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Do you want to set money on fire?

Neither do I. But that’s exactly what you’re doing whenever you break your focus. You have to not only eliminate distractions, but you have to eliminate the very possibility of interruptions.

Most people grossly underestimate the value of highly-focused time. You can get more done in a 90-minute chunk of highly-focused time than you can in an entire day of constant interruptions.

Anything less is setting money on fire.

Chances are, you’re getting interrupted way more often than you realize and it’s killing your productivity. It may seem like interruptions are outside your control, but you have more power over them than you realize.

In this episode, we talk about the importance of focus, but we also bring it down to a practical level with tips on how to stay focused, how to eliminate distractions, what kind of music helps different tasks, and how to create a distraction-free zone.

Show Notes
  • 06:34 Matt: Sean, what do you think about focus?
  • 06:40 Sean: I’m pretty fired up about focus. When you’re creating focus time, you not only have to eliminate distractions, but you have to eliminate the possibility of interruptions. If you have a very focused block of time—an hour or two—you can get done more than most people get done in eight hours of half-focus, constantly interrupted, Facebook-tab-open kind of work. That focus time is crucial, you have to have it. The part people miss is the eliminating the possibility of distractions part. Maybe they carve out a time where there’s fewer distractions than normal, but there’s still the possibility. At any point someone could call or text them and their phone isn’t on airplane mode. They’ve got their bluetooth piece in their ear and at any point it could ring, someone is going to knock on the door, or tap on their shoulder. Whatever it is, you’re prone to interruptions and in order to get really focused, you have to eliminate the possibility of being interrupted.

If you’re not eliminating the possibility of interruptions, you’re setting money on fire.

  • 08:21 If you have the possibility of interruption, part of your brain is thinking about that. It’s thinking, “At any point, someone could knock and I need to be available.” It occupies a space in your mind. If you have a wife and kid at home and you’re trying to get work done, you’ve got to set aside time they know about. You’ve got to know they’re not going to interrupt you for 90 minutes.
  • 08:50 Matt: Blocking out time and create a distraction-free zone. Put your phone on airplane mode, no Facebook tab, or Twitter notifications. Only focus for those 90 minutes.
  • 09:08 Sean: Close your Facebook tab and put your phone in airplane mode or Do Not Disturb mode. You can even schedule Do Not Disturb mode on your phone. I have mine go from 7am or 8am so I can wake up early and I don’t have all of these things buzzing. You can just start writing, you don’t even have to think about putting it in airplane model and it won’t interrupt you when you don’t want it to. If you have random, unplanned focus time, put your phone in airplane mode. If those distractions come to mind, you have to deal with that temptation and do something else. I write it on the whiteboard. If I think, “I should go check Twitter,” I write it on the whiteboard instead. “I should look at my analytics. How is the income this month?” Nope, I write it on the board. I go back to writing and every time that distraction comes back to mind, I tell myself, “Look, it’s on the white board. I can’t do it!”

Creating Focus Time When You Have Employees

  • 10:47 Matt: This is hard because I’m always in an area of distraction. It’s hard for me to carve out that time and schedule it because there’s always fires to put out. That’s not to say everyone doesn’t have a fire-free zone but I have people managing that can’t seem to make an executive decision, even though I’ve given the power to my product managers to make those decisions. I might need to change this but I’ve made it to where my project managers can make an executive decision but if there’s any consequences, it’s their responsibility. Ultimately, I realized I’m the teacher and it’s my fault if something goes wrong. It takes a long time for a lot of entrepreneurs to get to that point and take that responsibility.
  • 13:23 Sean: That’s a struggle for a lot of entrepreneurs, especially if they have people under them. Everything is ultimately their responsibility and will reflect on them, even if someone else made a mistake. The tendency is to over-control it when they should be focusing on bigger picture things because it’s going to reflect on them. You have to empower your employees and your managers to take responsibility for something and make an executive decision. I always tell people to make a mistake—do it the wrong way and we’ll move forward. We’ll correct it and learn from it. That’s more valuable, not only to them but to me. It’s valuable to me that they learn how to do it the right way. It’s like having your kid clean up their toys and if they aren’t cleaning them up right or fast enough, deciding to do it yourself. That might be a little faster right now but they won’t learn anything and you’re always going to have to clean up.
  • 14:41 Matt: The same principles apply to your employees and anyone you’re working with. If you start doing everything for them—which I did a lot in the beginning—things won’t get done the right way because they never knew. I’ve gotten mad at them for not doing something but then I realized that I held their hand and did it for them, instead of teaching them how to do it and having them do it. They’re learning, I’m learning, and the next time a mistake like this comes around, they’ll be able to do it by themselves. That helps people like you and me so we don’t have to micromanage and we can focus on the bigger picture, which everyone benefits from.
  • 15:48 Sean: I’m wondering, do you have any insight on how you might go about facilitating focus time or the ability to focus for your employees?
  • 16:01 Matt: Usually, I carve out some time in the evenings. I’ll put together a list of things I need to go over—things that happened or a task list. You definitely have to carve out a little time so you can be strategic. Even though I’ve given my managers and employees a lot of power over projects they know how to handle, I’ll still write out how things should be done. They won’t necessarily do them in that order but I let them and if there’s any mistakes or delays, we talk about it.
  • 17:47 Sean: What you’ve been talking about has been helpful for me but what I was asking was how do you go about helping facilitate focus time for your employees?
  • 18:07 Matt: That’s something I struggle with and I’ve let them down on. We’ve recently been trying to focus on this. We usually make time in the evenings to talk about this. I make them take notes on everything they did that day so I know what’s going on. We’ve got a Wunderlist of tasks going so they can knock those out, and there’s a tab where they can list questions they have or things they need. We also use Slack for creating conversation and keeping notes. Last week I decided to not check in on them, I just kept an eye on the apps and their conversation and everything went well. They know if I’m in focus mode for another business not to call me unless someone died.
  • 19:47 Sean: Cory, as an employee at seanwes, how do you feel about the time you have here and the level of focus you have on each individual task? What does focus time look like for you working here, and how do you feel I facilitate that for you? If you don’t, you can be honest because I want to improve and you won’t be in trouble.
  • 20:20 Cory: I’ve always liked how every now and then we decide to take a step back—you call it the “beanbag time”—and every single time we do that we get new clarity on what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and what else we can do. We don’t do that every time with every task but every now and then it’s a good way to step back and look at things.
  • 20:50 Matt: How often do you guys do that? Do you do it on a project basis or every couple of weeks?
  • 21:11 Sean: It’s usually when we’ve run into a roadblock. It’s like, “We need to figure something out instead of banging our head against this thing and not making any progress.” Instead of trying to push forward, it’s us taking a step back and usually we find our way around the roadblock.
  • 21:31 Matt: That’s something I’ll have to learn from seanwes. When I sit down to talk with my employees, it’s usually because they’ve made a mistake and we need to fix it. I like the idea of “beanbag time” beforehand so maybe they don’t make that mistake.

Focus On Short-Term Goals

  • 22:11 I was thinking someone might be wondering, “I’m done with my business plan, what do I do next?” Obviously, there’s a next step and you want to start executing that business plan but before you execute it, you have to focus. If you don’t focus, you won’t execute the right way because you’ll be all over the place. You might be too excited or you just don’t know what you’re doing. I’ve come to realize I’ve done this with many of my business. It’s really hard for me to focus while I’m starting multiple businesses at the same time. I’m probably not the best person to say, “I’m focused,” but I’ve learned a lot and now I’m only opening one business at a time. I’m learning—and my employees are too—that I need to focus on my new businesses. When you first started seanwes, did you have some short-term goals? I know you didn’t have a business plan and I didn’t have one either for my first few businesses, but mentally I had short-term goals I knew I needed to get done in order to grow it and progress. Did you set short-term goals and then focus on those, or did you set short-term goals or just try to knock out whatever you could on a daily basis?
  • 24:13 Sean: I had these little sprints in the context of bigger visions of where I wanted to go. As far back as when I was doing free-lance design work for clients, my short-term goal was to make as much money as I could because I wanted to phase out of client work and work on making courses and starting a podcast. Even if I was working crazy 18-hour days, I would take on more work if someone asked about it. I think it was a little bit out of Scarcity Mindset because I didn’t even want to risk going beneath a certain threshold. I did that for about six months. Here’s an example: I had a really big client come to me and I was totally booked for weeks. It was a big name so I wanted to take it but I didn’t think I could and they wanted the project turnaround in a week from contacting me. Even if I would have been available, I would have spent a few weeks on that project so it was a rush and expedite.
  • 25:53 I had to take a day to think about it because it was a big name and it would look good but I decided to tell them there would be a rush fee and expedite fee, so I quoted them 80% more than what they were originally thinking. That was my way of “getting rid” of them but then they were like, “Alright, we’ll get that over to the check-writing department,” which meant I actually had to do the work! All that to say don’t be arbitrary in your reasons for saying no. Don’t say, “It’s because of this reason,” just say no! Don’t actually wrap it in something. You’re really saying no but you’re quoting them more and hoping they don’t take it. If you think that’s saying no, be ready for them to agree to it and realize you’ll have to do it. My short-term goal then was to knock out as much client work as I could and save money. I’ve had these sprints when I wanted to launch a twice weekly podcast, courses, start the Community, create a podcast network, write a book, and hire people.

I like to take short-term sprints leading in the direction of my longer-term goal.

  • 27:50 Matt: You did have to focus there in the beginning as far as knocking out revenue and then everything else fell in place. I had to do the same thing. I was still working a full-time job and setting up these businesses on the side so it was hard to focus on those goals. One day I would think we needed a certain goal and then the next, we needed another goal. I finally wrote out different things I wanted to accomplish and worked on certain things to get those goals accomplished. I’ve found you don’t get anywhere otherwise.

Age Doesn’t Matter

  • 28:46 I struggled with seeing how people on YouTube that were our age had progressed so much. Looking at where I was it felt like I had so far to go. It would make me depressed but I finally realized these guys had to go through that too, but they focused and made it through that task list. That’s ultimately what I did and now I’ve built up my departments and streamlined a process.
  • 29:28 Sean: There’s people listening that think we’re really young. You’re 25, right?
  • 29:39 Matt: I feel so old. I’m pissed that I’m not done right now.
  • 29:51 Sean: Everyone is in their own version of this, no matter what age they are. If they’re young, they’re frustrated they aren’t taken seriously because of their age. If they’re middle aged or older, they’re wishing they were younger. When you’re younger you want people to take you seriously and actually take your advice. Maybe you have wisdom to share but it doesn’t matter until you have gray hair. There’s pros and cons to every situation. When you’re young, you have a lot of opportunity but you don’t have a lot of experience and people don’t take you seriously. When you’re older, people will listen to you. You have experience of some kind—you did something for 40 or 60 years. You have some insight and experience, even if it’s just life experience and not some kind of job experience. That’s a kind of opportunity. You don’t have to be a certain age and there is no threshold when life is considered over. I used to think of 30 as the end but then I realized that’s such a arbitrary number, it’s so not over then. I’m 26 and I admit to feeling like you, Matt, but we have so much time. I’m sure a lot of older people are rolling their eyes right now.
  • 32:07 Matt: 80% of the people I work with are over 35 and they just roll their eyes when I tell them I’m trying to be done working when I’m 30 because I want to establish a $4 million per business empire. They think it’s ridiculous and wonder why I want to do that, but think about it: if you had my knowledge, you’d be upset if you didn’t have all these things done yet. It’s frustrating.
  • 33:42 Sean: In the chat room, Abby says, “‘If I knew then what I know now,’ is the meaning of life.” If only, right? Matt, you know what I was realizing? When I come into the online world and I see the people that have been there—the people that have all the subscribers, followers, and revenue—it makes me wish I knew all this stuff a long time ago and got in when they did. I feel late to the game. I wish I started my podcast in 2011 or 2005, instead of 2013. It’s so silly because there’s always going to be that,

There’s always someone younger, there’s always someone older, and there’s always someone who started sooner but that doesn’t matter.

  • 34:42 You’re starting sooner than someone else. I heard someone yesterday say, “I saw this webpage, I guess it was probably 10 years ago…” and I was like, wow a website that’s been around for 10 years! I started thinking that I’ve fallen into the trap of not really realizing how long things are going to last. In 2000, we thought by 2015 we’d have hover cars and now we think by the time it’s 2020, there won’t be internet. It’ll just be apps controlled by two or three big companies. Everything will be, “Smart,” and I won’t be able to afford those custom apps and nobody will go to websites anymore. This is how I think and I realized it’s so silly. Yes, a lot of those things will happen and will be integrated. We’ll have smart clothes and people will use native software instead of going to websites but those things are farther out than I realize.
  • 36:12 If you think about it, look how slow the web has moved in the last 10 years. Just a few years ago we got out of not supporting Internet Explorer 6, that’s how slow everything moves. I don’t see it as suddenly tomorrow all of this will be gone. It made me realize that the people that were there when I got online—when I started seeing people will there one stuff out there—there were just a few people. I’m going to be that to someone else. There’s going to be someone someday that says, “I wish I was doing what Sean was doing a few years ago,” and I’ll have this empire. Things take time to build. It takes time to invest and focus on one aspect of your business at a time—your website, apps, a specific section of your website, physical products, fulfillment, marketing, research, advertising. You’ve got to focus on all of these things.

Investing and Focus

  • 37:33 I know I’ve said, “Do you want to set money on fire?” Well, I’m putting my money where my mouth is because I just hired Justin Michaels as my full-time developer. We’ve been working on projects together over the better part of the last year and he’s a Community member. We’re also collaborating on a course together and we ended up talking so much that it became a question of when does the billing for the work start and just consulting on the course end? It was confusing to try to figure out what projects start and end where, and what to bill—it created a cognitive overhead. He’s having to think about pricing, paperwork, quoting, estimates, and invoices and it was taking away from the focus on the actual work so we wanted to eliminate that cognitive overhead. I see him creating a lot of value on a continual basis and this is a significant investment for me. My goal is to have him totally taken care of and not have to think about money at all so he can do his absolute best at everything he does. Thinking about that is incredible.

When you give people the resourses, money, time, freedom, and focus to do what they’re good at, good things happen.

  • 40:27 Think about any web developer you hire—you’re trying to get a good rate but you also want someone that’s reputable. You’re worrying about the billing, if they’re going to deliver on time, and if they’re going to do a good job. They’re wondering if they’re working too much for the amount they’re getting paid. Now, imagine all of that is gone and someone has the full freedom, and feels well compensated, to do the best they can do. I realized the power of that because I see it in myself. I work for myself so I’m motivated to do the absolute best in every single thing I do because I benefit from it 100%.
  • 41:17 There’s no cognitive overhead. When I look at the effects of someone applying their full focus in an area where they feel they can do their absolute best and not worry about all of that, the results are immense. That’s the kind of person I want to bring on my team and that’s the kind of environment I want to facilitate. I decided that Justin has been providing value, we’ve got projects for the foreseeable future, I can’t envision a place where he’s not continuing to create value, and I can’t imagine a time when I’m not continuing to want to find projects for him so this arrangement made a lot of sense. I see him as an investment and a big part of the reason I believe in a few years, we’re going to be making seven figures a year. The reason we’ll be doing seven figures a year is because of this decision and that’s the value I put on focus.
  • 42:44 Matt: That’s brilliant because he won’t have to worry about any of that administrative stuff that ultimately takes away from knocking out the things that will make revenue.
  • 42:56 Sean: I’m building out seanwes as a network and I could just hire Justin to revamp the website but we’re going to define a scope and he would do the work. I know he wouldn’t do a poor job if we had that arrangement, but what if the mindset is that we have unlimited resources and our goal is to do whatever is best? If we come across something additional we could do, we could pursue it instead of starting over and having to add another project.
  • 44:29 My vision is to employ people for their specialty—what they’re good at, passion it about, enjoy doing—then give them the time and the resources do not only that, but also paid time off every seventh week so they can pursue their secondary passions. My vision for it is a cultural heartbeat, where everyone is on the same rhythm: we work hard, we rest hard. We collectively benefit and hopefully we all come back with renewed energy and good ideas. Maybe they work on a side project that can benefit the company. I want to create positions that are defined by the people that fill them, not force people into positions. I see that Justin creates value so I want to provide a Justin-shaped position, not tell Justin that he needs to fit into this developer-shape position. Whatever he’s working on, it’s built around him. That’s my vision here.
  • 46:19 Matt: That allows him to focus and you to focus, that’s huge!
  • 46:26 Sean: There’s mental overhead for me as well. There’s all these little things I would love to talk to him about but I would have to set up another project. I’ve been transparent about the money I’ve had in savings, so I’ll say January was a good month in revenue. By April, we’ll have five employees and what we made in January was above payroll. 2014 was the third consecutive year that I doubled my annual revenue and I’m not intending to stop in 2015 but the current average is right around payroll for five employees. If I don’t make enough in a month to make payroll, I do have savings—I’ve got between $40k and $50k now. I’m getting close to where I can hit payroll every month and I have backup savings so I’m seeing it as worse case to cover payroll, but I’m also anticipating growth. The Community is growing, we’re putting out another course, and I’m bringing on Cory Miller to focus exclusively on products. He’ll be entirely dedicated to the physical aspect of seanwes. We’re developing the network, we’re bringing people on, we’ll have additional shows, and additional courses so I’m taking a leap and anticipating growth here. I’m expecting good things and I think it will come as a result of this investment.
  • 49:02 Matt: You’re taking a leap of faith but you’re thinking ahead. This business is about taking risks.
  • 49:13 Sean: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  • 49:15 Matt: You have to put your money where your mouth is. I often have to step out in faith on something I know I won’t make any money with initially but it’s about the long-term. With my carpet business, I borrowed money from my landscaping business for it, not knowing anything about the carpet cleaning business. It’s a saturated market here in San Antonio for carpet cleaning but we’ve made it work and we’re doing well. We’re about to expand again, which will be the third expansion so far. We’re getting more employees, vans, and equipment. It’s going to cost more but we have the money in reserves and it’s something I just have to jump out in faith on. Of course you have to plan, it’s not something you can just go and do. You’ve already got stuff in mind for Justin to do and his building out the network for you will help everyone.

Preventing Lifestyle Creep Requires Planning for Success

  • 50:18 Sean: The reason I’m able to do this is because I planned to keep my lifestyle at a certain level. Even right before I launched Learn Lettering, I had a few thousand dollars in my bank account and I wrote a blog post about what I would do if I had an extra $100,000. This was a month before the launch, where I hit six figures in three days! I planned to keep my lifestyle the same. I wrote about it publicly and I haven’t changed it. Maybe you’re a solopreneur or your wife is working with you and you’re making $20,000 to $30,000 a month, what would most people do? They would spend it! They would most likely not spend in the sense they would take trips every month, but they would allow their lifestyle to inflate with their income. I haven’t allowed that and it’s a purposeful thing—I plan it before I get there. We’re making that much a month and I’m ok virtually spending it all on payroll.
  • 52:08 Matt: You’re investing for the future instead of spending it now. Instead of allowing lifestyle creep, you’re keeping your expenses down and any extra money you have is going back into the business so it will grow and invest in itself.
  • 52:30 Sean: Just like you, I pay myself enough to pay rent and pay the bills. That’s it.
  • 52:37 Matt: I get made fun of when I tell my friends that I’m not going to take a trip to San Francisco with them because I would rather put that money into the company and pay someone’s salary that will ultimately lead to the growth of the company. I’ll get that money back. I’ll probably have a house in San Francisco! You have to plan for it now and sacrifice. Lots of people aren’t willing to do that.
  • 53:10 Sean: If you want to get from $1,000 a month to $5,000 a month, you have to plan accordingly. If you want to get from $5,000 to $10,000, or $10,000 to $20,000, you have to plan for your lifestyle to stay the same. Business isn’t gambling because we’re taking calculated risks and making investments but it’s similar in that you can cash in your chips at any time. Are you happy with $2,000 a month? You can stop at any time. People think that once you get to $10,000 a month or $20,000 a month, then you automatically get $25,000 the next month but it’s not automatic. What’s automatic is entropy. It’s going to stagnate and eventually decline if you neglect it.

If you want to grow, you have to keep putting money back into the business and in order to do that, you have to keep your lifestyle limited.

  • 54:26 You can’t allow lifestyle creep, you have to stay the same. If you want to get from $10,000 to $20,000, then you’ve got to put $10,000 back in. If you want to get from $20,000 to $30,000, you have to put $20,000 back in. You grow exponentially by putting more money back, not just the same amount back in. Eventually, you can quit if you want and it’s more than you need. You could set it up to where the money you’re making goes back into the business, except for 10% that goes into investments and you simply live off the interest from that. You have that ability when you scale to that degree.
  • 55:15 Matt: Then, you get to the point where you don’t have to work anymore because that money will come back to you because of interest. People don’t know so they don’t plan to put investing into their financial plan. I’m so big on investing that my wife gets mad at me. Anytime I have extra money, I put it back into the business. Why would you not? I always tell the kids at UTSA that if they were going to turn $100 into $300 just for holding it a couple of weeks, who would say no to that? Because I know how to do that, why would I want to spend that money? People ask me, “Why are you getting a Lambo, when you can’t get any return on it?” They don’t know that I won’t use it to make money. People who don’t have an entrepreneurial mindset think I won’t make any money off it.
  • 56:51 Sean: You figure it out. It’s a challenge to you, not a road block.
  • 56:56 Matt: I have a friend that has a Ferrari and he’s built up enough income where he doesn’t have to work anymore, and he’ll do charity runs with the car. He’ll take people for rides in them, where they go from zero to 100 MPH, for $100 and he gives it to charity. He also makes money from the car with different business deals. People pay for his consulting because they see his car and his lifestyle, and they trust him. I have a plan to make more money with my Lamborghini than the investments I’ve got going on right now.
  • 58:09 Sean: Even if this wasn’t an investment or it didn’t make any money, the Lambo Goal is for setting big goals. We’re taking 10% of our money to buy it, how many people spend 10% of their money on nonsense? They don’t get any flack for it but because we have such a big goal, where 10% would be buying a super car in cash, that’s where the flack comes from. The underlying thing here is having a big goal that you reach towards as a motivator. It’s something that drives you and it gets you up in the morning, that’s what’s keeping you from cashing your chips in. That’s what’s keeping you playing the game and showing up every single day.
  • 1:00:09 Matt: If I’m ever down or overwhelmed, I think about how you started. If you can do it, anyone can do it. You didn’t come from this and nothing was given to you. Nobody said, “Sean, you need to work on lettering.” It can be done, you just have to put in the hard work. Having that Lambo Goal—something big—that’s not within reach for at least five or 10 years, helps you get up in the morning. Go drink your coffee and go get things done! It’s hard and you’ll want to give up, but you have to sacrifice now and it’ll be worth it when you get in that Lambo.

We’re here for the people that want to dream bigger.

  • 1:01:13 Sean: We’re here for the people that know there’s going to be haters. It comes with the territory. You dare to dream big and people will call you impractical, or worse. You’ve got to get around people that don’t think like that. Those people have limiting beliefs and they’re threatened by someone else who maybe hasn’t achieved more, but thinks about daring to achieve more. It’s crab mentality: in a bucket of crabs, any one of them could escape on their own but when they try to, the rest of them pull them down. Nobody wants you to escape the bucket of mediocrity so when you try to escape, expect them to pull you down. You have to get around people that think outside the bucket.
  • 1:02:47 You’ve got to be around people that dream and think bigger. If you don’t have friends like that, hopefully this podcast can be that for you. We’re putting ourselves out there and we’re going to get haters. It’s not about driving fancy cars to be thought of as fancy to other people, this is for us. We want to accomplish this for us. We’re waiting for reality to align with our mindset and we’re showing you how that looks beforehand. If you want to get around people that think this way, a great place to go is the seanwes Community. We care about enabling your big dreams and we want to create an environment for that.