New Top Job Skill: Paying Attention

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At your next interview, pitch this skill: your ability to focus on the job at hand.

Why? As writer Mike Elgan points out, the nature of work has evolved so that paying attention is as important as hard work.

Distractions mask the toll they take on productivity. Everyone finishes up their work days exhausted, but how much of that exhaustion is from real work, how much from the mental effort of fighting off distractions and how much from the indulgence of distractions?

In fact, 28 percent of our workday gets eaten up by distractions and the accompanying recovery time, estimates research firm Basex. Blame Twitter, Facebook and your BlackBerry, not to mention the co-worker who glides over twice a day just to say, "I'm bored. What's up?"

Jakob Nielsen, a computer usability guru who calls Elgan's piece "the most important article published in 2008," offers actionable steps for improving your attention. For starters: "The majority of the workday should be allocated to big blocks of uninterrupted time where any outside influence is banned and you focus on your own priority tasks, one at a time," he says. In other words, turn off your e-mail and close your office door. (Workplace psychologists also recommend setting deadlines, pursuing the most challenging tasks during the time of day when you're most "on," and avoiding multitasking, because we're really not very good at it.)

So in your next job interview talk about your your closed-door policy as well as your open-door policy. Explain your attention ethic. And try to not count the number of times your interviewer checks his or her BlackBerry while you're there.

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