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Jeff Schmidt

The Law Of Focus


If you chase two rabbits, both will escape. -- Arthur Rubenstein

We were having a nice relaxing dinner with friends. The conversation moved from weather to trips to how things are going at work. It was a great conversation, from what I remember. Then my wife, whos very good at getting me back on track said, Are you going to join us tonight?

Without knowing it, I spent half the meal with these friends not really being with them; I was on my phone. My phone kept flashing, buzzing, and beeping and I kept checking it. Really? On a Friday night? What was I thinking?

Admittedly Im not 100 percent there yet, but my partner Chris Lytle is fond of saying, There are rarely training emergencies. In other words, when the work day is done, stop working. Great advice that can help save your marriage, friendships, and business relationships. Nothing is more annoying than having a person check his phone while in a conversation with you. Nothing says, You're not important to me more than that.

Multi-tasking has been a corporate buzzword for years. In a quest to climb the corporate ladder to stay ahead of peers, we have to have the latest technology. We are proud to tell our bosses were available 24/7. What were really doing is increasing stress and decreasing productivity.

In my experience, multi-tasking is the single-biggest killer of productivity and personal development. I now believe that a singular focus is the only way to be most productive.

Just this week, in a very personal way, I was slapped again with the reality that I cannot have two goals when trying to affect change. You must focus on one, the one you determine most important. Only when you have accomplished that goal are you prepared to go after the second, third, and so on.

Alessandro Acquisti, a professor of IT, and psychologist Eyal Peer at Carnegie Mellon, constructed an experiment designed to measure the brain power lost when someone is interrupted:

To simulate the pull of an expected cellphone call or e-mail, we had subjects sit in a lab and perform a standard cognitive skill test. In the experiment, 136 subjects were asked to read a short passage and answer questions about it. There were three groups of subjects; one merely completed the test. The other two were told they might be contacted for further instructions at any moment via instant message.

During the first test, the second and third groups were interrupted twice. During the second test, only the second group was interrupted. The third group awaited an interruption that never came.

To say the results were troublesome would be an understatement. Both of the interrupted groups answered correctly 20 percent less often than members of the control group, meaning interruptions made them 20 percent dumber.

Here are five ways Ive found to improve focus:

1. Put down your phone. When youre with people, focus on the people.
2. Prioritize your to do list. Start with the highest priority and move on only when you have completed that task. Dont give other tasks mental real estate.
3. Turn off your email. Dont even have email open if you want to stay focused. Schedule time to look at email when you want.
4. Turn off all notifications. Technology is great, or not. I can get notified (interrupted) when someone posts a new tweet or Facebook post. I can get notified (interrupted) when an email comes in. I can get notified (interrupted) when a program on my computer needs updating. And the list goes on and on. Stop letting your technology manage you.
5. Take breaks to clear your mind and think. Some of my best ideas come at three in the morning. Why? Because I have no other distractions, nothing else crowding my mind. Adult educators will tell you that adults can pay attention for only 90 minutes at a time. Schedule a 5-minute mental break a few times throughout the day to just sit and daydream. Youll find your best solutions will come at those times.

Want to be more productive? Want to get more things done? Stop trying to do them all at once. Prioritize and do tasks one at a time.

Peter Bregman wrote a book called 18 Minutes. He says: We dont actually multitask. We switch-task. And its inefficient, unproductive, and sometimes even dangerous. Resist the temptation.
For me the struggle comes with my impatience. I want to fix the problem, find the solution, and I want to do it now. As a result, the tendency is to do two or three things at a time. As a consequence, none of these things will get done as well as it could be, if at all. When you do that, you kill your productivity, you allow more stress into your life, and you wont accomplish the most important things you set out to do.

What are some other ways youve found to reduce or eliminate distractions in your day?

If youre looking for an easy way to focus on your professional development, Chris Lytle and I have partnered with Radio Ink for the The Radio Sales Success Expander webinar series. Click here to find out more and sign up to participate live or on demand.

Jeff Schmidt is EVP and Partner with Chris Lytle at Sparque, Inc. You can reach Jeff at,

Twitter: @JeffreyASchmidt

(5/5/2014 2:23:36 AM)
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(1/29/2014 9:39:10 PM)
Count me in as a member of your “Just say NO to multi-tasking!” club.

Our attention is our most important asset. And focused attention, coupled with an intentional positive attitude (as Sean Luce wrote about) is… a super-power.

Split attention erodes focus and reinforces habits of chaotic, undisciplined thinking.

I use meditation, prayer and spiritual books to focus and clear my mind -- all very low-cost, but highly effective.

- Erin Warhol
(1/27/2014 12:47:11 PM)
I am hopeful those points catch on, Jeff.

When people ask for or claim the ability for themselves to "multi-task", they are lying. This is a reference to consciously paying attention. If one of the tasks is an unconscious process, we get all the way up to TWO.

And, by the way, it's a communications devices - not a leash with 24-hour access - unless there is some serious dressing up involved. :)

- Ronald T.
(1/27/2014 12:24:37 PM)
Great article Jeff!

- Sean Luce

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