Pay Attention: It Just Might Save You

“Pay Attention!”

How often do you remember hearing that said to you when you were young?  I think I heard the phrase at least a thousand times between the ages of 14-18. 

Attention is important, and unfortunately it is in short supply these days.  As you get older, the lack of attention has a cost.

The opposite of paying attention is multitasking, and multitasking makes you stupid.  I saw a study that said multitasking actually decreases your productivity by as much as 40%.  If that’s the case, why do we all do it?

There’s simply not enough time in the day to do everything that needs to get done, and even less time to read, process and digest the all the information presented to us.  Our brains are in overload, and we need to find ways to fix them.  

There’s a concept starting to emerge called Attention Intelligence, which refers to the way your brain works and what you can do to increase your ability to focus. 



As it turns out, much of the innovation of the last few years is actually counter to what you need to be effective.  The more distracted you are, the less able to focus you become.  The key to finding ways to increase your attention and focus is to remove at least some of the distractions you encounter on a daily basis.  Below are a few of the ones I’ve uncovered that can truly help.

Turn off your email. Email is constant and always garnering part of your attention.  For me, 50% of what I get on email can be dealt with quickly, but each one of those is a distraction from what I was doing.  Too often we treat email like instant messenger, which creates an unrealistic expectation for the people you are communicating with. 

Get out from the open-floor concept.The move towards open concept offices is extremely hard on your ability to focus.  Open rooms offer constant distractions for people.  It is impossible for me to write or focus on ideas in this kind of an environment.  Writing this, I am tucked away in a conference room, trying to focus on the article in front of me.  Closing a door and locking out the world for an hour can make a massive impact on your ability to focus. 

Turn off your notifications. My laptop is almost as bad as my phone when it comes to notifications.  A few years ago I thought it would be great to install apps and plug-ins for my browser, and now they drive me crazy.  

Slack, Gmail, Trello: All these applications are intended to increase my productivity and collaboration, and yet they all serve to interrupt me.  As I sit here and focus for 45 minutes, I have seen about 20 different notifications pop up.  All were important, but I would be better served to pause them right now.  Each time I look up and to the right, it takes a few minutes off my writing flow.

Hide your phone away. This may be the most important tip. Whether you are sitting and writing or talking to someone, I strongly advise you to hide your phone.  At the very least, put it on the table upside down so you can’t see the notifications popping up. 

Schedule “maker time.” Two or three times a week, I schedule “maker time” in my calendar to do nothing but focus on a project and “make it happen.”  This is not my idea — I read about it online — but it works.  

When you are “off the clock,” so to speak, do all of the above.  Turn off email, put your phone away, turn off notifications, sit in a room and close the door.  Do nothing but focus your attention on that problem lying right in front of you.  Scheduling time to do nothing but one thing can be invaluable.

I highly recommend these tips, and would love to hear any more you’ve discovered that work well!

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