Right now, while you’re reading this, how many browser windows are open on your screen? How many notifications will pop up while you scan this text? How many times will you be pulled away from it before you finish the entire post?
There is a war being waged to distract you from whatever you are doing at this moment. Those notifications and distractions are the weapons being used to make you less efficient, less productive, and less excellent. If you want to be excellent, if you want to do excellent work, you need to be highly committed to defending against distraction.
Shut the browser windows now. Focus on this one post for the next three minutes of your life.
You are not alone in your struggle against distraction. We, as a society, have lost the art of being focused. We have lost the ability to zero in on one task to do it well. For those of you who remember life and work before the internet, think back to what it was like when you set out to accomplish something. Think back to how easy it was to focus on the book you were reading, or the project you were working on. The only real distraction you had might be a telephone ringing, and that was easily overcome by simply taking it off the receiver. In the days before cubicles, open office plans, and the internet, focusing was as simple as walking into your office, closing the door, removing the phone from its cradle, and getting to work.
Focus isn’t so easy anymore. There is a constant war for your attention. A barrage of notifications and popups and text messages trying to pull you away from the one thing you really need to focus on in that moment. You can’t win the war against distraction unless you first understand that you are in the war, and second, you commit to disengaging from it.
Commit to disengaging from everything but the most important thing you are doing at this very moment. For me, as I write this post, this is the only browser window open, and this post is the only thing I’m thinking about. When I appear on a podcast or in front of a client, they are the only browser window I keep open. My cell phone is on mute and turned over. There is one window open, whether it is my conversation with them, or the Skype call I’m participating in.
If you want to do excellent work you have to shut everything off but the one thing you want to do. You must give 100 percent of your attention to the one thing that is most important in that moment so you can achieve the best possible outcome. The next time you have a conversation with another human being, shut your laptop lid. Turn your phone to mute and place it face down. Watch the look on their face; when you give someone your full attention, they are almost shocked. They, too, are under attack from the army of distraction and unused to focus.
You need to train yourself, and the people around you, that you are committed to winning the war against distraction. You need to train yourself to not be available for small things so that you can be available for big things. The messages and notifications will wait, but the most important work will not. If you want to be focused and you want to do great work, you need to be very conscious of distraction and be a tremendous defender of your time.
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