Friday, November 19, 2010

Working Efficiency Distractions Degrades Quality and Quantity of Our Work Output

Tags: Work Distractions Efficiency Harmed Lack Concentrated Attention Brain Organizes Processes Information Subconsciously

Dylan Ratigan Driven to Distraction Nov 18, 2010,

On Thursday on Dylan Ratigan on MSNBC, 4 PM ET and 1 PM PT, M-Fri, Tony Schwartz gives us good tips on how to live a better life. Today he explained how we are driven to distraction so much by multitasking that we take longer to learn or complete a project. If we are distracted during our main task such as reading, planning, or trying to solve a problem, he said it takes an average of 20 minutes to get back to full concentration. Scientific studies back his conclusions.

Considering how well he explains things on the air and at schools as a consultant, his book should be a joy to read if we are not distracted trying to do something else such as listening to music or watching television or on the net.

The Way We're Working Isn't Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance [Hardcover] Tony Schwartz and coauthors $15.13

Schwartz quotes Herbert Simon about the Wealth of Information we consume.

“What information consumes is rather obvious. It consumes the attention of its recipients.

Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

I haven’t read this book, but here is what I do to increase what I retain from net articles, magazines, newspapers, and books.

First I try to limit what I read on the Net based on what information or opinion is important to me. I first skim several paragraphs to determine whether it is worth reading. Then I copy the single page mode of the article to my word processor with the net link. Then I turn off my browser and e-mail or just keep the ear phones connected so it blocks any sound.

If careful reading the first page does not satisfy me as to the thinking or facts in the article, I immediately delete it.

I try to limit the websites I go to and have an alarm set for one hour to force me to take a short break. This helps me concentrate better for long tasks. Some writers go on a treadmill during the break. I just go on my mini-trampoline to exercise and get my lungs working for a few minutes.

When I read anything serious, I don’t even listen to music. I can concentrate so well that sometimes I don’t even hear a kitchen alarm which is quite loud or college kids playing basketball or volley ball outside my office window. I found that I remember information remarkably well so I do not need to see the references again.

If you are an easily distracted person which now seems to include just about everyone, it will take time to develop the ability to concentrate for extended periods of time.

When Nicholas Carr, a former book editor, wrote a column on the web for a while, he began to have a hard time sitting down and reading a serious book for more than 15 minutes. He started doing research to learn why. In Boston he tried to write a book, but he was so distracted there that he and his wife moved to a small town in Colorado isolated from everyone with only a poor internet connection. His book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, 2010, shows up in his thinking problem, but gets better as the book progresses.

How well we think depends on what is stored in our brains and not on the Internet. From mice studies to functional MRI on humans, we find that geniuses have an extraordinary ability to process and organize information in their Thalamus and Striatum without conscious thoughts. This is how Einstein came out with his Relativity Theories well before he proved them mathematically with the help of his wife who was better at math.

Even our Prefrontal Cortex has an emotion brain section attached behind it to make decisions. When it was removed, the patients lost all ability to make decisions.

Emotions are involved in everything that we think we do just objectively.

A postal worker injured in an auto accident remained in a coma for several days in the hospital. When he regained consciousness, he feared that he will no longer be able to stay in the Mensa genius society. When he left the hospital he retook the test and got the same high IQ score. He found he could no longer do the work required at the Post Office before automation because it involved planning, making the best decisions, and similar activities we all take for granted.

Unfortunately we rely heavily on IQ scores and the rating or grads from prep or high schools to determine who goes to the best schools. Other factors need to be considered are the passion for learning and imagination.

The so-called Emotional Intelligence seems to be the smartest part of our brain. That might be the reason corporations are now looking more towards public colleges such as in the Midwest to recruit new employees. My experience with Ivy graduates at Merck, Union Carbide, and Rutgers University as an Adjunct Professor showed me that many of those from the best schools are not as good as we like to think on average. Many don’t have the imagination to support a quick learning ability to be other than a me too researcher.

Perhaps the distraction factor accounts for the fact that only half of the seniors in Ivy League colleges could place the Civil War within a ten year period in a multiple choice test!

Jim Kawakami, Nov 19, 2010,

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