American psychiatrist Edward Hallowell, author of Driven to Distraction (2011,) surveyed cognitive effects such as reduced attention instigated by the hyperkinetic environment that’s become an artifact of modern life.
A never-ending barrage of stimuli and sensations have instigated distractibility, mayhem, inner frenzy, and impatience. Consequently, people can’t stay organized, establish priorities, and manage time effectively—causing them to underachieve.
Hallowell described how “Attention Deficit Trait (ADT)” makes smart people underperform in this Harvard Business Review article.
ADT is brought on by the demands on our time and attention that have exploded over the past two decades. As our minds fill with noise, the brain gradually loses its capacity to attend fully and thoroughly to anything.
The symptoms of ADT come upon a person gradually. The sufferer doesn’t experience a single crisis but rather a series of minor emergencies while he or she tries harder and harder to keep up. Shouldering a responsibility to “suck it up” and not complain as the workload increases, executives with ADT do whatever they can to handle a load they simply cannot manage as well as they’d like. The ADT sufferer therefore feels a constant low level of panic and guilt. Facing a tidal wave of tasks, the executive becomes increasingly hurried, curt, peremptory, and unfocused, while pretending that everything is fine.
At a time when the modern corporate culture over-rewards folks who can multitask, deal with ever more responsibilities, and respond now, Hallowell offers the following solutions:
- Promote positive emotions. Create a work positive, fear-free emotional work environment in which the brain can function at its best.
- Take physical care of your brain. Adequate sleep, a proper diet (increase complex carbohydrates and protein intake,) exercise, and meditation are vital for staving off ADT.
- Get organized. Take note of the times of day when you tend to perform at your best; do your most important work then, and save the routine work for other times. Reserve a part of the day to think, plan, and do “deep work.”
- Regulate your emotions. To thwart an imminent overreaction to stress (“amygdala hijack” per Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence (1995,)) distract yourself by stopping and doing something else. A self-soothing action calms you down until you can focus again.
Idea for Impact: Stress is a terrible ailment in today’s workforce. Learn to manage yourself actively instead of continually reacting to problems as they happen. Avoid overburdening yourself and squandering your willpower. Regulate your work environment, tweak your work habits, get organized, and manage your emotional and physical health.