Lack of Focus is Corporate America's Obesity

‘Digital distraction’ is a hot topic.  With the new iPhone days away and the new Samsung Note just released, early sales indications show that we are all addicted to our smartphone and connected devices.  Recent research indicates that we touch, tap, and swipe our devices 2,641 times a day and according to Deloitte’s 2017 research that smartphone ownership in the US is now over 82%.  Deloitte argue that device usage is now driving digital etiquette and just like ‘elbows on the table’ at dinner, there are a lot of opinions. 

Digital Distraction is highly addictive

There is now good brain science research about the impact digital distraction is having and the challenge is it’s highly addictive.  Our brains love the devices and the novelty effect of the content, and due to the dopamine hit our neurons get when we use them, we suck it up like ‘sugar’!   

The device manufacturers are recognizing the issues and providing features to control or manage usage.  Facebook and the other content providers are making grand statements about redesigning their platforms and user experience to make it ‘healthier’.  The fact remains that these lofty ambitions run counter to the commercial need to get you to stick to their content longer. The bigger dilemma in corporate and professional life however is it’s consequence…Lack of Focus.

Future skills requirements 

In 2016 The World Economic Forum published it’s ‘The Future of Jobs’ report and highlighted the top 10 skills that will be required to adapt to work in 2020. 

The critical skills all fall on the softer and cognitive end of the spectrum with the ‘big 4 C’s’ all right up there:

  • Complex Problem Solving
  • Critical Thinking
  • Creativity
  • Cognitive flexibility

And here’s the issue…

These types of cognitive behavior are exactly the type of skills we are disrupting through ‘Digital Distraction’, ‘Email Overload’, and ‘Death by Conference call’.  To the brain these issues are the physical health equivalent of too much sugar, couch surfing, and transfats….and we are doing it to ourselves.  

I know you are going to want to understand more about this topic and I highly recommend the book The Distracted Mind by Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen.  They even made it into a great PBS TV special that you can get access to on Amazon Prime

 The effect of these burnout inducing behaviors is our brains double down on the behavior inducing that other big corporate curse, PROCRASTINATION.  Due to the overwhelming interruptions and the sense of overload and even burnout, we naturally distract ourselves to feel better.  This involves using various avoidance and procrastination methods to not have to double down and focus on the less immediately fulfilling objectives. 

Distractions are disrupting our productivity

And these distractions and interruptions are mentally stressful.  They are actually tied to our limbic systems and the Amygdala’s “flight or fight” response.  The mental response to that ding of the inbox, or tweet of the text message are the primordial equivalent of a rustle in the grass on a dark night.  Our brain releases the chemicals to become hyper aware of everything else.  But when we then find the distraction is pleasing it invokes a dopamine release and suddenly we want more pleasant novelty and distraction from that threat and….so the sad story of distraction and procrastination continues. 

And Focus is hard!  Our brains utilize a set of pathways called Executive Function Networks to drive focus on specific cognitive work.  Our short term memory driven by the Hippocampus where we have to leverage what we are working on immediately has very limited capacity and can’t deal with many items.  So, poof!… in comes a distraction/interruption, and that focus is lost.  Research has now shown it can take up to 25 minutes to refocus back on that topic to get started again. 

Further the latest research is showing that the more distracted we become, the harder we find it to focus in general.  That explains why people who can control their environment are generally able to gain focus quicker and for longer periods, than people who are constantly juggling and ‘multitasking.  (there’s no such thing by the way!).  It’s not that they are physiologically different they’ve just conditioned themselves to be more effective that way. 

That’s a challenge for all executives looking at the big 4 ‘C’ skill requirements of the WEF Jobs Report.  The productivity and performance effectiveness of their increasingly expensive knowledge workers is being degraded by the very technologies and working practices we are driving them to. 

Prescription for improvement

So just like with physical fitness and wellness, we need strategies to help our expensive team members and employees be more successful in managing this.   The prescription just as with physical fitness is frighteningly straight forward: 

  1. Teach everyone the fundamentals of the way their brain and mind works so they can understand what their behaviors and environment is doing to their cognitive processes (start here to learn about your brain) 
  1. Train and enable them with cognitive tools that stimulate whole brain thinking and provide a framework for greater mental efficiency and focus and a platform for global lifelong learning…then support and enable them to use them (Mind Mapping) 
  1. Arm them with strategies that enable them to manage their environment and support behaviors that increase their capacity to focus and be creative (see chunking and pomodoro technique) 

MindMapUSA provides consulting and programs of training, coaching and consulting in Mind Mapping and strategies for more effective performance.  The courses teach globally applicable skills then reinforce with a workshop approach that applies that skill and knowledge into the professional domain of functional teams in your organization.  Please contact us to explore how we can help you: 

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