The New Year always ushers in another opportunity to take a stab at a few things that seem to be dragging us down. But which things should we focus on? Maybe the answer is in the question. The modern world has given us infinite choices: Everything is on demand all the time; everyone can reach us in fractions of seconds. Our technology buzzes, rings, pings, vibrates and blinks all day, every day. And that doesn't say anything about the human disruptions: The co-workers who barge in on us; the family members who drop by unannounced. We live in a world riddled with distractions and many of us lack the tools to deal with it.
And screens. Everywhere, the screens. Even in those moments when we're waiting for something or somebody, we don't take a minute for a deep thought; we practically seek out distraction.
"We’re conditioned to bring out our iPhone, open up a laptop, look up at the television screen," said Ned Hallowell, a psychologist and author of the new book from from the Harvard Business Review Press, Driven to Distraction at Work. "I’m not saying let’s go back to a world without screens. I’m just saying what we have to do is put ourselves in charge of them and not let them be in charge of us."
Hallowel says we need to recognize that we have more control over our lives that we tend to think.
"We haven't learned how to recreate boundaries," he said. "You do have demands from other forces. But no one forces you to check your email at 3:00 a.m."
Don't pick up the phone every time it rings. Try not to get anxious from those blinking message lights. And realized, the brain is incapable of what we typically think of as multitasking. According to Hallowell, once you take back control, the rest can be handled by taking care of your brain:
- Sleep. "People say 'I'm too busy. I've got to stay up late.' Most of the time they're staying up late screen-sucking."
- Eat. "Eating right doesn't take time. It just takes selection."
- Exercise. "People say, 'I don't have time to exercise.' My answer is 'you don't have time not to.'"
- Meditation. "It only takes a few minutes, a couple of times a day. It's a way of cleaning up your brain.
At the office, he suggests a quick burst of exercise will do the trick. Take a walk. Do some pushups even. And find some people along the way. Positive human contact is the universal antidote for clearing the mind, resetting your focus and slowing the world down for just a little while.
It may sound like easy advice, but committing to it could make a difference.