You work 10 hours a day. Commute for another hour. Maybe 1 hour at the gym. 3 hours with your family. Sleep 6 hours. That leaves a grand total of a maximum of 3 hours not accounted for per day for you to build your side hustle. Your gateway to escape. Your future reality.
3 hours a day.
And often times, those hours are the last ones in the day. After the kids have gone to bed. And you’re tired. Your willpower is drained. It’s a struggle.
And whenever you sit down to work, there always seems to be something more pressing popping into your mind.
Some new tool that needs to be explored. A slight tweak that needs to go on your home page.
I’ve been there. Heck, I AM there. But in this article, I want to give you 7 actionable tips to help you keep the shiny object syndrome at bay and allow you to focus on truly honing your craft and making progress towards your ultimate goal.
1. Recognize that you are procrastinating
Putting in work towards your craft is draining. And trying to fit it in during the last part of the day makes it extra difficult to succeed.
Poking around on the internet takes much less effort than putting your head down and creating a thoughtful blog post. Your exhausted mind is very skilled at justifying the distractions.
You’re doing market research.
You’re piecing together your “strategy.”
You are making sure the tools you are planning to use will work well together.
On and on. I know all the excuses. I’ve used all the excuses.
These are all ways of avoiding doing the necessary and difficult work.
Your business will not grow without you putting in the time and actually creating the content.
2. Understand your current situation
You can’t know what you need to do if you don’t understand where you are trying to go. And you can’t know where you are trying to go if you don’t understand your current situation – where you are right now in your business.
Think of how your GPS directs you to your destination. It needs two points to work: where you want to go, and where you are right now.
As busy side hustlers we tend to get stuck into one of two camps. There are those who spend all their time with their head in the clouds, unable to ever focus on work. And then there are the ones who always keep their noses to the proverbial grindstone, cranking out content consistently but without the overarching strategy to ensure they are heading in the right direction.
Do you know which camp you are in? We all have natural inclinations, some are the work horses, and some are the dreamers. Neither is better than the other, but we all need to find a way to bridge the gap and manufacture a blend between the two.
So think deeply about where you are in this moment and what got you there. Only when you know where you currently are in your business can you begin to chart the path to where you want to go.
Here are some guiding questions to ask yourself when you find yourself getting distracted:
Is there a clear task in front of me right now?
When we have so little time to work on our side hustle, we can sometimes have a jumble of ideas swimming around in our heads without a clear priority to accomplish.
This was me several months ago, but luckily for you it is an easy fix. Every night before you go to bed, pull out your idea list. Go through all the possible things you would want to work on in your business, and just pick 1-3 tasks and put a little star next to them. Limit the list to three items because you can quickly fall behind and feel demotivated when you constantly have a backlog of work to get done.
Once you have your 3 priorities for the next day, your subconscious mind will go to town on those ideas while you sleep, while you eat, and while you work at your day job. When it’s finally time to sit down to task and get to work, you will have hours of subconscious preparation at your side to help you have valuable insights on command.
Do you know why the task you have chosen is a priority right now?
This is a natural extension from the point above. If you chose the wrong task to work on for the day, you can start to feel anxiety and guilt during its execution. This is because your subconscious knows that you are not spending your time in the best way.
We all know the phrase “first thing’s first,” right? If your task list is in alignment with the natural priority for your business, then you will be more likely to stay focused.
However, if you are working on the wrong things, your brain will try to sabotage the work, and you will feel constantly distracted.
Is there a real reason why the task cannot be completed without the current distraction?
Not all distractions are created equal. If you are working on the right task but you are not equipped to complete it, you may have to veer off course to ultimately complete the goal.
But with proper planning and outlining, you should be able to foresee these pre-requisites and road blocks before beginning. This will keep task switching to a minimum, and you will be able to stay as efficient as possible during the little time you have to execute.
3. Understand the root cause
World class manufacturing companies constantly seek out the root cause of defects on their assembly line. They look for any inefficiencies and launch full scale efforts to snuff them out to increase their profitability.
Get into the habit of thinking of your own side hustle as a manufacturing operation. Whether it be blogging, Youtubing, e-commerce, or trading in the stock market, there needs to be a defined process and method to your craft.
Once you understand your process, you can begin to define the defects to the process. Every time you leave your task to get on social media is a defect. Every time you pick up your phone just to check the latest notification is a defect. Shoot, every time you have a fleeting thought that takes you away from your deep work is a defect.
Once you identify the defect, you must understand it
“Why,” is the magic question here. And you can’t simply ask it once. We are going to get a little psychological here, and I’m going to ask you to go deeper.
Five times deeper.
When looking for the root cause of a defect, get into the habit of asking yourself, “Why is this happening?” as many as five times.
Let’s walk through an example from my recent and oh-so-embarrassing past:
The defect: Stopping mid-blog post to research a new marketing software system to replace your WordPress blog
(1) Why is this happening? Because the tool is brand new and it fixes a lot of the technical problems that I have been having with my site.
(2) Why is this happening? Because I have installed 15 different plug ins to give my blog extremely advanced functionality
(3) Why is this happening? Because it is more interesting for me to investigate cool advanced marketing automation features than it is to create content.
(4) Why is this happening? Because creating content requires difficult, focused effort and I always work on my blog late at night after I am exhausted from a full day.
(5) Why is this happening? Because I go to sleep late and am unable to wake up early to create content when my mind is fresh.
Once you can dig deep into yourself and understand the “why,” behind a particular defect, you will often find it has nothing to do with the symptoms that present. And once you have identified your root cause(s), you are now empowered to take actions against them.
4. Set your targets
Now that you know what the problems are, you get to envision the future without that problem in it. Where do you want to see yourself next week/month/year?
How much faster can you grow once you eliminate the root causes of the distractions that are holding you back?
Set smart goals. We all know what those are so I am not going to treat you like a child. But it is important to realize that there will always be distractions around – we just have to be intentional about controlling what is within our control.
So set your targets, envision your successful future, and move on.
5. Start fixing your problems
There are a number of tactics that work wonders for reducing distractions. I encourage you to experiment with a few of these, but please don’t let them become distractions in their own right. Here are some of the most useful hacks that keep me on track.
The Pomodoro Method
Select a meaty task. Grab a simple timer and set it to 25 minutes. Before you start the clock, you need to make a mental contract with yourself that until that timer ends, you will be laser focused on the task. After all, it’s only 25 minutes, and anyone can focus for that amount.
Hit the clock, and work on your task like your life depends on it. If you finish the task before timer is up, congratulations! You just earned the right to some free time – enjoy it (that’s part of the system!). If the timer stops while you are still working on the task, you can find a nice stopping point, and give yourself a 5 minute break. I recommend you get up from your computer and take a walk, do some push-ups, or check in with your people. Try to stay off emails.
Rinse and repeat until you are done for the day. The psychological breaks every 25 minutes really help me get through arduous tasks that I would otherwise be afraid to tackle.
One computer screen. One window.
Multi-tasking is a myth. I pride myself in my 3 computer monitors, 47 chrome browser windows, and my iPhone and iPad sitting beside me while I work.
But strangely, when I’m in this state, I can barely accomplish anything!
Yet when I unplug the laptop and go to a coffee shop, I am able to produce volumes of content (guess where I am while writing this…).
One screen. One window. If you are prepared for your task, then you have everything you need. You just need to put in the work, and no number of extra screens is going to help you do it.
Don’t break the chain
This is one of my favorites, because it is simple and the benefit builds on itself. Select one thing that is crucial for your business. What is the one thing you need to do every day to grow your business?
Get your yearly calendar out, and commit to doing that task every day. Every day that you complete the task, give yourself a check for that day. Do this every day and you will be amazed at how your mind will change over time. At first it will be painful every time you do the thing. You will feel resistance, and you will be sluggish at accomplishing it.
But as the chain of completed days grows, so too will your motivation. Pretty soon you will look forward to every time you can put another check in the box, and you will look for ways to adjust your schedule so you can always get to your priority task.
For busy side hustlers like us, we may need to be more flexible with how we define “our thing.” It may not be smart to commit to writing a new blog post every day. It takes time to put out good content, and there are many other activities that deserve your attention. Emailing your list, networking with others, improving SEO, etc.
It’s OK to have a broader category like, “Spend 1 hour of focused work on my project every day.” You will still get all the psychological benefits, but will have the flexibility to work on what is needed for that day.
6. Celebrate the small wins
This is a long game we have chosen to play. We are not going to have success overnight, and there will be many times when we feel like it will be hopeless. For this very reason, it’s important to celebrate every small win we have along the way.
Publish a blog post? Do a happy dance.
Hit a new milestone on your email list? You deserve a beer!
Get the urge to check out a new shiny object and resist it? high-five!
You get the idea. It’s important to put things in perspective, and to have gratitude for every step in the journey.
Underlying this entire concept are the 3 P’s you need to survive at the side hustling game:
You won’t replace your salary this month. It may take two or three years of consistent effort before you have enough to go full time with your passion project. You have to be patient and let progress happen slowly but surely.
You are going to lose some days. That is just the way it is. So it is important to be persistent and force yourself to continue to show up day after day. That’s the entire strategy behind “don’t break the chain,” is to simply force yourself to show up every day!
If you are trying to create a future for yourself, you have to be careful that it is a future you want to live in. Learn to smile, make jokes at yourself, and not take things so seriously! We live in a beautiful world of abundance and just because you haven’t figured out how to make consistent income with your hustle should be a reason to celebrate! You have so much still to learn and when you learn it you will begin to unlock your potential!
7. Make a habit of self-reflection and continuous improvement
If you’ve implemented the steps in this article, you will have the tools you need to make constant progress towards your goal.
Along the way you must force yourself to stop, reflect on your own development, and make small tweaks to your approach. Each one of us is unique and we need to find what works to take us to the next level. Be patient with yourself and commit to getting 1% better every day. The results will compound, and so will your business.
Life with Shiny Object Syndrome
It’s time to get back to work. But before you do, leave a comment below on what tactic helps you stay focused most when you get distracted!