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  • Writer's pictureDillan Taylor

Put your phone down and look at me: How to focus.

Many of us think we can focus on several things at once.

That’s bullshit.

Unless you’re combining a focusing task with a mundane task (like listening to a podcast while doing the dishes), multitasking–or multi-focusing–is impossible.

The human brain is designed to focus on one thing at a time. This is why we can’t listen to two conversations at the same time and take in all the information. It’s why we crash our cars when we’re texting. It’s why we have to ask our friends to repeat themselves when we’re thinking about something else.

We can’t focus on one thing when something else has our attention. It’s a zero-sum game.

This has consequences for our work, our relationships and our minds.

Work:

Most of my coaching clients and friends admit to having ten tabs open on their screens while trying to get shit done. Email. FaceBook. Articles. News.

It is natural to feel like we’re taking care of ten different things at once. But the result is that we get absolutely nothing done.

Dissecting our attention like this blocks any chance of getting into a flow state (getting in the zone). This is where the magic happens. No matter the type of work–creative, business, learning, planning–long periods of focus on a single task is the key to absolute productivity.

Even if it’s something as simple as answering emails. Sitting down for an hour to craft well-written, personable responses…those would be some of the best damn emails ever sent.

People are distracting too. Someone is working on their computer, trying to get in the zone. Then, a coworker casually pops in their office to say hi. Harmless right?

On average, it takes the brain 17 minutes to return to the level of focus it had prior to distraction. This is why highly productive people lock themselves away, close their doors, and shut off their phones.

Relationships:

When I’m talking to someone, and they’re looking down at their phone, I wait.

Not passive-aggressive. Not spiteful. Just patient.

The typical response: “I’m listening.”

No you’re not.

Listening means you’re looking at someone, taking in what they’re saying, and responding with a thought-out idea of your own.

When someone isn’t completely listening to us, we notice it. It feels like they’re not really there. Like they’re somewhere else.

When we’re showing our friends a movie we love, this is why it hurts when we see them on their phones.

How crazy is that? Even when we’re sitting down watching a screen, we want to feel that shared connection with others. What the fuck, stop staring at that tiny screen–stare at this bigger screen with me.

Focus our minds:

Attention is like a muscle. It’s a skill, which means it can be trained and it can be weakened.

People who take breaks from smart phones and social media, for example, admit heightened levels of focus on their task at hand.

It’s amazing what can happen when there’s literally nothing to focus on besides whatever is in front of you. In that moment, it’s all that exists. It’s your entire world.

A conversation. A project. A problem.

I have several friends who are unable to concentrate on any one thing for 15 minutes. It’s scary.

The scariest part? They’re totally unaware of it.

How do we pull people out of the Matrix when they don’t know they’re in the Matrix? Tristan Harris

Conclusion:

When you’re working, when you’re having a conversation, when you’re focusing on something…leave everything else alone.

Ask yourself, “What’s the most important thing I should be doing right now?” Then do that thing. Do it 100%.

Watching Netflix with a buddy? Watch the shit out of it.

Hearing your partner vent about their day? Listen, absorb, and respond.

Working on your computer? Close your email, close your tabs, and dive into deep work.

Rather than doing ten things to the first degree, try doing one thing to the tenth degree.

You’ll be amazed at the results.

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