World of Business Ideas

Don't Answer It

Published on January 21st, 2015

The ability to multitask has always been held in high regard, but now, I think the ability to focus should be held even higher.

We talk with more than just a little pride about how busy we are. About how many meetings we have and how we are double- and triple-booked. Our attention is divided, even fractionalized. The biggest enabler and culprit is our all-knowing smartphone. It buzzes and we answer it. If a phone buzzes in a meeting, everyone checks to see if it was theirs. And, if it hasn’t buzzed in a while, we check it – just to make sure.

We have been trained. We can’t wait. So, how are we supposed to be able to focus on the person in front of us, on the meeting at hand, on the ideas being presented, or even completing the interaction or thought we originally set out to have?

And, if you’re presenting something you’ve worked really hard on, is there anything more annoying or disrespectful than someone checking their phone? Or, you’re focused, you’re on a roll, you’re getting a ton of stuff done, ideas are flowing, you’re solving that big problem that has stumped the team for weeks …. buzzz. You check it. You try to pick up where you left off…but alas, the momentum is killed, the thought is gone, so you might as well look at your phone, again.

Even meeting notifications get in the way. Most meetings now are 30 minutes. I’ll bet your phone is set to give you a reminder buzz at 15 minutes before your next meeting. So, just as you’re getting into the meat of your current topic, you get distracted by the thought of your next meeting.

Now, we all know New Year’s resolutions usually don’t last – in fact, only 8% of us are successful in achieving our resolution – and, yes, I may be giving myself an out before I’ve even attempted one, but here it is: in 2015 I propose we focus on what’s in front of us. If your phone buzzes and you’re in the middle of something, don’t answer it. I know this is not a new idea. Plenty of people have talked about the need to simplify and take control of your life; analog weekends and digital detoxes are on the rise as vacations! And, if you’re like me, when you hear suggestions like this you blow them off because you think, “that’s a nice idea for people who aren’t as busy as I am.” But to be clear, I’m not suggesting doing less. In fact, I’m always trying to find ways to do more. The goal is to be able to do more by focusing on the task at hand and fighting off the distractions.

Try this experiment: find two similar tasks. For the first one, give yourself a heads down, uninterrupted, focused 30 minutes. For the second task, just do 30 minutes of your typical day. Now, look at the results. You’ll be amazed at how much more productive you can be when you focus on the task at hand. ONLY on the task at hand.

Some suggestions that might help.

1. Phone stacks. At the beginning of meetings everyone places their phone on a stack in the center of the table. Like any self-help thing, it’s more likely to succeed if you have others with the same goal. If that sounds too complicated, relax there is an app for it already.

2. “Top-less” meetings. Fun name for a simple act. All laptops in a meeting must be closed.

3. Create fake meetings. Make time to focus on what you want to get done, not what others want you to get done. And protect it.

4. Say No. When people want to meet, sometimes you have to say no. It’s not disrespectful or dismissive, it’s just honest.

5. Travel time can be your time. Just because you can log onto the Wi-Fi above 10,000 feet doesn’t mean you have to. Unless you’re sitting next to a ‘talker,’ flights are a great time to focus.

If your phone buzzed while you were reading this, did you answer it?

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Marcus Fischer Chief Executive Officer