Why We Get Distracted So Easily and What You Can Do About It

This is a guest post by Barbara Jolie

According to a recent study as reported in 2007 by Live Science, neuroscientists discovered that we become distracted from specific tasks that require our in-depth concentration simply because other parts of our brains suddenly ‘light up’ based on outside stimuli.

The scientists said that our brains process the outside world in two different ways. What they call the ‘top down’ approach, which is a controlled sort of focus on a single concept or activity, and an automatic focus, which is basically what happens when, say, a sudden noise makes you jump.

Of course, scientists have always known that brains work this way. The surprise of this article is in where the signals originate from within the brain. They come from different parts of the brain, depending upon the activity and stimulus. This means that it is very hard for us to control those distractions by simply focusing harder on our important tasks. Author of the findings, Earl Miller, told Live Science, “Anything that stands out as different from everything else—like a red apple in the middle of a green field—tends to grab your attention.”

So, given this new information, the question is this: how can we deal with distractions, especially when we’ve started a project that requires our full attention?

Knowing is Half the Battle

You’re probably familiar with the saying, “Knowing is half the battle.” What this means for your battle against distractions is that if you know how your brain responds to external distractions, you can be aware of what’s happening as you become distracted. Being aware of the fact that you are being distracted will help you get back on task. Your internal monologue should go something like this:

“The red apple is distracting me, but I know it’s distracting me, so it’s not really a distraction anymore.” By thinking these thoughts, you can actually minimize the distraction and get back to the task at hand. Distractions work because they distract you unconsciously, so if you can be conscious of them, you can shift away from them.

Control Your Work Environment

Another thing to do is to set up your work environment so as to minimize all external distractions. Think of the apple in the green field. If the field were, say, covered with red and brown leaves, the red apple wouldn’t stand out so much. So a suggestion is to make potential distractions fade in the background. Use noise-canceling headphones. Turn off your cell phone. Put up a sign that says you’re busy. Restrict your internet browser to the sites you need to get the project done.

Reward Yourself with Breaks

If you build breaks into your work schedule, then you’ll be less likely to succumb to the temptation of distraction. Sure, you’ll still deal with distractions, but you most likely won’t let them run you off course. By having a break to look forward to, you can save that distraction—say, an email from a friend—for later. The grind of working on the project won’t be nearly as tough to endure if you know you have a break every few hours.

Handle Distractions Quickly

Finally, and this ties back in with my first tip, when you do experience a distraction become aware of it as soon as possible. Your awareness – by standing back – and observing yourself you will realize what is distracting you. If an emergency arises in your email inbox, don’t minimize the project on your computer and react to this distraction giving it more of your attention and power, instead rise above it by becoming aware of it and then choose your course of action.

1 Comment

  • Incognito

    Reply Reply October 13, 2016

    Haha, the irony. I am distracted from my work reading this article.

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