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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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How employers should react to the new age discrimination court ruling

(BUSINESS NEWS) A court case that could likely land in the Supreme Court is one that all employers should react to and prepare for.

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In January, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that then 58-year-old Dale Kleber did not get protection against age discrimination from CareFusion as a job applicant.

For employers, there are some important takeaways. Namely, that Kleber v CareFusion does not give employers open season to only hire young workers.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects employees against age discrimination. There are also protections against disparate treatment under ADEA.

Basically, employers cannot intentionally discriminate against aged applicants. When posting a job, that means you should never advertise for someone under the age of 40 when posting job descriptions.

While Federal law may not apply to older applicants, the Texas Labor Code,  for example prohibits discrimination against people over 40 years of age. Employers should be very aware of inequity throughout the hiring process, whether you’re looking at internal or external candidates. You do not want to be a test case for age discrimination.

How can you avoid violating ADEA and other applicable laws?

First, you should work with your legal counsel and HR department to make sure you are following the law. If you are accused of age discrimination, you should talk to your lawyer before responding. It’s a serious complaint that you shouldn’t try to answer on your own.

Next, go through your job postings to make them age-neutral unless there is a reason for hiring someone under the age of 40. The legal term for this is Bona Fide Occupational Definition. The qualifications can’t be arbitrary. There must be industry standards that determine a definable group of employees cannot perform the job safely.  

Words in applications matter. Don’t ask for GPA or SAT scores. Avoid things like “digital native,” “high-energy,” or “overqualified.” These terms indicate that you’re looking for someone young.  

You should also update application forms that request birthdays or graduation dates. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, you should structure interviews around skill sets, not personal information.

Train those responsible for hiring about the current laws in your state.

Make your managers aware of bias, both conscious and unconscious. It’s not age discrimination that runs afoul of the law, and you must be prepared to confront any situation where it occurs.

Talk about age bias and discrimination in your workplace. Don’t assume that older workers aren’t tech savvy or that they don’t want to keep their skills current. Instead of putting generations against each other, have a multigeneration workplace.

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Business News

Cities are fighting back against the motorized scooter companies

(BUSINESS NEWS) The scooter wars are on, and major cities are filled with them – residents and government are finally fighting back.

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When the scooter-pocalypse began, it seemed to come out of nowhere. One day, the most annoying thing in downtown traffic was maybe a pedicab, and then the next: a swarm of zippy electric razor scooters.

This sudden arrival was by design: companies like Lime and Uber’s JUMP simply just began offering their services. There was no negotiation with the city, no opportunity even for residents to say whether or not the scooter pick-up stations could be located in front of their houses—just a sudden horde of scooters (for the record, this do-it-first and then ask permission approach was replicated in all major cities across the United States).

Was this illegal? Nope. There was nothing on the law books about the rental scooter technology so there was technically nothing wrong with the companies just assuming that they could do what they wanted. (Some scooterists have since come to think the same thing, committing crimes and breaking rules.)

Now, enough time has passed for cities to have the opportunity to fight back, as a new year of legislative sessions has begun. San Francisco is one such community, which determined that only permitted companies could operate within the city limits—and, surprise, many of the don’t-ask-permission companies were not given these permits.

Lime, blocked from operating, filed a suit against the city saying that they had been discriminated against based on their … rude … arrival.

A judge has since ruled that there was no bias in the city’s review of the permit applications that were later not awarded to Lime.

As the legislation and the lawsuits play out over the next year, it will be interesting to see if the scooter company’s attitudes toward the cities they operate in change.

If, as they have said all along, they desire to be the next major innovation in urban infrastructure, then they need to be prepared to work with and grow alongside the communities that they inhabit.

It would be a wise move, then, to partner with local governments to ensure that both organizations are working in the best interest of the populations that they serve. 

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One state could make it illegal to ask a job applicant’s age, graduation dates

(CAREER) A recent court ruling makes ageism against job applicants legal, but at least one state is taking action.

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In late 2018, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled 8-4 that Congress intended the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) to only cover current employees, not job applicants during late 2018 with the case Kleber v. CareFusion Inc.

The verdict seemed to confirm what many older applicants have experienced: while they may have the necessary qualifications for a position they are often overlooked for younger candidates. The confirmed legality of such dishonorable bias is disheartening.

One state is stepping up to rectify this practice: Connecticut. Democratic Reps. Derek Slap of West Hartford and Robyn Porter of New Haven have proposed legislation that would fight ageism in hiring processes by making it illegal for employer to ask applicants for their dates of birth or school graduation dates.

According to the Hartford Courant, when asked about the legislation’s intention, Rep. Slap replied that such questions, “allow employers to vet our seniors before they even go in to their job interview.”

Candidates who may be older and entering the job market should keep their wits about them. While they are creating and reviewing their resumes and cover letters, they should reach out to other people in their field and make sure that they aren’t using dated conventions.

If they are pressed to provide information that indicate their ages during in-person interviews. Even if the questions are technically legal, applicants can try to assuage fears of being out-of-touch wit current market trends or technology by coming prepared to the discussion ready to highlight recent projects or experiences that illustrate on-the-pulse market fluency.  (For more tips on how to deal with these kind of awkward situations, check out this article.)

The initiative that Connecticut has taken in addressing this problem is likely to inspire more lawmakers across the country to follow suit.

But we don’t have to wait for it to be illegal for people to understand that this practice is unfair. If you are not an older candidate but an existing employee (and therefore covered by laws that say age discrimination is illegal), keep an eye out for how you, your colleagues, and your company speak about more experienced workers.  Sometimes the quickest way to change harmful practices is by having a direct conversation about an uncomfortable topic. 

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