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Opinion Editorials

How distraction nearly destroyed my successful business

(EDITORIAL) Communication is my passion, my life’s work, but it was a distraction that was suddenly killing my thriving business. Here’s how I overcame.

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I have ADD. As a child, I never took medication. My parents weren’t against it, but they didn’t feel it was necessary. I could work well enough in spurts that my grades were still fine. I learned how to cope.

Until I started my first business.

A few years out of school, I started a company doing what I loved most in the world: helping people discover, craft, and share their message with the world. Every day, I worked with NFL players, TV personalities, and Olympians to help them communicate better to their audiences.

Me with Peyton Manning – yes, that’s actually him and no, I’m not really that short.

It was my dream job. It should have been the best time of my life. Instead, I was miserable.

It wasn’t the work that was the challenge. It was that I’d look up and I would have 43 different emails started, two text threads going, and not have a clue whether my checkbook even balanced. I couldn’t focus on the things that were critical to actually create a successful business.

Communication was my passion, my entire life’s work. And now it was also destroying my business.


Related: 4 strategies to turn your brain from distraction to action


Eventually, I hit a breaking point. I was two weeks late on a major deadline I had promised to a client–an NFL Hall of Famer, no less. What’s worse, the hall-of-famer was my grandfather’s favorite football player of all time.

What’s even worse, is that same hall-of-famer had, at my request, just recorded a personal video for my grandmother on her 90th birthday.

And here I was ghosting him. This is the third “just checking in” email he sent me–the previous two I completely ignored. It looks friendly–but it was a clear indictment.

“What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I get the work done?”

I knew it was either: get a grip on things or move back home with my parents. Something had to change.

It turns out, I’m not the only one struggling. Distraction in the workplace is an epidemic.

  • The busiest hours of Facebook are 1-3pm during the working day.
  • 60% of purchases online are purchased during working hours.
  • 87% of people admit to reading and being involved in political discussions on a weekly basis during work.
  • People lose anywhere from 1-3 hours on average every day due to personal distractions. In some industries, we lose as many as 6.

And we carry the effects with us, at home and in our bodies. We spend 60% more time connected to digital media than we do in conversation with our significant other. A study on workplace stresses found that the more pressure we feel to be available, the more likely we are to take sick days.

But there’s a way out.

Over the last ten years, I’ve been on a journey to answer the question: what does it look like to thrive in an age of constant distraction?

Using myself as the lab rat, I experimented constantly with new approaches to manage and focus my attention. I spent thousands of hours researching and interviewing CEOs, managers, and employees. I recruited a team of experts way smarter than me: an Ivy League PhD professor, a psychologist focusing on ADD, and a pastor.

Together, we discovered a surprisingly simple but profound truth: we have lost our ability to control where we place our attention. And if we are ever going to recover it, we have to revisit every aspect of our work and life. We have to learn to become wise in the way we allocate our focus–placing the right amount of attention at the right moment and in the right context.

It won’t be easy, but it is possible.


On October 9th, my first book is being published by Wiley: Can I Have Your Attention?: Inspiring Better Work Habits, Focusing Your Team, and Getting Stuff Done in the Constantly Connected Workplace. It’s the culmination of everything I’ve learned about the science of attention and how to utilize it in the workplace: a comprehensive and holistic approach to become focus wise in the way we approach life and work. I can’t wait to share it with you.

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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Opinion Editorials

3 things to do if you *really* want to be an ally to women in tech

(EDITORIAL) Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce.

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More and more women are leaving their positions with tech companies, citing lack of opportunity for advancement, wage gaps and even hostile working conditions as some of the reasons why.

What’s better for the tech industry and its employees than cultivating inclusive and diverse departments? Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce. To name a few:

1. Be open to listening to different perspectives.

It can be awkward to hear so many reports of workplace politics stacking against women, especially if you’re not a woman!

Instead of getting uncomfortable or defensive – ask open ended questions and be interested in a perspective that isn’t yours and may be unfamiliar.

Don’t seek to rationalize or explain the experiences you’re hearing about, as that can come off as condescending. It’s common for women to be interrupted or spoken over in team gatherings. If you notice this happening, bring the conversation back to where the interruption began. Offering your ear and counting yourself as responsible for making space will improve the overall quality of communication in your company.

Listening to and validating what women have to say about the quality of their employment with a company is an important step in the right direction.

Expressing something as simple as “I was interested in what you had to say – could you elaborate on your thought?” can help.

2. Develop an Employee Resource Group (ERG) program.

An ERG is a volunteer-based, employee-led group that acts as a resource for a particular group of employees. An ERG can help to foster inclusiveness through discussion, team-building activities and events. It’s common for a department to have only one or two women on the roster.

This can mean that the day to day feels disconnected from concerns commonly shared by women. disjointed it might feel to be on a high performing team, without access to relatable conversations.

3. Be responsible for your company’s culture.

Chances are, your company already has some amazing cultural values in place. That said, how often are you checking your own performance and your co-workers performances against those high standards? Strong company culture and values sound great, but whether or not they’re adhered to can make or break the mood of a work environment.

Many women say they’ve experienced extremely damaging and toxic cultural environments, which lead to hostility, frustration, and even harassment. Take action when you see the new woman uncomfortable with being hit on at team drinks.

Call out those who make unfriendly and uncouth comments about how women perform, look, or behave.

Setting a personal threshold for these kinds of microaggressions can help you lead by example, and will help build a trustworthy allyship.

(This article was first published here in November, 2016.)

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Opinion Editorials

Serial procrastinator? Your issue isn’t time management

(EDITORIAL) Need a hack for your time management? Try focusing on your energy management.

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productivity

Your author has a confession to make; as a “type B” personality who has always struggled with procrastination, I am endlessly fascinated by the topic of productivity and “hacking your time.”

I’ve tried most of the tricks you’ve read about, with varying degrees of success.

Recently, publishers like BBC have begun to approach productivity from a different perspective; rather than packing days full of to-do items as a way to maximize time, the key is to maximize your mental energy through a different brand of time management.

So, why doesn’t time management work?

For starters, not all work time is quality time by nature. According to a study published at ScienceDirect, your average worker is interrupted 87 times a day on the job. For an 8-hour day, that’s almost 11 times per hour. No wonder it’s so hard to stay focused!

Second, time management implies a need to fill time in order to maximize it.

It’s the difference between “being busy” and “being productive.”

It also doesn’t impress your boss; a Boston University study concluded that “managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to.” By contrast, managing your energy lets you maximize your time based on how it fits with your mental state.

Now, how do you manage your energy?

First, understand and protect the time that should actually go into deep, focused work. Studies continually show that just a few hours of focused worked yield the greatest results; try to put in longer hours behind that, and you’ll see diminishing returns. There’s a couple ways you can accomplish this.

You can block off time in your day dedicated to focused work, and guard the time as if it were a meeting. You could also physically retreat to a private space in order to work on a task.

Building in flexibility is another key to managing your energy. The BBC article references a 1980s study that divided students into two groups; one group planned out monthly goals, while the other group planned out daily goals and activities. The study found the monthly planners accomplished more of their goals, because the students focusing on detailed daily plans often found them foiled by the unexpected.

Moral of the story?

Don’t lock in your schedule too tightly; leave space for the unexpected.

Finally, you should consider making time for rest, a fact reiterated often by the BBC article. You’ve probably heard the advice before that taking 17 minute breaks for every 52 minutes worked is important, and studies continue to show that it is. However, rest also includes taking the time to turn your brain off of work mode entirely.

The BBC article quotes associated professor of psychiatry Srini Pillay as saying that, “[people] need to use both the focus ad unfocus circuits in the brain,” in order to be fully productive. High achievers like Serena Williams, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates build this into their mentality and their practice.

Embracing rest and unfocused thinking may be key to “embracing the slumps,” as the BBC article puts it.

In conclusion, by leaving some flexibility in your schedule and listening to your body and mind, you can better tailor your day to your mental state and match your brainpower to the appropriate task. As someone who is tempted to keep a busy to-do list myself, I am excited to reevaluate and improve my own approach. Maybe you should revisit your own systems as well.

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Opinion Editorials

How the Bullet Journal method has been hijacked and twisted

(EDITORIAL) I’m a big fan of the Bullet Journal method, but sticker-loving tweens have hijacked the movement. Worry not, I’m still using black and white bullet points with work tasks (not “pet cat,” or “smile more”).

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bullet journal

It’s taken me some time to come around to the Bullet Journal method, because it took me some time to fully understand it (I have a tendency to overthink simplicity). Now that I understand the use, I find it very beneficial for my life and my appreciation for pen-to-paper.

In short, it’s a quick and simple system for organization tasks and staying focused with everything you have going on. All you need to employ this method is a journal with graph or dotted paper, and a pen. Easy.

However, there seems to be this odd truth that: we find ways to simplify complicated things, and we find ways to complicate simple things. The latter is exactly what’s happened with the Bullet Journal method, thanks to creative people who show the rest of us up.

To understand what I’m talking about, open up Instagram (or Pinterest, or even Google) and just search “bullet journal.” You’ll soon find post after post of frilly, sticker-filled, calligraphy-laden journal pages.

The simple method of writing down bullets of tasks has been hijacked to become a competitive art form.

Don’t get me wrong, I like looking at this stuff because I dig the creativity. But, do I have time to do that myself? No! For honesty’s sake, I’ve tried just for fun and it takes too much damn time.

With this is mind, this new-found method of Bullet Journaling as an art is something that: a) defeats the purpose of accomplishing tasks quickly as you’re setting yourself back with the nifty art, and b) entrepreneurs, freelancers, executives, or anyone busy would not have time for.

Most of these people posting artistic Bullet Journal pages on Instagram are younger and have more time on their hands (and if you want to spend your time doing that, do you, man).

But, it goes against the simplistic method of Bullet Journaling. The intent of the method.

And, beneath the washi tape, stickers, and different colored pens, usually lies a list of: put away laundry, feed cat, post on Insta. So, this is being done more for the sake of art than for employing the method.

Again, I’m all for art and for people following their passions and creativities, but it stands to reason that this should be something separate from the concept of Bullet Journaling, as it has become a caricature of the original method.

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