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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.

Business News

Hobby Lobby increases minimum wage, but how much is just to save face?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Are their efforts to raise their minimum wage to $17/hour sincere, or more about saving face after bungling pandemic concerns?

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Hobby Lobby storefront

The arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby announced this week that they will be raising their minimum full-time wage to $17/hour starting October 1st. This decision makes them the latest big retailer to raise wages during the pandemic (Target raised their minimum wage to $15/hour about three months ago, and Walmart and Amazon have temporarily raised wages). The current minimum wage for Hobby Lobby employees is $15/hour, which was implemented in 2014.

While a $17 minimum wage is a big statement for the company (even a $15 minimum wage cannot be agreed upon on the federal level) – and it is no doubt a coveted wage for the majority of the working class – it’s difficult to not see this move as an attempt to regain public support of the company.

When the pandemic first began, Hobby Lobby – with more than 900 stores and 43,000 employees nationwide – refused to close their stores despite being deemed a nonessential business (subsequently, a Dallas judge accused the company of endangering public health).

In April, Hobby Lobby furloughed almost all store employees and the majority of corporate and distribution employees without notice. They also ended emergency leave pay and suspended the use of company-provided paid time off benefits for employees during the furloughs – a decision that was widely criticized by the public, although the company claims the reason for this was so that employees would be able to take full advantage of government handouts during their furlough.

However, the furloughs are not Hobby Lobby’s first moment under fire. The Oklahoma-based Christian company won a 2014 Supreme Court case – the same year they initially raised their minimum wage – that granted them the right to deny their female employees insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Also, Hobby Lobby settled a federal complaint in 2017 that accused them of purchasing upwards of 5,000 looted ancient Iraqi artifacts, smuggled through the United Arab Emirates and Israel – which is simultaneously strange, exploitative, and highly controversial.

Why does this all matter? While raising their minimum wage to $17 should be regarded as a step in the right direction regarding the overall treatment of employees (and, hopefully, $17 becomes the new standard), Hobby Lobby is not without reason to seek favorable public opinion, especially during a pandemic. Yes, we should be quick to condone the action of increasing minimum wage, but perhaps be a little skeptical when deeming a company “good” or “bad”.

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Business News

RIP office culture: How work from home is destroying the economy

(BUSINESS NEWS) It’s not just your empty office left behind: Work from home is drastically changing cities’ economies in more ways than you think.

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An empty meeting room, unfilled by work from home employees.

It’s been almost six months since the U.S. went into lockdown due to COVID-19 and the CDC’s subsequent safety guidelines were issued – it’s safe to say that it is not business as usual. Everyone from restaurant waitstaff to start-up executives have been affected by the shift to work-from-home. Even as restrictions slowly begin to lift, it seems as though the office workspace – regarded as the vital venue for the U.S. economy – will never truly be the same.

Though economists have been focusing largely on small businesses and start-ups, we are only just beginning to understand the impact that not going back into the white-collar office will have on the economy.

The industries that support white-collar office culture in major cities have become increasingly emaciated. The coffee shops, food trucks, and food delivery companies that catered to the white-collar workforce before, during, and after their workday, are no longer in high demand (Starbucks reported a loss of $2 billion this year, which they attribute to Zoomification). Airlines have also been affected as business travel typically accounts for 60%-70% of all air travel.

Also included are high-end hotels, which accommodate the traveling business class. Pharmacies, florists, and gyms located in business districts have become ghost towns. Office supplies companies, such as Xerox, have suffered. Workwear brands such as J. Crew and Brooks Brothers have filed for bankruptcy, as there is no longer a need to dress for the office.

In Manhattan – arguably the country’s most notorious white-collar business mecca – at least 1,200 restaurants have been permanently lost. It is also is predicted that the one-third of all small businesses will close.

Additionally, the borough is facing twice as many apartment vacancies as this time last year, due to the flight of workers no longer tied to midtown offices. Workers have realized their freedom to seek more affordable and spacious residence outside the city. As companies decentralize from cities and rent prices drop, it isn’t all bad news. There is promise that particular urban white-collar neighborhoods will start to become accessible to the working class once again.

Some companies, like Pinterest and REI, are reporting that their shift to work from home is in fact permanent. The long-term effects of deserted office buildings are yet to make themselves evident. What we do know is that the decline of the white-collar office will force us to reimagine the great American cities – with so much lost due to the coronavirus, what can now be gained?

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Business News

2020 Black Friday shopping may break the mold

(BUSINESS NEWS) Home Depot states their new plan for deals and discounts over two months, in place of a 1-day Black Friday event.

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Men shopping in an empty aisle, Black Friday to come?

Humans change and adapt – that’s just in our nature. Retail stores have struggled to maintain their sales goals for years as more and more people move to ordering online. Online prices still seem to be within customer expectations and often come with free shipping. Additionally, people that may have preferred to shop in an actual brick-and-mortar store have changed their shopping habits dramatically in 2020; it’s hard to social distance and be safe in crowded stores or in small aisles. Black Friday may be next to change.

Amazon and other big box store’s online ordering platforms have simplified getting what you need delivered right to your front door. According to Statista, “Amazon was responsible for 45% of US e-commerce spending in 2019 – a figure which is expected to rise to 47% in 2020.”

Retailers count on the holiday season, specifically Black Friday deals (the day after Thanksgiving), to bring in up to 20% of their annual revenue. It’s hard to just remove that option completely. But considering the times of social distancing, wearing masks in public, and especially avoiding large crowds, the tradition of Black Friday will need to look different this year.

It will also be interesting to see what supply chain disruptions from early 2020 will have the most effect this shopping season. We saw predictions in March that said the United States would see the biggest disruptions in about six months. Black Friday falls right on that timeline.

Home Depot has announced their plans to go ahead and give the deals over a two month span, starting in early November through December (both online and in stores with the possibility of adding some special deals around the actual Black Friday date) to help encourage a more steady stream of shoppers versus so many packing in on the same day.

The home improvement chain has actually seen a great sales year. This is likely due to people working from home and being interested in doing more home projects (and possibly having a bit more time to do them as well). As of May 2020, “The Home Depot®, the world’s largest home improvement retailer, today reported sales of $28.3 billion for the first quarter of fiscal 2020, a 7.1 percent increase from the first quarter of fiscal 2019. Comparable sales for the first quarter of fiscal 2020 were positive 6.4 percent, and comparable sales in the U.S. were positive 7.5 percent.”

Home Depot, along with many other retailers like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have confirmed that they will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, which may not be new for all of them but has always signaled the kickoff of the holiday shopping season.

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