These are two words to wake anyone out of their slumber. Parents, teachers, coaches and bosses demand it. The admonition to pay attention is one that has a simple yet, clear message: focus.
The ability to concentrate fully and without distraction is becoming harder and harder as many people, responsibilities and devices vie for our attention. Recent game-changing books like Deep Work from Cal Newport and Indistractable by Nir Eyal and Julie Li have explored the skill of learning how to buckle down to serious uninterrupted work in order to deliver a high-quality final product. Yet, no matter how much excellent literature we consume on these important matters, if we don’t implement a plan of action, we are destined to underachieve.
Are you really paying attention? Are you honestly fully engaged in producing at the highest levels while on the job or are the “pings” and “beeps” disrupting your flow? Is your smartphone now joined with you at the hip or do you feel the freedom to leave it in another room while you have a family dinner or read your child to sleep? Focus has become difficult. It’s not for lack of desire. It’s for lack of awareness of how easily distracted we have become.
I recently learned an important lesson as I prepared to co-facilitate a sports law seminar in Barbados. There was a very interesting case involving an athlete from South Africa who asserted that many of her rights were being breached. The case was 163 pages long! Although my presentation was not primarily on that case, I still needed to be acquainted with its contents for the purposes of a panel discussion. Here’s what I did: I switched off my phone for just about 3 hours. At the midway mark, I turned it back on and called my wife, Michelle, to see if she tried to reach me. Not only did she say “No” but I did not even receive one missed call! So much for feeling like the whole world was trying to get in touch me because I am so important. I’m learning more and more not to take myself so seriously.
I switched back off my phone, made great progress, spoke to Michelle again after another 90 minutes and finished read the case in time for the conference. The uninterrupted time of focus was awesome. For you, it may not be your devices but it could be something else. Whatever it may be, become aware of what pulls you away from being truly immersed in valuable pursuits.
I’ve recommitted myself to truly paying attention. I encourage you to join the growing number of persons around the world who have jumped on that train.