The Buggles famously sang in the 1980’s that “Video killed the radio star.” Well if a cumbersome large box could kill radio stars, then what has having access to the world of things on our phone killed? It is eviscerating the ability to communicate in our younger generation. Unless business in the future is going to be done via Snapchat, this is becoming a real issue. This issue is not confined to the younger generation however. On average we are spending 4 hours a day on our phones. The studies vary, but one recent study in the UK has found that we touch, swipe, tap or pinch our phone 2,617 times a day. That is a MILIION times in a year. That number is phenomenal, but at what cost?
In the world of business there are some real issues beginning to present themselves. The obvious ones are the cost to employers of paying workers who spend half their day scrolling their phone. An inability to communicate and create a connection with other humans is also massive. One that really intrigues me though is peoples inability now to carry out deep work. Deep work is defined by Cal Newman as, the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Newman has written an amazing book on the topic simply called Deep Work..
Not every job requires extended periods of deep concentration on very challenging tasks, however productivity is a pre-requisite of all jobs. If you are going in to have open heart surgery, I would be assuming you’d like your surgeon to have an attention span greater than a gold fish. If your architect is doing drawings up for your new house, you would be hoping he’s not swiping Tinder as he does so. Whether you are a barista, or a barrister, if you are not mindfully going about your business, you will get your fingers burnt really quickly.
Satya Nadella, the current CEO of Microsoft, recently stated that the trait most essential to employees seeking future success is:
“The true scarce commodity of the future will be human attention.”
If human attention is going to be such a scarce commodity, how does one go about developing this skill. Below are a few simple ways you can start.
Manage your Environment: Minimise distractions in the area you decide to do deep work. That can be people, gadgets, food, phones, or notifications. Find a place where you cannot be disturbed and get your key tasks accomplished. Knowing what/who distracts you most and when, within a given day is a great starting point for change.
Take back your Freedom: Freedom is an app that enables you to block all calls, mails and apps on your phone for a set period of time. You can set it in advance so that it locks your phone down for a specified duration and allowing you to really focus on the task at hand.
The Cafe of the Future: I firmly believe that the new wave of cafes will be ones with no wifi, or phone signal, similar to what THE Freedom app provides. Here people will be able to connect, make calls, or write, without the constant ping of email, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp or Snapchat. Until such time comes put your phone on Flight Mode when you really need to focus. FOMO is BS.
Parkinson’s Law: This states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. So be careful in allocating yourself two days to complete a two hour task, as psychologically it will become more complex and stressful based upon the amount of time we perceive it will take to complete.
Mindfulness: At this point you have all heard of it, but what actually is it? For me it is simply the practice of focusing our attention on the specific task we are doing. You are fully present internally and externally on the present moment. Taking a mindful approach to everyday tasks such as brushing your teeth, or eating your food, can help develop this skill of focused attention. Then you can call upon this when focused attention is the essential tool required for completing a more challenging task successfully. Get off autopilot before you crash.
Don’t Task Switch: Multi-tasking was once seen as a skill and in some cases it still is. When it comes to work that requires cognitive focus it is best to start one task and stay solely on this until completion. In everything you do, you are building habits. Make sure they are ones that support you.
I’ll leave you with another line from this classic from the Buggles…We can’t rewind we’ve gone too far…. The question is; Have we?
Ciao for now – John
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