Do I Have Your Attention? Why Focus is the New I.Q.

The Siren Song of Summer beckons us each morning as we rise with the sun and focus on the coming day.

Vacation plans complete with cocktails compete with work deadlines and caffeine-laden cups of coffee.  Email notifications from our screens, streams of text messages from our phones, colleagues stopping by our cubicles for quick chats – we’re surrounded by endless demands for our attention.

This stream of distractions cause information to be sent to the wrong part of our brain and impacts our ability to retrieve information when we need it. The cost? A 40 percent drop in productivity.

Our brains are just not good at multi-tasking says Earl Miller, neuroscientist at MIT. It increases our stress levels, overstimulates our brain, and prevents us from truly deep learning. (That unread email glaring at you from your inbox just cost you 10 IQ points – ouch!)

So what do successful people need to do to be smarter, more efficient, and more productive?

Learn to focus.

In his book, “Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World,” Dr. Cal Newport writes: ” The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”

Trying to stay focused in the Age of Distraction requires a considerable amount of effort, but that doesn’t mean we stop trying.

“Focus is the new I.Q.,” Dr. Newport writes, and we can get better at it with practice.

While I close out the fifty tabs I have open in my browser and check out the chatter on our Twitter page, enjoy these tips from nine YEC members who use planning, prioritization, and technology to help focus on the tasks that will drive their business forward.

1. Get Done With Major Items in the First Half of Your Day

As a serial entrepreneur, I realize the difference between important and urgent tasks. As a rule, I list out the important items the previous night and get them to them in the morning session. This helps me ensure that important tasks are taken care of and I still have enough time for meetings and urgent tasks during the rest of the day.

– Karan Chaudhry, Comnplus 

2. Close All Your Tabs

One of the biggest ways to increase productivity is to eliminate distractions. When I’m working on something, I will close all my tabs except whatever I am doing. This allows me to focus on the task at hand and not be tempted to check something else before I complete my work.

– Ryan Shank, PhoneWagon 

3. Plan Ahead the Night Before

I use this trick and recommend it to all my clients: Before I wind down for the night, I make a list of the most important tasks that need to happen on the following day. It helps me think through what’s most critical; start the next day with clear focus and hit the ground running.

– Leah Neaderthal, Growthworks Solutions 

4. Put Everything in Your Calendar

Put everything, and I mean everything, on your (Google) calendar. Every Sunday, I schedule a meeting with myself (my “hour of power”) where I capture everything I want to accomplish for the upcoming week and what is most important. Next, I schedule everything I want to accomplish, leaving no hours to chance. I include personal and work tasks.

– Kristopher Jones, 

5. Put Your Cell Phone on Mute

Joe Apfelbaum

When I muted all my notifications on my cell phone and turned off the ringer, it got harder for people to reach me on a whim. But my productivity shot up. I scan my phone every hour to see what I missed, but I don’t let it interrupt an important meeting. Sure, there are times I am in emergency mode and I leave it on vibrate. But when I am focused, don’t call me. For emergencies, call 911!

– Joe Apfelbaum, Ajax Union

6. Keep a To-Do List

I keep a simple to-do list in Evernote. I can update the list from my laptop or phone. As a CEO, I get a lot of distractions. Writing tasks I need to do on a list helps me stay focused and productive. I re-visit my list every day, check items and projects I’ve completed, and add new items. It’s a simple hack but it’s quite effective.

– Roberto Angulo, AfterCollege

7. Use a Standing Desk

I have seen a massive increase in productivity using a standing desk. You don’t do lazy things like check Facebook or social media while working at a standing desk. I do have a motorized one though so I can lower it for one-on-one meetings.

– Torrey Tayenaka, Sparkhouse

8. Set a Routine and Stick to It

I segment my day into different tasks in the same order each day. I feel like I have programmed myself to know what I should be doing at each part of the day. If I am doing something unproductive, I immediately know to get back on task. It also helps when I have something unexpected I need to attend to. I finish that task and get back on track quickly.

– Scott Kacmarski, Reps Direct 

9. Break Down Big Tasks into Small Pieces

Breaking down big tasks into smaller chunks is a refreshing exercise that helps accomplish more and prioritize better. Keeping a to-do list that can be accomplished throughout the day is also way more powerful than having a weekly to-do list that feels like a burden.

– Artur Kiulian, Colab



Young Entrepreneur Council

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective (, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

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