Get Future-Ready With Finito: Focus

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little bit jittery about the future. Those who would like to be work-ready need to take a lot into consideration; robotic technology, urbanisation and biotech are developing factors all set to change the way we work, and the skills we need to do a good job – and it’s all a bit difficult to predict.

We don’t want to be all doom-y about it, though. For all the click-bait screaming that AI is coming for our jobs and there’s nothing we can do about it, there are plenty of level-headed experts identifying the skills we’re most likely to need in the future. Following on from the last installment, in which we explored the crucial role adaptability plays in building a future-proof career, we’re going to examine some of those skills, discover the ways you can start developing them, and hopefully get everyone one step closer to being future-ready. 

Soft Skill #5 – Focus Mastery

We’re in the middle of a fight for our attention. We compulsively check our phones every twelve minutes. Many of us work through the noise of our colleagues, thanks to the architectural trend for open-plan offices. The changing workplace has resulted in a higher number of us working from home, distracted by chores and other procrastination traps. These distractions are only small – but we know from research that continued, repeated interruptions can have a catastrophic effect on productivity. In a world defined by smartphones and chatty workplace culture, deep focus seems unattainable – which is exactly why the employers of the future are so hungry for candidates who can enter a state of flow, and stay there until the job is done.

That hunger is heightened by the numbers. Dr Glenn Wilson’s research into interrupted employees found that more than 20% of participants were willing to interrupt a meeting in order to respond to an email immediately, and employees whose attention consistently snagged on phone calls and emails saw a drop in IQ up to 10 points. That’s equivalent to losing a night’s sleep.

Some more maths: the average person gets interrupted at work every eight minutes – whether that’s a phone call, or an instagram notification, or a colleague with a particularly insistent voice. That’s about eight interruptions per hour, or sixty interruptions in a typical working day. If we assume each interruption takes about five minutes (which might be generous, considering how long your co-worker’s anecdotes tend to go on for) and take into account the fact that it takes about twenty-five minutes to refocus on an activity after becoming distracted – the situation is stark for employers. Hardly any of our day is spent in deep focus – in fact, we rarely spend any time working at a good level of concentration. 

‘But I’m multitasking!’

Possibly – but there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that what most of us are doing isn’t multitasking at all – instead, we’re switching between different activities at a rapid pace, which is… not good for us. When we code-switch this quickly, our brain relies on adrenaline and cortisol to support us, but after a while, these stress hormones can overwhelm our feel-good hormones – serotonin and dopamine – leaving us feeling jittery, affecting our ability to sleep, and ultimately doing some very unpleasant things to our brain cells.

So, strengthening your ability to concentrate is a vital skill – boosting your productivity (to make your boss happy) and keeping you in a calm and happy state (to make your brain happy). Without spending a fortune on Deep Focus training, is there anything you can do today that can help you train your brain? Just follow the rule of five.

The Rule of Five

The rule of five is pretty simple, actually. Whenever you feel your attention being pulled away from a task you need to finish, do five more before you reach for your phone. Whether you spend five more minutes reading that report, or write five more pages of your groundbreaking novel, the trick is to do five more before you stop. 

This is a double-whammy of productivity techniques. Not only will it ensure you’re moving forward through the task – even if it’s just a little bit more – but you’re also gradually training yourself to be less easily diverted from the important things. You might find it a bit painful the first few times your phone pings while you’re forcing yourself through a task you don’t like – but through building the healthy habit, it’ll get easier every time – and before you know it you’ll be the master of focus, and your manager’s secret favourite.

For more advice on how to get work-ready, take a look through the previous installments in this series and discover how The Employability Experts can help you take your career to the next level.