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Distraction is an epidemic, how our brains work against us

Distraction has become a leading cause of under performance, but our brains are wired to work against us. Here’s how it all works and why.

distraction

distraction

I have Adult A.D.D.

I’m easily distracted. I jump from task to task. I seldom watch TV without my iPhone or Kindle Fire (why did I not spend the extra $200 for the iPad? And… I’ve lost focus). I use two computer monitors with several programs typically running at once.

Sound familiar? When I explain to people what exactly makes me have ADD, I get the same response at least 80% of the time, “that sounds like me.” The only difference between you and me is that I can get medication if I want it. I have ‘a history of ADHD diagnosis,’ one of the many benefits of talking too much in class. Boom.

I used to convince myself that it somehow worked for me. It was part of what made me successful. I had a unique ability to multitask, to take in information from a number of sources.

Until I started my own company. It’s amazing how much less room there is for waste when my livelihood is dictated by both the quantity and quality of my individual performance.

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This led me to study the issue.

And I kept studying. The science behind attention and the brain fit perfectly into the two topic areas that I speak on professionally (generations and communication), so I can justify that this use of my time is NOT, in fact, a distraction. I gathered some key ideas along the way:

Distraction is an epidemic. Yesterday I received 94 emails from friends about non-work related topics. YouTube links. Philosophy articles. Justin Bieber’s recent Ferrari mishap (Hollywood people problems).

None of these are necessarily bad uses of my time… taken individually. It’s just that the overwhelming number of distractions together create a recipe for a day chalk-full of waste.

  • Email overload
  • Facebook updates
  • Twitter on-demand
  • Coffee breaks, aka office gossip
  • Meetings, meetings and more meetings

We are in denial. I asked a number of my friends how they felt about the amount of time spent on various distractions. Many actually responded, with a straight face, that it didn’t affect their job performance. Either they are in complete denial, or their company should replace them with a monkey.

Why a monkey? Because no one can multi-task.

No one can multi-task. No one. Seriously. Not you. Not me. No one. Our brains were wired to keep one idea in our consciousness at a time. Every time we switch between tasks, there is a reboot period where we are forced to review past work. The result is lost time and performance quality.
If it makes you feel better, we are set up for failure. In the history of human kind, never have the tools used for work also been the source of our easiest distraction.

Here’s what I mean: Two hundred years ago, if I’m farming, I don’t have the option of turning my plow into a game where I attempt to use an ‘angry bird’ to knock down a building. The plow is used for one thing- farming.

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To add insult to injury- humankind has survived in large part by because chemicals in our brain attract us to new stimulus. When we see something new and novel, we receive a jolt of dopamine… and we like dopamine. If our brain didn’t work this way, then I don’t notice that bear coming at me from 200 yards away. And I’m now the main course.

No more grizzly bears

Today, we aren’t likely to be attacked by a grizzly bear while sitting in our cubical or at the coffee shop, rather, we get our dopamine release from all sorts of fun new information available to us at any moment with the click of the mouse.

So what do we do given that we are hardwired to do something that actually hinders our performance in today’s world? I have found a few solutions that work for me, but I am most interested in what keeps you focused throughout the daily grind. Next up, I’ll share an organized, detailed list of tips.

In the interim, it’s time for me to get back to preparing for the 90 minute speech I have to give in Seattle this afternoon.

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Written By

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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  1. Pingback: Neuro+: Video games controlled by the brain help kids and adults with ADD/ADHD - The American Genius

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