Does your little mind wander, Wanda? Having trouble staying focused, Fred? If you find yourself so distracted that you can't do your work without taking a break every twenty seconds to check email, LinkedIn or view pictures of Ashton Kutcher, you may have a serious problem. And just as soon as I check to see how low my portfolio can go; increase my eBay bid on a slightly used parakeet; and send a very important tweet to Ashton, I'll tell you what it is.
If it's any consolation, you're not alone in your ADD work style. The ballooning population of attention-challenged individuals in the business world has motivated Eilene Zimmerman to devote an entire Career Couch column in "The New York Times" to exploring the problem.
"Distracted? It's Time to Hit the Reset Button" is the title of Zimmerman's opus. While it took me quite a while to finish the column, what with my urgent need to check last night's curling scores and add my comments on a controversial red velvet cupcake recipe posted on my Yahoo bakery group, I'll be happy to share my review. Just give me a moment to Google my gastroenterologist.
"People often lose their concentration when they are bored, of course, but also when they are engaged in challenging work," is the opinion of Peter Bregman, an author and management consultant quoted by Zimmerman. "We have a momentary feeling of wanting to escape what is difficult or boring so we want to jump out."
This is certainly true, though I do question whether the sensation is "momentary." For years that "too difficult or boring" feeling has made you want to jump out of the work and then, jump out of the window.
Scientific confirmation of Bregman's theory comes from Srini Pillay, an author and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard, who opines, "The part of the brain devoted to attention is connected to the brain's emotional center. Any strong emotion -- frustration with a colleague, problems at home -- can disrupt your attention."
Even though your brain's emotional center is devoted to thoughts of the free jelly donuts in the coffee room, this is a viable explanation for your inability to concentrate. After all, you are frustrated with your colleagues, who snatch the jelly donuts before you can get to them, and you do have serious problems at home, mostly centered around your spouse never remembering to re-stock the stash of jelly donuts you keep under the sink.
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