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4 strategies to turn your brain from distraction to action

Life has become one constant distraction after another, threatening productivity of every one of us, but these non-traditional methods help rewire your brain.

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You are struggling to focus like the rest of us. How do I know? Because you are reading this article… which you probably found through Twitter, Facebook, and/or the AGBeat site directly. It’s okay. You aren’t alone, and in this particular case, you are making good use of your time (as opposed to the multiple entertaining minutes I spent looking at sleepy babies on BuzzFeed today).

As I started my own business, I was forced to research, study, and ask as many people as possible how they have successfully won the battle that wages for our attention. The reality is that most haven’t – our culture is drowning in a sea of distraction. Studies reveal that we are interrupted every three minutes during work and it takes us 23 minutes on average to get back to the original task. The real kicker is that more than half of the distractions were completely self-inflicted.

Four non-traditional strategies

To add onto what we’ve previously outlined, here are four non-traditional strategies to leverage the way your brain is wired to move distraction into action.

1. More trees. Less brick.
Hang with me here. This is about to get crazy.

You know when you are completely unable to concentrate due to mental fatigue? Psychologists studied people just like you at that very moment. Group A then took a short walk through a busy downtown. Group B walked through various natural environments (parks, etc). Guess what happened? Group A’s walk did not help them at all upon returning to work, but Group B received significantly better results in their ability to focus on key tasks.

Even reviewing photos of nature can have the same effect, according to the Attention Restoration Theory. If your mind is in a constant state of chaos, review photos of nature, or take a walk through the local park. Your work will benefit.

2. Start by prioritizing your priorities
Your pre-frontal cortex is in large part the area of your brain responsible for focus. It’s an amazing muscle, but it’s a muscle that tires easily. Every time you actively push away a distraction, you are sapping resources that will reduce your ability to effectively do it the next time.

The solution? Start your day by setting your priorities, from the most mentally draining to the least, rather than on the basis of who wants a response fastest. Put the most mentally draining work at the early part of the day (assuming you don’t have a hangover). 

Fight to keep the first two hours of work sacred. Ask for meetings to be later in the day so you don’t have your most precious mental resource robbed by a boss or colleague droning on about a subject that means nothing to you (probably using PowerPoint in a way that would make me want rip the projector’s power plug out of the wall).

3. Move the calendar front and center
Simon Reynolds, a friend and bestselling author of the book ‘Why People Fail’ offered this to me, and it’s been game changing.

While prioritized task lists are a huge step up from the ‘let my newest email tell me what’s important’ strategy, it’s not enough. Take your priorities and assign time chunks to cover each one. Your calendar, rather than your inbox or task list should now be the primary ‘screen’ on your computer.

As I use Google Calendars, I literally watch as the redline slides down my screen, reminding me that I am running out of time on this task before I must move to the next. For example, I have seven more minutes dedicated to finishing this article.

This causes my brain to release the right concoction of chemicals/neurotransmitters to work like I can’t procrastinate any more- I’m up against a tight deadline. Plus, I am leveraging what Jonah Berger calls game mechanics (or why I can’t quit you, Candy Crush!?).

4. Warm up the muscle
According to the last two rules, I should probably punt email and web surfing until I have completed the mentally exhausting tasks of my day. But what if something crazy has happened in the world?! Think of all the people who might have emailed or commented on my Facebook post? My social status and craving for stimulation is just too much to ignore after hours of being deprived due to my body’s ridiculous demand for sleep.

I have found that a short warm up lap is exactly what I need before I dive into a full day of mental Crossfit. I get my daily Texas Rangers updates, check out my inbox, take a shot of coffee, then get to the work of setting the day’s priorities. The key? I limit my time to a ten minute warm-up. The bell goes off and the sprints and metaphorical burpees begin.

The battle for attention

We are in a cultural  battle for attention with a built-in faulty set of brain wiring. I have found these strategies to be particularly valuable for me. If you’ve read this far, odds are high you are in the top one percent in your focus skills. If you don’t mind, take one more minute to offer your solutions in the comments below.

Curt Steinhorst loves attention. More specifically, he loves understanding attention. How it works. Why it matters. How to get it. As someone who personally deals with ADD, he overcame the unique distractions that today’s technology creates to start a Communications Consultancy, The Promentum Group, and Speakers Bureau, Promentum Speakers, both of which he runs today. Curt’s expertise and communication style has led to more than 75 speaking engagements in the last year to organizations such as GM, Raytheon, Naval Academy, Cadillac, and World Presidents’ Organization.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Sacha Joubert

    July 17, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Great advice! I love the idea of seeing the red line moving, counting down the time. Now that’s very motivating!

  2. Michael Bray

    July 19, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Do you realize how ridcuosly difficult it was to actually read straight through tbis wonderful article without clicking on all of the enticing links!? I am proud to say “I Did It” thanks to ….this wonderful article. When I went back through I only ended up clicking one link. Less loss of focus, but more rehab is still indicated! Sorry, gotta go…

  3. doodlebug2222

    August 4, 2013 at 3:17 am

    I arrive to work early so I can review things from the day before to ensure I closed them out properly. I use Outlook to mark and categorize mail that comes in, I teach persons that send me incoming mail to ensure they have a “request for action” less I will consider it a FYI instead.

    I also insist on email requests and refuse to take them over the phone, and I do not allow “parking” in my office or “question and answer time” w/o a 30 minute-1 hour meeting > which is also never counter as “request time”. They still need to make a formal request via email for the purpose of being tracked.
    I have a shared calendar (SharePoint) and I echo my availability for meetings as well as times I block out and have no meetings – no disturbances.

    I listen to music, close my office door almost all of the way shut and when persons do come into try to park or unofficially meet, I am kind and indicate I have a hard deadline I am trying to meet and can they send me a meeting invite so we can discuss it at length and I can then give them my undivided attention and I had them a request form so they can jot down if this is an official request.

    Yes I insisist on all requests being on paper.. and I ensure it follows a specific format so all necessary information is there. This is to be sure what they are requesting is captured, completed and tracked.

    My days go smoother – less distractions and everyone understands I can pull out old requests they made months ago if they need it… so.. they begin to see verbal requests are… a bit more shakey to work with and recall later. Fact is – I keep control and in this, I control my time and of course distractions.

  4. Pingback: Procrastination expert shares advice on overcoming procrastination - The American Genius

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Beware: The biohacking obsession is attracting scammers

(NEWS) Biohacking is finding ways to gain a competitive advantage, while excluding the medical world. It’s great to increase your output, but be cautious when picking your poison…

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Wanna live better or longer? [Insert biohack here] will solve all those pesky problems. In all fairness, it’s human nature to seek improvement, especially in our jobs or academics — you know, the things that demand a constant, high performance.

Of course our ears will prick up at the slightest mention of attaining that elusive edge. Remember Aderall in college?

Biohacking isn’t a new topic. The term refers to a wide range of activities to affect the body’s biological systems.

The objective is to optimize health, well-being, and focus. If we are able to effectively manage what we put into our body, our output can increase. It’s not inherently evil.

But social media influencers are key in promoting the latest products/diets/supplements/oils, often doing so for money, not to improve others’ lives. And, there’s a darker side of drug use, both prescription and illegal, leading to potentially dangerous and abusive situations.

The misleading aspect of biohacking is that every body is different.

Regardless of social media promises, people should be wary of ingesting additional products.

Despite the fancy names one can give it, biohacking has the same objective of medicine, but product development typically excludes medical practitioners.

Legitimate medical practices take huge amounts of funding and research to figure out and insure safety, and they’re heavily regulated by the federal government.

A random word of mouth promise about some obscure herbal supplement is not the same thing.

There are no shortcuts to improving one’s health.

And biohacking doesn’t necessarily mean making life more complex. It’s important to start with the basics before jumping to elaborate diet regimens, powders, pills, etc. Simple steps like routine exercise, 7-8 hours of sleep, and healthier meal choices may help get you on track.

It’s amazing to realize what you can change about yourself before joining some random Thought Cult you found on Instagram. And in the case that your health needs a modern, helping hand, do the proper research before falling into the dark internet hole.

Or better yet, consult your doctor.

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Business News

Did Ohio *really* just accidentally legalize marijuana?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Should cannabusiness investors rush to Ohio, or are the headlines about legalized marijuana in the state misleading? The situation is pretty complex.

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Hemp growers and pot smokers alike may benefit from a recently passed Ohio law intended to legalize hemp, but which has also made prosecuting marijuana charges significantly more difficult, if not impossible.

Although many news sources are blasting the headline that Ohio has “accidentally legalized weed,” the truth is slightly more complicated.

On July 30, Ohio legislators signed into law a bill that legalizes the growth and sale of hemp, but not marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same species of plant, but while hemp is mostly used for its super strong fibers, marijuana is cultivated to contain high levels of the psychoactive compound THC.

It’s not easy to detect the difference between hemp and marijuana with the naked eye. Connoisseurs might argue that if the bud looks dry, green, and hairless, it’s probably hemp.

But there’s no way to prove it definitively during a police stop or search. Sure, an officer could take a toke and see if it makes him feel funny, but that would hardly be appropriate; the typical protocol is to test the plant material in a lab to determine the percentage of THC.

Green with less than 0.3 percent THC is considered hemp; more than that is considered marijuana.

The problem is that none of Ohio’s city or state level crime labs have the technology to make this determination. The current lab equipment available can detect the presence of THC but can’t tell the amount.

Louis Tobin, the executive director for Ohio’s Prosecuting Attorney Association, calls this recent law “the de facto legalization of marijuana,” not because the bill explicitly make marijuana legal, but because “there’s no way for law enforcement to tell what’s legal and what’s not legal.”

Apparently Tobin and other prosecutors had raised this concern while the bill was being debated, to no avail.

Now police officers and prosecutors are getting mixed signals about how to proceed.

Says Tobin, “There are statues on the books that say you should enforce marijuana possession but another law takes away your tools to do it.”

Ohio’s Attorney General, Dave Yost, sent a letter to prosecutors encouraging them to postpone marijuana indictments. The Office of the Attorney General in Ohio’s capitol city of Columbus announced that they will temporarily cease prosecuting marijuana misdemeanors and will drop all pending cases.

Meanwhile, in Hamilton County, prosecutor Joe Deter is encouraging police officers to go ahead and investigate marijuana-related crimes, and to confiscate anything that looks like it could be either hemp or marijuana. The state Bureau of Criminal Investigation has already been allotted funds to purchase and set up the testing equipment needed to measure percentages of THC. Prosecutors who wish to follow up on marijuana crime cases will just have to cross their fingers and hope that the equipment becomes available before the statute of limitations kicks in.

Even when the right testing equipment gets set up, some suspect that the recent legal change could have a long-lasting effect on how the city prosecutes marijuana misdemeanors. It may prove to be inefficient and costly to prosecute small-time dealers and individuals possessing small amounts of the drug.

Nonetheless, it’s probably too soon for cannabusiness to start investing heavily in Ohio – but it’s a state worth keeping an eye on.

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Business News

The easiest ways to keep remote workers engaged & connected

(BUSINESS NEWS) Do you manage remote employees or an entirely mixed team? These tips will keep you on the right track to avoid communication breakdown.

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Not every workplace has all its employees in the same place. Different office locations, business trips, and freelancers mean your workforce may be geographically scattered. So how do you effectively communicate from home base if your team is remote and widespread?

First things first – invest in the best virtual meeting platform technology you can work into your budget. If you can’t all be in one place, the next best thing is regularly scheduled virtual meetings. Everyone should have a camera so employees get a chance to know who they’re talking to and put names to faces.

Sure, you may not want to see yourself on camera, but your coworkers will appreciate seeing who they’ve been collaborating with and emailing.

If video conferences aren’t relevant to your business, make sure employees at least have some way to get in touch with each other, like Slack, Skype, or even a private Facebook group. Have at least one platform where employees can engage, communicate, and share information with each other.

Foster connection among employees, allowing them to engage and build work relationships. Provide opportunities for non-work related connections to show your employees you know they’re people, not just workers.

If possible, organize small group outings for those in the same city. Even if that’s not feasible, you can still be the connector that brings people together remotely.

Create “water cooler” moments by calling out important events, like birthdays, marriages, or someone completing an important goal. Get to know your employees, and engage in small talk whenever possible to get to know them. This shows your employees you value them and care about their lives.

Sending care packages can go a long way to show your employees you want them to feel included. Is your next meeting being catered at the main office? Order something for your remote employees too. Everyone deserves bagels.

Make sure you also set clear communication expectations about when you can and can’t be reached. Virtual employees need to know when they can expect a response from you and their colleagues since informal interactions are hard to come by remotely.

When managing remote employees, strive for inclusiveness. Be a connector who promotes engagement by knowing your employees, giving them an avenue to communicate with you and each other.

Take time to get to know your employees on at least a semi- personal level, and ensure everyone feels welcomed even if they’re working remotely. This will lead to better coworker relationships, employee retention, and performance.

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