They say that distraction is curse of the modern age. There are so many mindless activities that can eat up valuable time or money. Scrolling through social media can make you miss a plane. Binge watching new shows can tempt you away from reading reports. Monthly box deliveries of everything from snacks to dog toys may max out your credit cards. If you don't always know where your time, your money or your attention is going, you're probably distracted.
Distraction is a sneaky, hard to break habit. But it's vulnerable to the same tricks that work to make and break other habits. "Success," Nick Bell, founder of Australia's largest digital group told me recently, "comes from continued focus." Here's how he beat distraction, and how you can do the same.
A member of YPO, Nick Bell started his first company, WME, in 2008. At the time, he had $400 dollars in his bank account and an apartment furnished from discards he found on the street. As the SEO company branched out into app dev, web design, and digital marketing, expansion taught him an important lesson about focus. "People thought we were a jack of all trades and master of none," Bell told me. He responded by launching new companies that focus on a particular service such as app development, which launched Appscore. focusing on one area at a time. As a result, in 2013, the WME group of companies went from $5 million to $30 million in revenue. Bell attributes another shift in focus. "I stopped going out on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights," he laughs. "It completely transformed the business." Today, with more than $67 million dollars in revenue and 650 employees worldwide, Bell has recently sold one third of operation for $39 million.
Recently I interviewed Nick on my podcast where he explained how he turned focus into growth.
1. Identify Triggers
Marketing companies often suffer from Cobbler's Children Going Shoeless Syndrome, neglecting to market themselves even while they do great work for client companies. Bell solved this problem pre-emptively by establishing a separate internal marketing force within his larger company. "We have an internal marketing division of 10 people. They focus solely on our own brands within the group," he says. Figure out those places you're mostly likely to get distracted and create processes to combat them.
2. Avoid What You Can
Some sources of distraction can simply be sidestepped. If Facebook consumes more of your life than you'd like, take the app off your phone. If your main business is anything but digital marketing, avoid the distraction of working outside your core competency. "Hire a good agency to implement your ideas when you don't have the knowledge and resources to really deliver something yourself," Bell advises. If you have a limited budget, I recommend implementing one marketing strategy first to understand your market and the data around that.
3. Pre-decide What You'll Do Instead
In the same way people chew gum when they want not to smoke, it's smart to decide in advance what you'll do when you find yourself tempted by distractions. Bell describes the weekly stand-up meeting to keep his people excited and focused: "Before 9 am, we run quick stand up meetings for senior management. Each senior management needs to champion a project for that week and have an outcome by Friday 5 pm. A short meeting is a good meeting."
4. Change Your Environment
In addition to giving up the distraction of regular socializing, Bell credits WME's huge leap in 2013 to shaking up his physical surroundings. "I moved out of my office and onto the floor with the team," he recalls. He changed the human landscape as well. "We laid off underperforming staff who weren't willing to change and re-built the team from the ground up. If an individual is not suited to the role, it's best they move on. It's like a band-aid, rip it off quickly and move on. It's best for them and the company."
5. Change Your Routines
If shaking up where you work and with whom can help refocus you, so can changing what you do. "I started jumping on sales calls, jumped back in the trenches with the team," states Bell. Having more direct contact with his company's core business contributed to his increased focus, and his shift refocused his team. Bell encourages a similar adventurousness in his staff to help them avoid the distractions that boredom or ambition can bring. "If staff want to move to a different role they can, only if they're kicking ass in their existing role" he says. Allowing employees to shift their focus within the company allows them to zero in on where they can do their best work. "Nearly everyone's teachable," Bell says, "if they have the basic foundation: common sense, basic business acumen, and reliability." Once they've learned to focus on the right things, they can do anything, and so can you.
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