value of Performing that action, of doing that task. ask yourself if I do this what is the immediate result? How does this contribute to my bigger goal? And is there something else that makes a bigger impact that would be a better use of my time?
I asked at the beginning of this episode if you like shiny objects and I shared that I most definitely do. at least, my brain does. And so I find it very easy to get excited about trying something new… even if it doesn't necessarily matter in the grand scheme of things.
This could be as simple as Cleaning my entire house when I really need to be writing a podcast episode or it could be as complex as people-pleasing when somebody ask if I have something and I feel the need to immediately create it for them.
I'm definitely not perfect at this and it's something that I continue to struggle with all the time, but I found that if I catch myself starting to chase a shiny object when I stopped and asked myself “ does this contribute to xy&z bigger picture” and I have to give myself a yes or no answer I'm able to leave the shiny object alone and continue working on the task at hand. And sometimes I try to negotiate with Myself by saying things like “ well this sort of contributes because of X and so even though it doesn't directly contribute eventually it leads to why” and in those moments I have a second question that I asked myself: “ what is the direct and immediate result of doing this thing?”
I want I'm looking for here is a variation on the same question I asked before. whatever the direct result is... Does it contribute to the bigger goal? Is there an immediate line that I can draw between taking that action and what I'm trying to achieve? And if there's not and it's time for me to either table that idea or delegate it to somebody else.
Save Your Ideas
And that leads directly to my next tip which is to keep a list of all your shiny object ideas.
I keep a running list of all my shiny object ideas. Because to be honest, sometimes once I get an idea in my head I cannot let it go until I take some kind of action on it.
That's just the way my brain works. It's not always as simple as just saying “ let it go and focus” and then somehow being able to make it happen. But that doesn't mean that I have to go down a rabbit hole and follow through on the idea. I've learned over time taking action doesn't need to be big. And so I started keeping a running list of all my shiny object ideas when I can't get them out of my head. I don't always keep this list in the same place. Sometimes I know right off the bat that the idea that I have isn't something that I'm going to choose to come back to you in the future. Something that may be sounded fun but really is just a waste of time and resources in the grand scheme of the bigger picture. Other times it's actually a good idea and could be helpful at some point just not right now. So while I do keep a running list of ideas in my task manager Asana, sometimes I'll just drop the idea down in my planner on the notes page. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting it out of my head and save somewhere, just enough to trick my brain into believing that we'll come back to it later. And usually by the time I'm done with whatever task I actually needed to deal I'm no longer interested in the shiny object. And that's a Telltale sign that that's all it is... A distraction. And if I am still interested in it by the time I get my actual to-do list done that I've got it saved for later and I'll be able to find it again when I need to.
And that's not the only time that I write things down.
Write Everything Down
My final tip is one that you might have heard before and it's to use lists. I went through a big learning curve when I started my business but one of the things I got right from the get-go what is creating a daily list. I didn't do this in a planner I didn't do this in task management software like I do now in Asana. I just did it in a notebook. Something that I have lovingly referred to as my everything notebook for the past four years.
Every day I would start by writing down my non-negotiables, the things that I absolutely had to get done even if I did nothing else the entire day. And then I would make another list of all the other things that I wanted to do.
I would then start my day by getting to work on the non-negotiables. When I felt like doing something else I would write it down in my list of other things to do but I wouldn't take action on it until I was done with my non-negotiables.
4 years later I do something very similar in my full Focus planner. The full Focus planner has a section where you write your big 3 for the day followed by what they call “other tasks.” all the other things that you need to get done but it's not necessarily your primary focus for that day.
I didn't start using a full Focus planner until this year so do not let the idea of a planter hold you back from trying this. Any notebook would do. I used to buy spiral-bound legal pads on Amazon in a pack of 10. They were super cheap and that's what worked for me when I started. Then I used a simplified planner it followed the same concept of having a list of non-negotiables plus a list of other tasks. This year I discovered the full Focus planner through a friend who also uses it And it was a natural and easy fit because it already Incorporated the process of using a task list in addition to a few other features that I was looking for.
So if you're trying this for the first time, do not feel like you need to go out and make an investment in a planner or anything fancy. Even scrap paper would work.
Aside from helping me know what's most important and create priorities for each day having a list also helps me recognize what I've accomplished. When I first started my business I struggled to focus. and focusing will always be something that is a work-in-progress for me, that's the nature of living with ADHD. But I have strategies in place to Help me Focus… but then I found myself struggling to feel productive even when I spent the entire day working.
I would look back on my day and wonder how I felt so busy in yet like I had gotten nothing done. And so I started making a second list each day. A list of everything I accomplished.
at the end of the day I would sit down and take 5 minutes to write down everything that I did throughout the day. Big, small, impactful, uninteresting… it didn't matter what it was if I did it I wrote it down. by doing this I was able to see everything that I was getting done. I was able to see what I accomplished that was on my task list and I was also able to see where I veered off and got distracted.
and not every distraction was a bad thing. Sometimes doing things that weren’t on my task list showed me what I had forgotten to plan for. Have you ever done that? Planned your entire day and then realized that you forgot something really important?
When I started writing my accomplishments at the end of every day I not only felt better about what I was getting done but I was also able to plan more effectively the following week because I was becoming more and more aware of my tasks. So if this week I forgot to plan a Facebook live and had to squeeze it in one day I now know that next week I need to plan for that in my daily tasks.
As a result I feel more accomplished and productive because I'm more aware of what I'm actually getting done. It's very rare for me to get to the end of a day and feel like I didn't get anything done because I literally have a list of everything I accomplished. And part of being able to focus is actually feeling the impact of getting things done. For me it doesn't matter how many tools I have in my back pocket to help me Focus If I never feel the positive impact of it. And because the work I'm doing might not necessarily pay off immediately that's where my list of accomplishments come in. Everyday I'm reinforcing to myself why following through I'm guessing strategies to stay focused is important. I'm reinforcing to myself that when I stay focused on the most important tasks good things come from it. And that positive reinforcement keeps me coming back to these strategies, even on some of the hardest days.
So let's do a quick recap on the four strategies because I knew that was a lot.
First, start timing things. When you find yourself avoiding something because it feels like it's going to take too long or is too big of a task Time-It and see how long it actually takes. You might surprise yourself when did either takes less time then you felt like it would or it feels easier to get up and do it because you know exactly what to expect.
2nd put a value on everything that you do and if it isn't going to contribute to your bigger picture goals either table it or delegate it. You're not necessarily assigning a monetary value you're just asking “ what is the result if I do this? What do I get when this is done?” And if the answer isn't that you get Step Closer to what you're trying to accomplish in the long run then it might not be a task worth putting your time into. And that can help you differentiate between a shiny object and an idea worth pursuing.
Third is to save your ideas. Make yourself a shiny object list. It can be in the notes app on your phone, it can be in a notebook that you keep in your purse, it can be a pad of paper on your desk, or it could even be in your project management app like Asana. wherever it is anytime you come up with an idea and it's not the right time to pursue it add it to your list. By doing so you're tricking your brain into feeling like you took action on it and this can help you shake it off and refocus on the task at hand. You're also able to save it for later if it's a good idea so that you can take action on it at a better time.
And finally write everything down. Start by just making a task list at the beginning of every day. No need to use a fancy planner, no special tools, just grab a piece of paper in brain dump everything you want to do that day. then divide it up into non-negotiables, the things you absolutely have to get done and cannot put off another day, and your other tasks. Things it would be nice to get done but could potentially be done on another day. And at the end of the day come back to your piece of paper or your notebook and write down everything you accomplished. Even if it was on your to-do list, write it down again if you got it done. Acknowledge your own productivity and give it the recognition that it deserves. Provide the positive reinforcement to yourself that will help you come back to these strategies every day.
Now before we wrap this up I just want to add that I'm not perfect. I'm far from it - and I have LOTS of days when, despite my best efforts, I just can’t seem to pull myself together and maintain focus. I'm definitely not the same person as when I started my business but I believe that this is a lifelong journey for most people - I know it definitely is for me.
As our lives change in our circumstances change so does our ability to focus and our threshold for distractions. So don't beat yourself up when you have a bad day or if you need to re-evaluate things. We’re not aiming for perfection… we’re just aiming for action.
LISTEN, SUBSCRIBE & REVIEW ON:
Short & sweet episode highlights
How I nearly put myself out of business by chasing shiny objects
The stories I was hearing and the shocking realization that they were all lies
Why this is NOT just another story about a type-A perfectionist wanting everyone to get organized like they are
An actionable strategy that will help you get started even when it feels impossible
A simple way to shift the way you think about your work so that you can easily tell what is worth your time
How to trick your brain into thinking you chased that shiny object (even when you actually didn’t)
Download my FREE Bank It or Bag It shiny objects tracking sheet!
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