By Laura McDermott
Ever sit down to work on a report, but spend an hour responding to emails instead? Or completed a full day’s list of to-do’s without really tackling anything important?
In a time when “Google” is officially a verb, the news never stops, and people are sleeping with their Blackberries under their pillow, it’s no wonder people are feeling endlessly distracted, interrupted, overwhelmed, busy (but not necessarily productive), and stressed from information saturation.
The brain is designed to think, analyze, deduce, and create; yet in the world of more-better-faster, it can seem like there’s only enough time to react. Simply deciding where to direct our attention, and then maintaining it, has become quite a difficult undertaking. Rather than succumb to a life full of reactions and distractions, try retraining the brain to better focus attention.
Recognize that there are limits to human attention.
Despite people’s best efforts, there really are limits to human attention. Take for example, the common instance of not remembering someone’s name after they introduce themselves. Without focused attention, it is virtually impossible to absorb new information.
Multi-tasking may seem like the only way to get everything done, but research has shown that in doing more than one thing at a time, people are actually less efficient, less productive and more prone to error. Not to mention, multi-tasking raises stress levels and leads to burnout, fast. Challenge the urge to multi-task everything. Decide which people and tasks require your full attention, and give it. Leave the multi-tasking to mindless tasks.
Build stronger filters.
To absorb a news story on any cable news network, you have to filter out the streaming headlines, news updates, and financial tickers on the bottom of the screen. Applying this kind of filtering to other mediums of information requires practice. Use technology to your advantage by getting rid of unnecessary alerts, cc’s, mass emails, and pop-ups.
Create absorption time.
If people are open to information 24 hours a day, there’s no time for the brain to relax, process, and absorb. Try not checking for new messages every 20 seconds. Every so often, turn off all devices and become technologically unavailable. By giving yourself time to absorb information, learn, and grow, you may feel less overwhelmed. If finding time is difficult, create it, like an appointment for yourself.
Bouncing back and forth between working on a report, checking emails or the latest news, and changing your background music, is a classic example of self-interruption. Catch yourself and refocus. Say “Stop” out loud if you have to. Finish your report and then check your email.