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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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Business News

Chick-fil-a stops donating to anti-LGBTQ orgs; can we eat hate nuggets now!?

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Boycotts, protests, and media coverage about the controversy may finally be making an impact as the company attempts to alter its reputation.

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After years of controversy for its anti-LGBTQ policies and donations, Chick-Fil-A announced Monday that it would stop funding three faith-based organizations similarly known for their anti-LGBTQ activities. The chicken sandwich empire has donated millions to The Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Paul Anderson Youth Home, but from 2020 going forward, the chain will cease donations to these organizations.

Controversy over Chick-fil-A’s ethos exploded in 2012 when a Pennsylvania Chick-fil-A sponsored a Christian seminar promoting “traditional” marriage, and its CEO Dan Cathy made public comments opposing same-sex marriage. While these events brought Chick-fil-A’s homophobic politics to light, the chain had already, for years prior, been donating millions of dollars to organizations that either discriminate against or work explicitly to curtail the rights of LGBTQ people.

Some queers put down their sandwiches and joined a national boycott and protests, while others found tongue-in-cheek ways to process feeling guilty for continuing to enjoy waffle fries. At first the boycott backfired, with Governor Mike Huckabee hosting a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, encouraging conservative chicken lovers to show up en masse to support the chain and deliver a proverbial middle finger to the LGBT community by ordering extra nuggets.

However, the boycotts, protests, and media coverage about the controversy may finally be making an impact as the company attempts to alter its reputation. Chick-fil-A president, Tim Tassopoulos noted that there have been numerous news stories about the chain’s politics, explaining that “as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are.” Attempts to expand into Europe hit a major setback when one of its two UK locations closed because the shopping center in which it was located took offense to Chick-fil-A’s anti-LGBTQ stance and decided not to renew the lease.

A spokeswoman told the Thomas Reuters Foundation that the company had fulfilled the “multi-year commitments” it made to Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and that now that their “obligations” were complete, they would focus their charitable giving elsewhere.

Future donations will go toward charities that focus on education and homelessness, such as Junior Achievement USA and Covenant House. Grants will be distributed and reviewed annually. LGBTQ activists are optimistic, but slightly skeptical of the change. GLAAD director of campaign and rapid response Drew Anderson called for “further transparency” regarding Chick-fil-A’s “deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families.”

Anderson further pointed out that Chick-fil-A has no non-discrimination policies protecting LGBTQ employees. The chain is also known for asking applicants about their religious and marital status in job interviews, making discrimination against non-Christian and LGBTQ applicants all too easy. Anderson called for Chick-fil-A to “unequivocally speak out against the anti-LGBTQ reputation that their brand represents.”

CEO Dan Cathy has been notoriously unapologetic for his homophobic views, expressing in 2014 that he regretted getting Chick-fil-A embroiled in controversy, but that his opinions about same-sex marriage had not changed.

While many are celebrating the withdrawal of funds towards certain anti-LGBTQ organizations, there’s no guarantee that more donations of this kind won’t be made in the future. So enjoy those hate nuggets with a large grain of salt.

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Business News

Ford rolls out a weird electric SUV that is somehow also a Mustang

(BUSINESS NEWS) Ford’s new Mach E is part of their big electric push, and their plan to get you in one is to appeal to the American dream of a mustang.

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What do you get when you cross a Mustang, Tesla and SUV? A traffic accident!

(Just kidding, bad joke; it’s the 2021 Ford Mach E, one of Ford’s 22 upcoming electric or hybrid vehicles. )

Since when has Ford been pushing for electric cars? Actually, it’s been a while, but Ford’s efforts have definitely increased since Jim Hackett took over as CEO of Ford Motors in 2017.

Hackett revitalized Ford’s mission and began pushing for a greater focus on electric and hybrid cars. In fact, Hackett even created an internal team – Team Edison – which oversaw the development of electric cars. The Ford Mach E is actually the first car to be unveiled.

One down, 21 to go.

Sure, the name Ford Mach E is pretty cool, but how cool can a sports car/SUV hybrid really be? It’s the first non-sports car to use the Mustang name, which is a bold move. Luckily, the Ford Mach E is slated to go 0 – 60 in under four seconds, which means it can keep up with other Mustangs and even go faster than some Porches. It also boasts around a 459 horsepower, which is higher than most SUVs on the market. Not half bad for an electric SUV.

Along with the battery – which will be able to last anywhere from 200 to 300 miles, depending on the unit – the Mach E is chock full of exciting new tech. For instance, it’ll boast hands-free driving assist technology comparable to Tesla’s.

It also includes a sleek interior, a large center screen and Ford’s new SYNC system, which will adjust entertainment customizations based on user preference.

This cloud-based system learns from drivers’ habits: if a driver typically stop for coffee in the morning, the system might automatically suggest routes to a coffee shop.

Kind of creepy, but also pretty neat.

The car is projected to hit the market in late 2020 and will be competing with other electric models from Tesla and Volkswagen.

Prices for the Ford Mach E will range from $43,000 to about $60,000, which is fairly comparable to other companies. With a $500 refundable deposit through the Ford website, individuals can place a reservation on one of these upcoming cars now.

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Business News

Ageism: How to combat discrimination in the workplace

(BUSINESS) Ageism is still being fought by many companies, how can this new issue be resolved before it becomes more of a problem?

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Google recently settled an age discrimination lawsuit to the tune of $11 million. The lawsuit from 2015 alleged that Google favored people under 40 for hiring. The federal case involved more than 200 parties. Part of the settlement requires Google to train managers on age bias in recruiting and hiring. There’s hope that the settlement will raise awareness in the tech industry, where ageism is thought to be pervasive.

IBM is also facing an age discrimination lawsuit alleging the company “systematically removed older employees from its workforce.” This lawsuit was filed in March in federal court in the Southern District of New York.

Both IBM and Google deny that there is any discrimination in hiring in their respective companies. IBM is confident that the case will fail. Google settled the case rather than fight it in court. The IBM case is still working its way through the system. It is highlighting ageism in tech, but the tech industry certainly isn’t the only one that seemingly discriminates against older workers.

Workers over the age of 55 represent the fasting growing sector in labor. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 25% of the labor force will be over age 55 by 2024. A 2018 AARP survey found that over 60% of the respondents reported age discrimination in their workplace. The figure is even higher among older women, minorities and unemployed seniors. Age discrimination is a problem for many.

How can your organization create an age-inclusive workforce?

It is difficult to prove age discrimination but fighting a lawsuit against it could be expensive. Rather than worrying about getting sued for age discrimination, consider your own business and whether your culture creates a workplace that welcomes older workers.

  1. Check your job descriptions and hiring practices to eliminate graduation dates and birthdates. Focus on worker’s skills, not youthful attributes, such as “fresh graduate” or “digital native.” Feature workers of all ages in your branding and marketing.
  2. Include age diversity training for your managers and employees, especially those that hire or work in recruiting.
  3. Support legislative reforms that protect older workers. Use your experience to create content for your website.

Changing the culture of your workplace to include older workers will benefit you in many ways. Older workers bring experience and ideas to the table that younger employees don’t have. Having mixed-age teams encourages creativity. There are many ways to support older workers and to be inclusive in your workplace.

What steps are you taking in your organization to reduce ageism in your workplace?

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