Do you find it hard to concentrate for longer than a few minutes without looking at your phone or checking email?
Technology has unfortunately created a habit of distraction as the average person loses their attention about 6-10 times per minute.
The trouble with this is that to be creative, solve problems and be effective we need to submerse ourselves in our work. When we check our email or open up a text, it is breaking that creative thinking pattern.
The dopamine distraction
The root cause of distraction is how our brain operates.
It is always seeking novelty. And when it learns something new, such as reading a Facebook post or looking at a new message, dopamine is released. Which is the neurotransmitter that makes us feel good.
So we are in a sense being rewarded for being distracted. This can often be why that regardless of how tired we are or how late it is at night, we can’t stop scrolling through social media news feeds.
Daniel Levitin, author of The Organized Mind, discusses a powerful fact that our brain has two different modes.
1. Central Executive Mode
2. Mind Wandering Mode
He says that the central executive is used when we are focused on one task. When you are reading a book, working on a project or as I’m writing this article, this mode is kicked in.
The mind wandering mode can be related to when you are in a bit of a day dream state and not really thinking about anything in particular. For instance, when going for a walk in a forest or when you sit back at your desk and just take a breather, looking around the office.
Why multi-tasking destroys performance
Most of us however are constantly engaging our central executive. When we multi- task or get distracted and shift our attention from one thing to the next, we’re keeping that central executive engaged. The challenge with this and multi-tasking in general, is that every single time we shift our attention to something new, additional energy is required in order to make that transition happen. Your brain uses up additional resources when it goes from one central executive mode to the other.
So you can see the more we multi-task, the faster we accelerate brain fatigue.
When the central executive is focused on one task it uses up significantly less energy than when we are multi-tasking. But even then, it still uses up more energy than the mind wandering mode.
How to restore and re calibrate the energy in your brain
Now back in the day before technology existed, multi-tasking and distractions were not such a big deal. When people would work on a project for a period of time and needed a rest, they’d sit back, reflect and let their wandering mode kick in. Or they would go for a walk without being glued to their phone.
The interesting thing that Daniel Levitin states, is that when you engage your mind wandering mode, it actually helps to re calibrate and restore the energy in your brain. You’re ultimately giving your brain and the central executive mode a break. Which never happens in this age of information overload.
On top of that, this strategy can help you become more creative. As I write this article, my central executive is engaged. When I decide to take a rest, I will kick in the mind wandering mode by sitting back and reflecting. By not checking my phone, those thoughts won’t be cut off by a text message and will stay in my awareness. This heightens the chances of those ideas connecting to form new concepts that I likely never would have thought of before.
So the next time you are working try to remember the dopamine factor, don’t give in to it. It will only sabotage your attention span over time and make it harder for you to be less present in the moment. Put your phone on silent, toss it in your desk drawer and engage your mind wandering mode when you need a break instead.
The energy you sustain and ideas you discover will take your productivity and performance to a new level.