The Most Important Skill of the Next Decade

Research firm Dscout reports that we now touch our smartphones an average of 2617 times per day. Per day! To say we are living in the most distracted period in all of human history is an understatement. Never have our ancestors faced the amount of noise that we face in our day to day lives. 24-7 news, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, LinkedIn, Pinterest, email, etc, etc. In today’s short article, I’ll outline what I believe to be the most important skill of the next decade – focus – and three practical ways to be at your best.

Being able to stay focused and complete high quality tasks and projects will be the one skill that separates the high performers from the rest of the herd. While the majority will be caught up and distracted by the deluge of information being thrown at us, the winners will ignore it, stay focused, and move further and further ahead of their peers.

How can you stay focused in an age of unprecedented distraction?

1. Find your groove – just like the circadian rhythm of the earth (day/night cycles), each of us has something called ultradium rhythm we can leverage. This is what is referred to as being “in the zone.” Think of the times that you work at your best, when ideas are free flowing and you are accomplishing a lot in one sitting. For some its early mornings, for others its past midnight. Finding the times that best suit your natural working habits is a great starting point to staying focused. For me, it’s early mornings. If I’m on my A game, I’ll get more done before 9am than I often do the rest of the day when distractions are at their peak.

2. Limit time “in the zone” to 90 minutes – peak performance research suggests that the human ultradium rhythm taps out at around 90 minutes. Meaning that this is the longest period we can stay optimally focused on a task. Think of your next all day meeting – if the day start at 9:00am the first break occurs when? 90 minutes later.  No coincidence. Once you find your “zone” I recommend starting with shorter focus cycles around 30-60 minutes, then work your way up. One thing is certain: the first time you work uninterrupted for a full 90 minutes, you’ll be blown away at how much you can accomplish!

3. Learn to say ‘no’ – we’ve all heard it before.  A tough habit to break as it’s human nature to please; to feel important; to be “busy.” Make no mistake, being busy does not mean being productive. In order to stay focused on a single task, you need to also say no to the 100 other things on your list. Kenneth Cole once said, “success has less to do with what we can get ourselves to do and more to do with keeping ourselves from doing what we shouldn’t.”  This is a great lesson in self management. For example, as I write this article I’m tempted to change tabs and check Facebook for 20 minutes, or reply to that urgent email someone else expects. Seeing my iPhone timer ticking and knowing I’m not quite at 90 minutes yet keeps me accountable…most of the time ;).

What do you do to stay focused?  Share your comments below!