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Retrain the Brain: 3 Tips for Redirecting Office Distractions

Strategy

Between today’s devices, apps and online tools, office workers are pretty set in terms of resources for getting a job done. Unfortunately, such digital support isn’t without its downers, including a hefty amount of data, numerous alerts, and other distractions that periodically steal the spotlight over the course of a work day.

Technology: first it giveth, and then it taketh away.

Retrain the Brain

Some like to refer to this near-perpetual derailment as multi-tasking, but when distractions get more attention than tasks at hand, what we’re effectively doing is reducing our capacity to sustain attention. And that’s a big problem.

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Nicholas Carr, for example, admits that because of technology, he’s not thinking the way he used to think, and the deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

If you too are finding it tough to get a mental grip on things, even when all your gadgets are off, try these three tricks:

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1. Refocus

After your brain’s been trained to quickly jump from task to task, refocusing can be even more challenging than normal. In fact, Gloria Mark, a UC Irvine professor who studies digital distraction, says it can take some people up to twenty-three minutes to return to their task after being interrupted.

Since most of us can’t afford to take a twenty-three minute break from our main projects every time distraction calls, Srini Pillay, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, suggests retraining your brain by visualizing a reset device and saying to yourself: “I need to press the reset button and get back on track.”

If imagining a reset button isn’t enough, try assigning the reset mentality to a specific activity. Stop and listen to music, take a short walk, or get up and get a drink of water. A small break such as this can “blow out all the tension and clutter in your mind, and that can restore your focus.”

2. Restructure

Sometimes we’re so distracted that we don’t even notice we’ve lost focus. Take control of your behavior by starting the day with creating a task list, but don’t add more than five priority items. Too many things to check off can cause anxiety. Keep your list visible at all times, and set a phone alarm to go off every hour as a reminder to stay on track.

Further, we tend to be more vulnerable to distraction when we’re uncomfortable, so it’s important to plan “self-management activities” (like eating or going to the gym), says research psychologist Robert Epstein.

3. Reward

The truth of the matter is that distractions can be healthy for us, but only when we experience them in moderation. Schedule chunks of time throughout the day to check your e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and stick to it as much as you can.

“The brain benefits significantly from breaks,” explains Pillay. “You may even come back and feel more creative if you take your mind off its primary focus for a little while.”

It’s Common Sense, Guys!

Digital domination is still a fairly young phenomenon, attention is finite, and there are always exceptions to the rule. But as Michael Komie, a psychologist who teaches at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology puts it, “…multi-tasking while trying to solve a complex problem is a very bad strategy.”

How are you squashing your distraction woes? Tell us in the comments section below.

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