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How to Regain Focus

It’s another Expert Briefs, where I ask really smart business owners to answer your burning questions.

This week I asked our panel of experts …

“What do you do to regain your focus when you get sidetracked
and wander off on side projects??”

I think you'll find the responses interesting.

LainLain Ehmann of Crafting Your Business, Step-by-Step says:

Sometimes, wandering off on side projects is procrastination. And sometimes it's a good business move! Knowing which is which is a key to business success.

When I look at my list of tasks and objectives and see myself avoiding the one I've listed as Numero Uno, then I give myself a deadline (and a swift kick in the yoga pants!). I have a pretty high self-discipline quotient, so I remind myself why the task is important to my business goals. That's usually enough to get me moving.

If I'm not procrastinating, then I just might be taking advantage of a more important opportunity. Like if I'm invited on the Today Show, I'm not going to be worrying about the fact that my to-do list says I should be prepping next week's blog posts!

The secret here is knowing your long-term and short-term business goals and knowing when to sacrifice the short-term because something more critical has come up. Don't be a slave to your to-do list; make it work FOR you!

Kevin Riley of  Blogpreneur Training says:

What? Who me? Wander off on side projects… Oh, look! A squirrel.

It depends. If the side project 1. won't eat up too much time, 2. won't endanger a deadline on a main project, and 3. will add to my business, I will follow through on it. That gets it out of my head and out of my way.

Now, I only do this on rare occasion. An example would be my recent “Maximum E-Mail Marketing Profits In 2013“. The idea arose while I was promoting Tahir Shah's “Total Lead Capture” system. I'd already been mapping out an e-mail strategy for my own upcoming new business venture, and I decided that this would be a great time to create a guide that put all the strategy on paper.

Now, since I will be using my own guide as guidance when creating my e-mail marketing campaign for the new business, and I could turn around and sell this guide to other Internet marketers (plus give it away as a bonus to those who purchased the TLC system via my promotion), it was a win-win decision. And, since my timeline for my new business venture stretches out six months to launch, I had the time to take a short side track.

My advice: Consider the value of your side project and the impact on your main business caused by time spent on the side project. If it's feasible to pursue the side project, without negative impact on your main business plan, go ahead (but only for a short-term side track). If, on the other hand, the side project could put you off track for your main business plan, or would take away precious time from an existing project, I recommend doing what I do in such a case – write it down on paper and pin it to a future projects cork board.

terryTerry Dean of My Marketing Coach says:

Your first goal is to keep these side journeys to a minimum.

I do that in two ways. The first is to become an expert at the word, “No.”

Practice it. Use it. As an entrepreneur you're surrounding by opportunities. Many of them may be home runs, but they're just not right for you. You're likely going to say NO at least 10 times as often as you say YES.

The 2nd method is even more important for me, because it's also how I usually get back on track.

I have hanging a single sheet of paper hanging in my office just to the left of my computers. It's at perfect eye level when I turned that direction. It has my yearly “Internet Lifestyle Plan” on it.

This includes what my mission is, who my target customer is, what I'm passionate about, along with the primary directions and marketing I'm planning for the year. It also lists when I work and when I'm off. I update this sheet around quarterly.

I'm always testing new opportunities, because one of my greatest strengths is curiosity. How does this work and how can we improve on it?

When I get off track on a project I shouldn't be on, that one piece of paper is staring at me. It's almost like a conscience because I can feel its disapproval.

Here's a good example of when this came into play. I was thinking about going into the “life coaching” market. It was new and exciting. I did my research, and even starting writing a course…planned as a Clickbank course for the market.

But my Internet Lifestyle Plan was staring at me. The audience wasn't the same as my core audience. It was a distraction.

Once it bugged me enough, I took what I had written, edited it quickly, and turned it into a Kindle ebook.

I made one mention of the ebook, but haven't really thought much about it since. Except every month I get a nice little check from Amazon for it…and consistent new incoming email leads also.

Plus I have several mastermind partners who I meet with by Skype/phone every month. They'll call me on it if I get off track also.

Really it comes down to those 3 steps for me:

1. Have a short Internet Lifestyle plan that's visible to you all the time.

2. Have a coach or mastermind group you're accountable to.

3. Find a way to “close shop” and profit from being side tracked.

Karon-black-225-framedKaron Thackston of Step-by-Step Copywriting Course says:

BIG problem for me 🙂 I confess to having a major case of shiny object syndrome as well as a mild touch of ADD. I can run down a rabbit trail with world-class precision if I'm not careful.

When I see that happening, the first thing I do is verbally tell myself to focus. (Yes, in addition to all that, I also have a quirky need to talk to myself.) I make a micro to-do list of things that I must get done that day (or even within the next few hours) and I turn off everything else. Email gets closed, Facebook gets shut down and any pressing thoughts or ideas get quickly jotted on a sticky note so I can come back to them later without forgetting what I was so excited about.

Then I remind myself of the benefits of completing whatever it is (client copywriting project, updating my own marketing plan, completing a new webinar, etc.) I was originally working on.

I sit up nice and straight, take a deep breath and off I go!

KristenKristen Eckstein of Self Publish on Demand says:

Entrepreneurs get sidetracked? Really? 😉 Between shiny objects and new ideas flooding my mind at 100 miles-per-hour, it’s a wonder I stay on track with a new project idea long enough to finish it and not jump to something else!

But that’s actually how I regain focus. Sometimes we’re not meant to finish that project. Sometimes the new idea brings a fresh new energy, and to try to ignore it only makes it harder to concentrate on what we “should” be doing. This happened to me with my 21 Ways series. I still have two books in the series each partially written. And that’s when I got really excited about starting a third one. Now, I’d already published two books in the series myself and had over 18 more outlined. This new idea was completely new. And I chose to use that passion, energy and drive to write it.

Less than 30 days later 21 Ways to Be a Kid Again & Get Adult Results was published. And what I learned from that experience I’ve been able to apply toward new project ideas. Instead of fighting that excitement and energy that comes with a new idea, I allow it to fuel me to take action on it. Can you imagine how many more passionate and amazing ideas will be produced if we quit trying to forget about them and drop everything to take action on them instead?

The important thing is to take action quickly before you get frustrated and begin to lose steam. Fuel your focus with your passion, run with it, and go for it!

kellyKelly McCausey of Solo Smarts Podcast says:

I axe those projects. ROFL!!

Ok, my real answer…

When I realize I've gone down a rabbit trail I stop everything and evaluate. My favorite evaluation tool is a good ‘brain dump'. I take stock of everything I have my hands in or my mind on. I list every project, from the biggest to the smallest.

Next, I prioritize. Which projects are most deserving of my time? Where are the great profits? What has to be done before a new project can begin making profit? Based on these judgments I decide which projects get to stay active and which need to be tabled or even axed.

Usually, once I make up my mind, I have total peace about it. I can kill a project faster than anyone I know and never look back. Whenever I do, I feel an immediate sense of relief. My ‘main projects' get more of my time and creativity and that leads to a better business overall.

bobBob Jenkins of How to Use Mindmaps to Organize Your Business says:

When I get sidetracked, I don't beat myself up too much at first. Usually, it's simply a sign of mental fatigue, and I simply need to take a break for a few minutes or hours.

But if I truly get sidetracked for DAYS or WEEKS, then I know something's up. So I talk to my girlfriend (who happens to be an amazing life coach) or “Friends in the Business” for some sound-boarding. Am I confused about why the project is important? Have I found something that fulfills my goals in this new project? Am I missing a key piece that's holding me back, or encouraging the procrastination?

Ultimately, the tool I use daily keeps me focused: Freemind mindmapping software.

With my “Monetized Action Plan” in front of me when I start my computer, I have my project mapped out, and my action steps visible. I can see the big picture, and know the little steps along the way are going to help me finish the project faster.

Finally, I remember who I'm doing the project for. Every day of delay is another day that someone, somewhere continues to struggle without my solution to make things easier.

Tiffany Dow of The Guide to Shiny Object Syndrome says:

Getting sidetracked can be a boon or a bust. Sometimes what you get sidetracked with can turn out to be something that you really enjoy, that’s really profitable, and that might even replace a less fulfilling business model or strategy.

But if it’s a bust, then that’s when we start feeling regret, kicking ourselves for getting sidetracked, and vow never to do it again.

Personally, I have learned to go with it. It’s a perk of being an entrepreneur for me. If I get a touch of restlessness and need a change, I can get on a different track. If I realize it’s not going where I want it to go, I simply turn around and head home.

If you allow yourself this freedom, without guilt, it becomes less of a struggle. It’s kind of like dieting. Once you truly get rid of food guilt and allow yourself to eat what you want, when you want, it doesn’t cause you to binge and hide food, etc. You’re able to eat a few bites and walk away because you know that without any anxiety, if you want to come back in 2 hours and nibble again, you can.

It’s not an all or nothing mentality.

But during those times when I do get sidetracked and it turns out to be a bust, what I normally do is sit down with a regular pen and paper and jot down the priority of my projects. I do this based on:

  • What’s fulfilling – this is a biggie for me because if I’m not happy, it has to go.
  • What’s profitable – I’m no dummy, so if my efforts aren’t bringing the cash in, it has to become a hobby or be gone for good.
  • What my audience needs – if they’re not considered, then I lose my edge in the marketplace. I have to make sure everything is serving their needs.

I routinely reevaluate my projects based on these three factors and I cut things out if they don’t meet all three – not two out of three, but all three. That sometimes means cutting out things that are making me money – and that’s okay. I’ve deleted sites making me $300 a month before because my heart wasn’t in it or it wasn’t beneficial for my audience.

Don’t beat yourself up if you’re a flitter – someone who goes from one task to the next. It’s a perk! Just don’t let it be your Achilles Heel – keep a leash on it to some degree and you’ll enjoy those moments of getting off the beaten path.

Susanne Myers of  Daily Affiliate Tasks says:

I’m a big list person. The best thing I can do to make sure I stay on track is to make a list. If I’m working on a big project, I like to break things down into individual steps. That will become my master checklist.

For example, let’s say my project is to come out with a new info product. My list may include things like:

  • Outline the product
  • Write the ebook, record the lessons etc.
  • Set up a website for the new product
  • Order graphics
  • Write a sales letter
  • Create a download page
  • Create support pages (like contact, privacy policy etc.)
  • Etc.

Once I have that one big long list of everything that needs to happen before I can launch my product, I start incorporating tasks into my regular daily lists.

Those daily to-do lists contain a few things for the project along with ongoing tasks like mailing my lists, blogging, approving comments, staying active on social media etc.

I pay attention to how I structure my to-do lists as well. For example, it takes me a little while to get going in the morning and I don’t do my best writing before my second cup of coffee. Instead the first few items on my daily list are easy things I can do and check off quickly. This may involve approving comments, sending out emails to get in touch with a JV partner, order a new cover etc. Being able to check a few items off quickly creates momentum for me.

I also know that I need to get most of the content creation done before 2pm, or it’s just not going to happen, so working on the content for my new product, sending an email to my lists and writing blog posts is next on my to-do list. I wrap my day up with more little “filler” work that can be done while supervising homework for example.

The key for me is to break everything down into baby-steps and have a list that keeps me on track to make sure everything gets done. Days when I stick to my to-do list have always been my most productive.

The other thing that helps me stay focused is to have a deadline. This may involve promising someone that they can promote a new product, or sending out something to my lists letting them know it will be ready by a certain date. Having that deadline will make me push harder and get things done without getting distracted by side-projects.

FeliciaFelicia Slattery of Signature Speech Secrets says:

As many people who know me are aware, I was sidetracked BIG time last year with lung cancer. My business pretty much ground to a halt, aside from some small continuity and affiliate checks I had rolling in, which kept my business rolling while I dealt with serious health issues for most of the year. I am now 100% healed and doing great.

For me, getting back to work could only happen after I was fully healed (as a speaker, if I can't speak, that's a problem!). How I did it was to announce to my community – email and social media- that I was back, explained what happened while I was away, and then did a survey to gauge people's interest in my plans and content.

As a communication specialist, I communicate with people first. That's just my way and it's always been profitable. Once I had that valuable feedback, I could pay attention to trends and give people what they told me they wanted first and make my plans fall in line with that. It was easy and fun getting back into the swing of work. Today, just three months after being back, I've had three of the most profitable and successful months in my business because I listened to what people wanted.

NicoleNicole Dean of .. here! .. says:

Wow. I guess this is sure a hot topic, based upon the number of responses today. 🙂

For me the answer to this question comes down to two things:

  1. Knowing where the profit is.
  2. Having a daily or weekly plan.

That's really the key.

When I know where I'm making the most money, I can focus my time, energy, and, most importantly my resources into those projects FIRST. What I do with the rest of my day, is really up to me then. That means that everything from my own time, to buying advertising, to focusing on getting affiliates to promote, etc. is all focused where I'll get the highest return on my investments. (I consider time an investment. Don't you?)

If I know my numbers, then I KNOW what to do and I'm not guessing.

For instance, it would be silly of me to wake up and dig into project B when project A is rockin' and rolling. So, I focus on A first, and then only jump into B after I've made progress.

The other area is having a daily and weekly plan. I am 100% more productive and focused when I have my plan in front of me than when I don't.  If I don't have a “Stuff to Do this Week” list – I tend to wander.

Wandering is NOT profitable. Focusing is.

My friends have already shared so much great info this week that I'm going to wrap up with a challenge for you.

Whatever you goals are,  multiply them by 5


  • If your goal is to reach $1000 per month in profit, reach for $5000 per month in profit instead.
  • If your goal is to write one Kindle book by the end of this year, make it your goal to write five awesome books by the end of the year.
  • If your goal is to reach out to 5 new potential affiliates per week, make it 5 per day.


That in itself will help you to focus. 😉

Post your thoughts below.


PS. If you LOVE Expert Briefs, be sure to pick up my new book on Amazon:

I appreciate shares and I adore comments! Please share your thoughts.

  • Mary Kathan

    I like (and need to do) that idea to know where the most money comes from and invest your time there first.

    Love these expert briefs…..

    Mary Kathan

  • Kelly McCausey

    I love that we can all admit that we’re not 100% focused all the time. Anyone who says they are are likely deluded 😉

    • Tiffany Dow

      Well I’m sure there are a few expert guru perfect people – those 4 hour workweek types – who never lose focus 😉 LOL

  • Shan

    So good to know that more experienced people get tempted at times. I still buy stuff sometimes but not unless it’s likely to help with my business.

    I feel so proud of myself when I can say, “No, I’m not buying that.”


  • Jerry Purvis

    This is more of a question. Recently, you and several other lists I’m on recommended I download Ryan Deiss’ Authority Hacks report. What was your reaction? Making your blog more cluttered seems to fly in the face of common sense. Plus he recommends turning your blog into basically an aggregation site. Pricey program by the way.
    Anyway, thanks for any comments you can provide. Keep up the great work!

    • Nicole Dean

      Hi Jerry. Great question.

      Yes, I recommended the Authority Hacks report, but then stopped promoting it after that.

      I have been blogging since 2004 and have had regular featured columnists on my sites since way back then. (That’s a long time ago in web world.)

      Featuring experts isn’t exactly a new thing and it whether or not you want to do it really depends on your goals with your site, too.

      If your goal is to get people to hire YOU in a very specific area, then no, I probably wouldn’t feature other people. For instance, in Felicia’s case above, her entire site is about her expertise as a speaker and why people should hire her to speak. That’s not a niche blog, but it’s how she’s using hers. 🙂 Could she feature other people? Sure. But if she created an aggregate site, that “blog” part should probably shift to the back of her site and keep the “Hire me” part up front.

      In my case, my blog here is about me, but I’m the “connector”. I love to feature my friends and gather wisdom in a masterminding fashion. I’m not going to have random guest bloggers on here, unless I personally know them – like the times I’ve been traveling and a friend has stepped up to post. But even then, usually I’m the “Oprah” here and I would intro and anchor any posts that I feature like I do with Expert Briefs. Plus, I’m an affiliate marketer, so it makes sense for me to feature others, since I can introduce my peeps to other great resources and get paid to do so.

      I hope that helps to explain and I’m glad to answer any additional questions.

      Thanks for asking!


  • Savvy subcontracting

    You must be reading my mind. I was just emailing Kelly McCausey about this problem. Right now I need to deal with some family health issues. This isn’t so much a focus issue. However recently I gave up a long term client so I can start reaching my 2013.

    As I continue to grow I watch experts like these to learn from as we’ll.

  • Angela Wills

    Thanks for asking this question Nicole and for all the awesome responses.

    As someone who does get sidetracked by projects (like, just recently I bought up or inherited for free a bunch of niche sites – oops!) I needed this info!

    Also I most recently also have been sidetracked by hospital visits and just general healing from a broken leg that surprised me mid-February! It’s not been easiest to keep a regular work routine or to focus on business lately.

    Perfect timing as these tips are much needed now that I’m getting back into my office more often and almost able to get mobile again.

    It was really interesting to hear all the different replies, too. I especially like the ‘Internet Lifestyle Plan’ tip from Terry and the tip to work on profitable stuff from Nicole. 🙂

  • Richard Rossbauer

    Didn’t have a chance to open your April 4 email until today, Saturday; too busy going down a few rabbit trails, I guess. Also probably trying to do too many things. Reading this post is like a jab to my shoulder and it was very effective. To-do lists, priorities and focus – apeared to me to be the common theme expressed by your successful friends so that’s what I’m going to focus on – thanks for this post.

  • Iris Johnson


    These are really valuable responses to a very common and pressing problem, especially for me.

    I am easily distracted by new ideas and those bright shiny objects! However, I have sworn off BSOs unless it will directly enhance whatever I’m currently working on or developing.

    I must say that I love reading the tips and information shared by everyone on how you regain focus and move forward. Now I have some new strategies to help me regain my focus and become more productive.

  • Samfrank

    Brilliant! This article reminds me of “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor. Where the body is, the mind will go.

    I’ve tried this FOR A FULL MONTH and it works:
    >Find something to look forward to
    >Commit to conscious acts of kindness
    >Infuse positivity into your surroundings
    >Spend money on memories
    >Play to your strengths

    • Iris Johnson


      I like this! I’m going to take a look at “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor. Thanks for sharing.

  • Helen Raptoplous

    GREAT question and I really appreciate all the in-depth and helpful responses!! So neat how I ended up at your blog today… when the whole theme of my day has been about FOCUS and staying on track. I took notes from this post and happy to know I am not alone in getting lost and getting sidetracked.

    SINGULAR focus is a key to making progress and getting significant results. I know this, I believe this, but I get crazy when I can’t play and explore with more options than just 1! So here is my #1 solution (work around really), I look at all the ideas, opportunities, projects and trainings I am currently involved in (or have access to) and I make myself crown one and only ONE as the ‘king’. I call this the PRIORITY PROJECT and until I cross the finish line with it, it remains the priority. I can work on anything I like, I can play around with a new idea, do research, read blogs, whatever I like, (because I NEED to, and it’s FUN), but not until after I have done at least 1 thing to move my priority project forward. (2 things is a really productive day!).

    This way I am productive and make progress, but I don’t get bored. Also, once I start with a single task to move the project forward I often get in a zone and take it further than planned, not always, but a fair amount of time. I like to add some fun by giving the priority project a cool code name in true Bond or Bourne fashion, you know, like Top Hat or White Convertible ;o).

    Tip #2 is to Get Accountability for what matters most to you. Public accountability is best… for example, go post what your focus is on your facebook wall and post what time you’ll check in and then at that time leave a comment on the post with how you did. There is nothing like some positive pressure to keep you engaged in your priority project. If it is something that you have been putting off and know you NEED to do, why not add a nice reward for yourself in the post, or a consequence if that is more motivating.

    Okay, I am on a roll, one more idea ;o). Tip #3 if you are really feeling overwhelmed and out of focus and nothing is helping you get your groove back, then put your focus on someone else completely. Reach out to a friend, mentor, colleague, guru, (whoever) and ask what you can do to support them. I find this has many benefits! You strengthen an important relationship, you feel needed and important (an increase in confidence), and you can return to your business and your project with some new energy and a fresh perspective. Bonus.. often they reciprocate and ask what they might do to support you too! (not what you are looking for, but a sweet bonus).

    Nicole, you rock!! Thank you for ALL you do and for making such a BIG difference to so many people! Keep at it, will ya!? ;o)

  • Iris Johnson


    Thanks for sharing those great tips you use to keep yourself on track! I really like having a SINGULAR focus and “crowning” only one task as the PRIORITY PROJECT where all focus and efforts are on IT until its done!

    I’m definitely going to adopt this tip and make it a part of my game plan because it simplifies everything for me.

    • Helen Raptoplous

      WooHoo Iris!! Thanks for the kind words and better even, thanks for sharing that you’ll be taking action! Go Iris Go!! xoxo

  • Iris Johnson

    My pleasure, Helen!

    Today, April 10th, marks the first day of the 2nd quarter of 2013. I’m committed to make some significant strides this quarter so I can accomplish more and reach my goals by the end of 2013.

    This timely blog post and all of the wonderful responses (and comments) have really given me the ammunition I need to hit my target on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis.

    Iris is go … go … going for the gold! 🙂

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