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Focus, People!

I find the harder I work the more money I seem to make.  But I have to make sure I’m working on the right things.  It is very, very easy to tell yourself you are the hardest worker in the office and spend loads of time working – on the wrong things.  If you work for someone else, you need to ask them, “What is the most important part of my job?  What should I focus on every day?”  You may be very surprised at the answer.  I bet you’ll never hear: “E-mail.  I want you to focus on e-mail.”  If you work for yourself, you need to focus on activities that increase profit and generate sales (probably not going to involve as much time on Facebook as you think).

The best book I’ve read on this topic is Deep Work, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.  And since I know most of you are too distracted to read it, I’ll share some of its great insights.

We are all knowledge workers and if we don’t spend focused time to improve our knowledge our value will decrease.   We have to be able to learn new things quickly and that, my friends, takes the ability to concentrate.   An ability that we are losing thanks to technology.   I’ve said it a million times and Cal gives all the data to prove it right – multitasking is a lie we tell ourselves.   You are not driving and checking e-mail.  You are switching back and forth from driving and checking e-mail.    Which means for part of the time you are not driving at all.

Deep work (defined by Cal) is the work you do “in a state of distraction free concentration that pushes your cognitive capabilities to their limit.  These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”  Depending on your job, deep work might be writing, strategizing, or learning a new skill.  The key is your attention and the importance of the work.

Concentrate?  Focus?  We can’t even be still.  Have to wait in line for two minutes?  Check your e-mail!    Driving?  So boring!  Text your spouse!  Have to go to the bathroom?  Why get off the phone?   The attention span of Generation Z (those under 18) is 8 seconds.  Yep – 8 seconds.  Shiny objects are everywhere.  Or should I say Vine videos?

The good news is Cal’s book has exercises you can do to improve your concentration.  I’ll give you my version of one you can try right now.  Pick something you need to get done that requires concentration.  Set an hour aside to work on it.  Do not check your phone, e-mail, or do anything else during that hour but the task.   Could you do it?  Was it uncomfortable?  Expand that practice.

Too much?  Try being bored in small doses.  Next time you are in line someplace, resist the desire to check your phone.   Just wait.  Mediate or mull over something.  Think. Breathe.

Cal has a whole chapter entitled Quit Social Media and it’s very compelling.  He makes the case that if you had the goal of “maintaining close & rewarding friendships with people who are important to you,” you might find that all the time you spend on Facebook could be better spent actually being present for the people who really matter to you.  Go figure.

I always say you have to be ruthless with your time and Cal agrees – even saying the word yes is the most dangerous one in our language.  I love that –makes me think twice before I say it.

Developing concentration and focus are vital to your success.  Just think how we could crush Gen Z!  They’ll be clicking on some celeb’s latest video and we’ll be mastering nuclear fission.  Bam!

In case you’re thinking “Cal’s just old,” he’s a Millennial (33).   Get the book.  Practice focus by reading it.  It should change the way you spend your time.


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5 years ago

I LOVE the suggestion that we quit social media. I don’t use a cell phone unless it’s an emergency and I have time to spend with my family and friends, to read, to garden, etc. It’s empowering not to be connected to a cell phone all the time. I challenge everyone to try to disconnect. You will love the results.

Kathleen Miller
5 years ago

Denise: I know I am in the upper age bracket but still contributing at work. I love facebook to see what my grown kids and their kids are up to. I hate, however, when they come to visit that I only see the tops of their heads because they are so busy on the phone. I miss real conversation. The “new” conversations are only results oriented…What do you want? HOw can I fix it quickly? Then back to the iPhone…..I miss conversations with all ages and about interesting subjects. The only “conversations” I have anymore is watching PBS and Ted… Read more »