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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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Plastic bags are making a comeback, thanks to COVID-19

(BUSINESS NEWS) Plastic bags are back, whether you like it or not – at least for now.

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Single use plastic bags are rising like a phoenix from the ashes of illegality all over the country, from California to New York. Reusable bags are falling out of favor in an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19. It’s a logical step: the less something is handled, generally, the safer it is going to be. And porous paper bags are thought to have a higher potential to spread the virus through contact.

It’s worth mentioning that single use plastic bags are considerably more
environmentally efficient to manufacture compared to paper, cloth, and reusable plastic bags. Per unit, they require very little material to make and are easily mass produced. It also goes without saying that they have a very short lifespan, after which they end up sitting in landfills, littering streets, or drifting through oceans.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s hard to deny that single use plastics have the potential to be as dangerous to humans as COVID-19. Coronavirus is a very immediate existential threat to us in the United States, but the scale of the global crises that stem from the irresponsible consumption of cheap disposable goods, also cannot be overstated. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn’t going anywhere. (And did you know that it’s just one of many huge garbage patches around the world?)

So… what exactly are we going to do about the comeback of plastic bags? Because to be honest, I used to work in grocery retail, and it is difficult and often unrewarding. So, I wouldn’t exactly love handling potentially contaminated tote bags all day in the midst of a pandemic if I were still a supermarket employee. You couldn’t pay me enough to feel comfortable with that – forget minimum wage!

I used to have a plastic bag stuffed full of other plastic bags sitting in my kitchen, like American nesting dolls, before disposable plastics fell from grace. (I’m sure some of y’all know exactly what I’m talking about.) This bag of bags was never a point of pride. It got really annoying because it just kept growing. There are only so many practical home uses for the standard throw-away plastic shopping bag. Very small trash can liners; holding snarls of unused cables, another thing I accumulate for no reason; extremely low-budget packing material; one could get crafty and somehow weave them into a horrible sweater, I guess.

I don’t miss my bag of bags. I don’t want to have to deal with another. Hey, Silicon Valley? Got any disruptive ideas for this one?

Even if we concede that disposable plastics are a necessary evil in the fight against COVID-19, the fact remains that they stick around long after you’re done with them. That’s true whether you throw them out or not.

I’m not trying to direct blame anywhere. Of course businesses should do their best to keep their customers and staff safe, and if that means using plastic bags, so be it. Without clear guidance from our federal government, every part of society has been fumbling and figuring out how to keep one another healthy with the tools they’ve got at hand. (…Well, almost every part.)

The changes to the state bag bans have been cautious and temporary so far, which is a small relief. But nobody really knows how much longer the pandemic will rage on and necessitate the relaxations.

I won’t pretend that I have a sure solution. All I can really ask is that we all be extra mindful of our usage of these disposable plastic products. Let’s think creatively about what we might otherwise throw away. We must not trade one apocalypse for another.

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Scammers are taking advantage of the unemployed

(BUSINESS NEWS) In a country that’s been stricken by higher-than-ever levels of unemployment, scammers have found a unique way to target this vulnerable demographic.

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With unemployment rates reaching unprecedented levels in recent months, it’s a fairly safe bet to say that there’s something that many of us currently have in common: we need a job. While these levels are slowly starting to decline, already down to 11.1 percent in June from an all-time high of 14.7 percent in April, the need for steady gainful employment is still great for many Americans. That’s what makes the newest scam making its rounds particularly vile.

There’s a common misconception that people who get scammed largely deserved their misfortune. Whether it’s presumed that they got greedy, they fell for something that was too good to be true, or they were looking for an easy way out, it’s both unfair and unkind to make these snap judgements of victims of scammers. When it comes to scammers, there’s only one party to blame for these wrongful actions — the scammers themselves.

And with literally millions of people looking for a job right now, these scammers have found a new round of susceptible people to target. It’s a fairly well documented fact that scammers have a knack for knowing who will be easy prey, and this latest scam is no different. According to a report from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), scammers have ramped up their efforts to separate desperate job seekers from what’s left of their meager funds.

This scam is nothing new, but it has surged in popularity with the sheer number of people looking for jobs in today’s economy. Dubbed the “employment scam,” it can take on many forms, but the end result remains the same. At the end of the day, if a person is bilked out of their money, then the scammer has won.

What does this scam look like, and how can you safeguard yourself from falling prey to it? Please note that anyone — from all walks of life, no matter your age, your sex, your race, or any other factor — can become a victim of a scam. The only way to protect yourself is to be aware of the scam and recognize the signs of it. If a potential employer asks any of the following of you, then there’s a good chance they’re a scammer:

  • You are required to pay the so-called employer for your own training up front.
  • You are expected to give up your banking/personal info for a credit check.
  • You are overpaid by a fraudulent check and told to wire back the difference.
  • You are told that you need to pay for expensive equipment to work from home.

Please note that these scammers can spoof legitimate companies. They may try to pass themselves off as real-deal businesses; they’ve even tried to emulate the BBB itself. And when you refuse to follow through with their demands, they will double down and might even become hostile and aggressive, resorting to threats and cajoling. It’s important to not cave in; once they start bullying you, they know the gig is up.

The BBB also notes that coronavirus has created a “perfect storm” for scammers, but there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. They advise that you avoid social isolation, as that can make you more vulnerable to scammers. When in doubt, seek out a friend’s feedback. Sometimes a reality check can make all the difference in whether or not you become a mark. Do a little bit of digging online before you accept an “offer” or share personal information. And finally, be prudent. No matter how many warnings the BBB puts out each year about scams, the only person who can really protect you from getting scammed is just one person…yourself.

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American Express’ cash back program helps members support small businesses

(BUSINESS NEWS) Between now and September 20th, AMEX is providing $50 in credits to their cardholders to support local businesses.

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It’s no secret that coronavirus has been nothing short of devastating for small businesses. Even with the Small Business Administration (SBA) offering financial relief in the form of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), many small businesses are still struggling to keep their doors open. So far, the numbers have been astronomical — to the tune of some 100,000 small businesses closing down permanently, according to a report from the National Bureau of Economic Research — and they’re expected to continue to rise as the pandemic drags on.

With that in mind, American Express has come forward with their own disaster relief program of sorts. Between now and the 20th of September, the credit card company will be offering a cash back rewards incentive for their cardholders. The program is fairly simple and straightforward: for every $10 (or more) that you spend at a small business, Amex will give you a $5 statement credit on your account. This can be repeated up to ten times, for a total of $50 in rewards. Not bad, huh? But the question remains: what’s a mere $50 in the grand scheme of things, and will it actually help out small businesses in the long run?

Well, first and foremost, $50 is no small chunk of change. For most of us, it’s a fairly decent perk, especially since it requires us to do what we would have done anyway (shop at local businesses). Whether you feel like getting takeout from your local mom-and-pop restaurant, you’re going to pick up a few groceries for dinner tonight at your corner market, or you need to take Fido in for a checkup at your neighborhood veterinary clinic, these activities all count toward the reward program. You’re literally getting paid for shopping locally. Easy peasy.

And secondly, historic data does prove that these incentives do work. Amex rolled out their first small business reward program back in 2010, called Small Business Saturday®, as a response to the mass consumerism of Black Friday. In 2015, the SBA decided to get in on the fun and joined forces with Amex, sponsoring the program. Even better, a study from 2019 revealed that a whopping $19.6 billion was funneled back into local economies thanks to the initiative. So while “just” $50 may not seem like much, it adds up to impressive numbers when seen from a more macroscopic perspective.

This isn’t the only program that has Amex’s name standing behind it, either. The company is also the driving force behind the Stand for Small program, which unifies larger businesses who are offering their own helping hand to smaller businesses. Whether you’re looking for assistance in managing your expenses, or you’re in need of help in growing your online presence, the Stand for Small program was designed to help make this possible. Large names like Amazon and eBay are included in the ranks that have rallied behind Stand for Small, lending clout to this program.

So what’s a little extra $50? Is it worth it to you? Sure, the intentions of some of these companies may be somewhat less than magnanimous — there’s no arguing that there’s something in it for them, as well — it doesn’t change the fact that in an economy that’s been crippled by COVID-19, they’re actually doing something instead of just sitting there idly and waiting for someone else to take action.

That, at least, has to be worth something. And if you’re wanting to get your hands on a share of the cool fifty bucks courtesy of Amex, they’d like to remind you that you do need to enroll in the rewards program no later than July 26. If you don’t, you may miss out on your opportunity to help keep small businesses afloat (while also enjoying an extra $5 in your pocket here or there), courtesy of American Express.

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