Do you have a million things huffing and puffing in your mind claiming? Just when you think you have regained focus you lose your concentration to something else? Well, as bad as this distracted work-life may sound it is not bad after all. If a study results are to be believed then getting easily distracted at work actually means you are intelligent. Who would have thought, eh?
According to the research (reported in The Telegraph) done by workplace solutions company Steelcase, about half of more than 10,000 workers who participated in a survey in 17 countries said that they struggled to concentrate in the office thanks to technology. The report further quotes that on an average an office worker gets distracted smartphones once every three minutes which is about 221 times a day. This is a 200 percent increase in average time spent on mobile phones since 2012 GlobalWebIndex! Should this be the new referral point of one’s intelligence?
What exactly causes distraction? For starters, distraction isn’t a result of an interfering, external stimuli. It has as much to do with internal thoughts. No matter how much we grapple and think we can multi-task we end up putting a great deal of pressure on the three-pound organ: the brain.
In an article published by Steelcase, David Meyer, a faculty member at the University of Michigan says, “Many people today aren’t aware of how much they’re degrading their mental processes as they attempt to multitask throughout the day. On a small scale, this may mean errors in our emails that make our intended meaning unclear; on a larger scale, it can mean a serious accident due to texting while driving.
While the study may claim that it is the intelligent people who are often the most distracted, all of us can try to make things easier for ourselves. Have a look at a few ways to take the load off our minds, manage your attention span and become productive, once again.
Train your brain to be mindful
Be present in the present. If you have a report due to be given today then work on it instead of working on something which is due for next week. This state of continuous partial attention you are unknowingly throwing yourself into will only make you feel inadequate and overwhelmed.
The same Steelcase article has Beatriz Arantes, a WorkSpace Futures researcher and organizational psychologist saying this: “Essentially, engaging in mindfulness means that we are practicing our ability to recognize when our minds have wandered and gaining ability to redirect our attention. The process of nonjudgmental observation of thought trains your brain and allows you to calm your responses and maintain more emotional stability. The more we practice this, the better we get at it.”
Understand and respect your brain’s limitations
We cannot work all day long with the same attention-span y. Our brain consumes a great deal of energy while it’s at work and does need to rest too. Overworking it by multi-tasking only means exploiting our brain. The lesson we need to learn is accepting our brain’s limitations.
In this regard Steelcase researchers and designers identified three brain modes that each require distinct behaviors and settings:
- Focus: When you are working on something leave everything behind and F.O.C.U.S. Dump the internal and external stimuli because they will hijack your focus. You think your phone’s getting in the way? Switch it off or turn off the mobile data.
- Regenerate + Inspire: Understand that “distractions can be opportunities to give our brain the timeout it needs and then let our minds go where they will.” A study, as a matter of fact, suggests that a wandering mind is a sign of greater intelligence! Professor Schumacher who helped lead this said, "Our findings remind me of the absent-minded professor – someone who's brilliant, but off in his or her own world, sometimes oblivious to their own surroundings," said Schumacher. "Or school children who are too intellectually advanced for their classes. While it may take five minutes for their friends to learn something new, they figure it out in a minute, then check out and start daydreaming."
- Activate: Don’t sit for long. Move. A study published in Computers in Human Behavior concluded that those who read something at a treadmill desk not just healthier but also smarter. Also, the Neurophysiological measures demonstrated increased attention and memory after walking.
What does your office space look like?
You should know what sets you off-track and how you can avoid paying the cognitive cost of losing focus. Observe and make the most of your office space. Do you have spots at work where you can limit distraction? Perhaps book a meeting room where you are sure no one can interrupt you? Or if you want to brainstorm can you gather around a collaborative work desk which allows movement? Do you have adjustable workstations which allow you to work while you’re standing? In a boardroom meeting do you have a whiteboard you can use to write down your ideas because these written cues help you think better?
Take charge of your emotions
When you are distracted you feel overwhelmed. You experience a range of emotions – frustration, anger, anxiety — that take a toll on your productivity. Break this cycle. Have a conversation with yourself and do stuff that calms you down. This way you will stop dwelling in a state of mind that’s working against you.
Other points of action include the following:
- Limit the time spent on social media both on the desktop or smart phone. There’s an app you can install on your browsers as well as phones which tell you how much time you spend on which site. The data can help you keep away from those sites.
- Who do you sit next to? Often their behaviour can spill onto you and you may unknowingly replicate the same. Are they too distracted themselves and avoiding work? Chances are that it will impact your productivity too.
- Take care of your body. Eat well. Stay hydrated.
- Take breaks and step out of office for a while with or without colleagues.
As important it is to work distraction-free it is equally important that you know the source and then act upon claiming your peace of mind. Worth a shot, right?