The # 1 professional skill of the future
It’s 9 a.m.: you walk into the office, sit down, turn on your computer, and try to start your work day. Ping! Everyone’s talking about Trump’s latest tweet. Ping! Here we go again – a family member just texted you.
You pick up your phone to watch the news notification and reply to your text, only to check a Facebook post, then watch a Youtube video. Suddenly, before you knew it, an hour has passed and you haven’t completed a single work-related task.
Lack of focus comes at a cost
The challenge at work, of course, has always been to dodge the things that distract us. But today’s distractions are different.
The amount of information available, the speed at which it can be disseminated and the ubiquity of access to new content on our devices has been a trifle of distraction.
What is the cost of all of this? In 1971, the psychologist Herbert A. Simon pointed out that a wealth of information means a dearth of something else: attention.
It was true decades ago, but it is more true than ever today. Attention, it seems, seems to be the ultimate scarce resource in today’s economy. And if we don’t fix it now, it will only get worse.
The workplace is changing rapidly and in the near future there will be two kinds of people in the world: those who let their attention and their lives be controlled and constrained by others, and those who proudly claim to be ‘indiscriminate’.
Researchers told us that attention and focus are the raw materials of human creativity and fulfillment. And in the age of increased automation, the the most sought-after jobs are those that require creative problem solving, innovative solutions and the kind of human ingenuity that comes from deep focus on the task at hand.
That said, not being distracted is the most important skill for the 21st century. Many experts, including Adam Grant, who said that “success and happiness belong to people who can control their attention,” discussed the importance of focus.
Here are some of the most common distractions in the workplace and how to hack them so you can come one step closer to mastering the ability to be indistractable:
Email is the curse of the modern worker. A study published in the International Journal of Information Management found that office workers take an average of 64 seconds after checking email to redirect and return to work.
To reduce the total time spent checking your inbox, you need to focus on two things:
- Reduce the total number of messages received: To receive fewer emails, you need to send fewer emails. It sounds obvious, but most of the emails we send and receive aren’t very urgent, but our brains’ weakness for varying rewards makes us treat every message, regardless of form, as urgent. . This trend requires us to constantly check our inbox, respond and bark requests instantly. This is all a huge mistake.
- Reduce the time spent sending emails: The most important aspect of an email is the urgency with which it needs a response. Because we forget when the sender needs a response, we waste time re-reading the message. The solution? Touch each email only twice. When you first open an email, answer this question before closing it: When does this need a response? Then label it as “Today” or “This Week”. This attaches the most important information to each new message, preparing it for the second (and last) time you open it. (Of course, for super urgent type messages, email me right away, go ahead and reply.)
He recommends three rules when it comes to group discussions:
- Use it as a sauna: Enter, exit.
- Schedule it: Set a time for group chat in your calendar.
- Be picky: The smaller the group, the better. The key is to make sure that everyone present is able to add and extract value by being part of the conversation.
- Use it selectively: Group chats are suitable for some topics and groups, but not for others. So be careful how you use them.
The main goal of most meetings should be to build consensus around a decision, not to create an echo chamber for the meeting organizer’s own thoughts.
One of the easiest ways to avoid unnecessary meetings is to demand two things from anyone who calls one:
- Pass around an agenda of the issues that will be discussed. No agenda, no meeting.
- Give their best shot at a solution in the form of a short written summary. It doesn’t need to be more than a page or two to discuss the problem, their reasoning, and their recommendation.
Being present is also important. After the meeting has been held, everyone’s laptops and devices should be turned off or left at their desks so that they can be there in their body and mind.
Our smartphones have become indispensable. However, this miracle device is also a major source of potential distraction. The good news is that being addicted is not the same as being addicted.
The plan below can save you countless hours of time spent on the phone. Plus, implementation takes less than an hour from start to finish, leaving no excuse to call your “distracting” phone again.
- Get rid of apps that you rarely or don’t use anymore. It helps to ask yourself which apps served you in a positive way and which weren’t. Based on my answers, I uninstalled the ones that didn’t match my values and kept the ones for learning and staying healthy. I also deleted the news apps with thunderous alerts and stressful headlines.
- Get rid of the apps you love. It can mean getting rid of apps like YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter. If quitting these services isn’t entirely an option for you, override when and where you use these potentially distracting services on your phone. One solution is to put them only on your desktop computer.
- Reorganize your apps. Tony stubblebine, editor-in-chief of the popular Medium Better Humans publication, recommends that you categorize your apps into three categories: “Core Tools” (apps that help you accomplish defined tasks that you frequently rely on: getting a ride, finding a location, adding a date), “Aspirations” (apps that encourage you to do things you want to spend: meditation, yoga, exercise, reading books, listening to podcasts) and “Slots” (apps that you open and in which you get lost: email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram).
- Change your app’s notification settings to receive fewer, only essential notifications. Adjusting my notification settings took me less than 30 minutes, but that’s what changed my life the most. In my experience, it’s only worth adjusting two types of notification permissions: sound and view. Ask yourself which apps should be able to interrupt you when you’re with family or in the middle of a meeting.
While open office floor plans were designed to promote idea sharing and collaboration, they often lead to more distraction. Interruptions tend to decrease overall employee satisfaction and increase errors.
A multi-hospital study coordinated by the University of California at San Francisco, for example, found an 88% drop in the number of mistakes nurses made when wearing bright orange vests that told colleagues not to interrupt.
Like the nurses in the study, you can reduce the number of work interruptions by placing a “Do Not Interrupt” sign somewhere visible on your desk. It may also read something like “I need to concentrate now, but please come back later”.
It’s a simple way to let your colleagues know that you don’t want to be interrupted. It’s great because it sends an unambiguous message in a way that wearing a headset can’t.
Nir Eyal is a graduate and instructor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He writes, consults and teaches on the intersection of psychology, technology and business. Nir’s writings have been featured in Harvard Business Review, Time and Psychology Today. His latest book, “Indistractable: How to control your attention and choose your life” (published by BenBella Books) is now available.
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