Monday, September 3, 2018

Wandering Mind Syndrome

Are you suffering from Wandering Mind Syndrome? Are you easily distracted? Are you often unfocused at work? Does your mind feel constantly drawn to your social media accounts? Do you waste your time?

If you are, and if you have been properly diagnosed, you might have been told that you can solve the problem with therapy, or with yoga or with a magic pill. You might even have been told that you need more work/life balance or more leisure pursuits.

Such nostrums do not work. The problem, productivity coach Chris Bailey explains, is closer to home and easier to manage. People suffer Wandering Mind Syndrome when their work lacks complexity or is insufficiently challenging. Our minds wander when they are insufficiently occupied.

The cure for Wandering Mind Syndrome is more work, more challenging work, more difficult work. Without doing any mental gymnastics this will cause you to focus intently on what you are doing… because you are more engaged. When more is required of you, you will put out more.

Bailey explains it in The New York Times:

When it comes to focusing at work, there is no shortage of scapegoats to blame for our wandering minds. Social media, the ever-churning news cycle, chats with colleagues — these distractions can lead to a working state of mind that is far from focused. But there’s one possible cause of frequent distraction we don’t often consider: Our work isn’t complex enough, and there isn’t enough of it.

This idea isn’t a popular one, especially with those who feel they’re already working at capacity. That’s a growing number of us these days, when busyness — at work and at home — is seen as a kind of status symbol. But this busyness is often a guise for something else: We procrastinate by doing mindless, distracting tasks that make us feel productive, but in reality accomplish little.

Can you change this innate human behavior? Yes, but you may need to take on more work, and work on stuff that’s a little harder.

He adds this:

Complex tasks demand more of our working memory and attention, meaning we have less mental capacity remaining to wander to the nearest stimulating distraction. In his book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argues that we’re most likely to enter into that state of total work immersion when the challenge of completing a task is roughly equal to our ability to complete it. We get bored when our skills greatly exceed the demands of our work — such as when we do mindless data entry for several hours. And we feel anxious when the demands of a task exceed our skills — as when we’re unprepared to give a presentation. Understanding your skill level and skill set, and pairing those abilities with a worthy task, will make you more likely to be fully engaged in your work.

And this:

Think back to your last tight deadline. Did that timeline offer the luxury of tending to unproductive distractions like scanning the news and refreshing Twitter? Probably not. Yet, on nondeadline days, it can feel impossible to focus on the task at hand.

In productivity circles, this phenomenon is known as Parkinson’s law. The idea is that our workload tends to expand to fit the time available for its completion. Small tasks that should take two hours to complete will take an entire workday if we have that time available. Distractions are to blame for this time trap.

Now, let us extrapolate. Let us imagine school children who are bored with their classes. Let us imagine them distracted by social media and video games. This often happens to the best and the brightest children. Have you thought that they might not be sufficiently challenged? That the work is too easy for them… thus provoking indolence and sloth.

This might occur when you dumb down the school curriculum, wither in elementary school, in high school or in college. If you want to have a truly diverse student body you might very well need to do so. In Humanities and Social Science courses at least. According to Bailey’s formulation, when brighter students who take such courses they will be easily distracted and thus will be out looking for ways to waste their time.


trigger warning said...

One sure way to learn focus is to join a bomb disposal squad.

Broadly speaking, the venerable Yerkes-Dodson Law applies here. If we dumb down a task to accommodate, say, the 20th percentile, most individuals will be easily distracted, i.e., stimulus-seeking, most of the time.

Anonymous said...

Steve Covey borrowed his Four Time Quadrants from the Eisenhower Matrix.

A simple, visual tool that helps identify Do/Plan/Delegate/Eliminate tasks.

Graphic at link:

- shoe

Anonymous said...

A graphic to compliment the Mihalyi quote above with regards to "Flow"(optimizing Challenge Level vs Skill Level vs Anxiety Level):

- shoe

Anonymous said...

Remember when “multitasking” was so cool?