The one thing that will set you apart from the crowd

Between social media, emails, texts, and Zoom meetings, we have never been more connected than we are today.

By that same token, we have never been more distracted.

In the battle for focus, many of us are losing – and it’s no wonder. The smartest minds in Silicon Valley are, in fact, being paid big bucks to grab our attention however they can – and to keep it.

The growing body of research on focus reflects this losing battle. Studies show that most people find it challenging to focus for more than five minutes. And yet most of us would agree that we do our best and deepest work when we’re in a highly focused state.

So, let me ask you this: when was the last time you were in a highly focused state, free of distraction?

In the aftermath of ‘Slap-Gate’ at the 2022 Oscars ceremony – the details of which I’m sure I don’t need to rehash here – I read on the news that Chris Rock banned cellphones at his comedy shows. Those in attendance had to either leave their phones at home or submit them to a ‘coat check’ for devices before settling in for the 90-minute show.

Upon reading this, I couldn’t help but wonder: for how many people was this the first time they had ever been away from their phone for so long? How many of them were nervously laughing as they handed their phones over to coat-check, only to spend the next 90 minutes fidgeting and reaching for their phantom devices?

For many of us, the idea of being away from our phones for any period of time is enough to make us squirm. And yet, as Cal Newport talks about in his book, ‘Deep Work’, the key to profound productivity is in fact carving out that time for distraction-free work – and committing to it again and again.

Let me be clear: I’m not talking about hours of phone-free time every day here. Start with 30 minutes, and see where that gets you.

If you want to play at a whole different level, you need to be really intentional about your daily focused time. For me and my all-star clients, building this habit has been absolutely essential.

There are two keys to making this work:

Key No. 1 is putting it in your calendar at the same time every day. Scrambling to find the time each day, within an already packed schedule, simply doesn’t work.

Key No. 2 is letting everyone else in your life know that you’re embarking on this new daily mission – or at least, those you regularly interact with on a day-to-day basis. That’s because you’re not only changing your own behaviour; you’re changing the behaviour of everyone around you. During that precious half-hour, you should be virtually unreachable.

At first, mind you, this new habit will feel extremely weird. There’s no getting around that. In this day and age, we’re not used to being without our extra limb. But stick with it, and I promise the results will be life-changing.