Driven to Distraction at Work book review: Attention please

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Updated: April 5, 2015 1:21:14 AM

Driven To Distraction At Work identifies six ways people lose the ability to focus at work.

Driven to Distraction at Work
Ned Hallowell
Harvard Business Press
Pp 256
Rs 995

LACK OF concentration, the inability to churn out assignments on time, constant excuses, losing the chain of thought frequently…most of us have fallen victim to these issues at one point or another in our careers. And this sequence of events is exactly what the book, Driven To Distraction At Work, aims to address and fix.

In his book, author Edward Hallowell—a doctor who has spent decades working on attention disorders—coins a new term: attention deficit trait, or ADT.

ADT—Hallowell quotes studies showing that ADT costs the US economy up to $997 billion a year—is a bit like attention deficit disorder (ADD), a neurological ailment. Unlike ADD, though, ADT is caused by outside distractions, such as social media.

The author classifies distracted employees into six types: technology addicts; multi-taskers who just can’t say no; idea hoppers who can never finish what they start, employees who do others’ work before their own; worriers; and those with clinical attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

In addition to the above, the author says that in today’s age we all suffer from PUED—problematic use of electronic devices—as well.

The underlying problem with all distracted employees, says Hallowell, is that they find it hard to focus. And so, over five chapters, he urges them to harness the power of the body, mind, their emotions and human connections to fix this. In order to focus well, he says, one should eat properly, take moderate exercise and get good quantity of sleep.

The answer to PUED, he says, is RUED—recording your use of electronic devices. However, this is hardly a feasible solution, as most of us need to be online at work almost constantly.

Hallowell also recommends spending more time meeting people—but not online: “Make judicious use of the human moment. While more expensive and cumbersome, human moments are infinitely richer and more powerful than electronic moments.”

The author’s suggestions to help one decide what to focus on are practical: prioritise work, and make weekly, bi-weekly and bi-monthly to-do lists in funky fonts, large letters and colours.

Also, the fictitious character sketches Hallowell creates for his six types of employees—allegedly an amalgam of people he has counselled and interviewed over the years—make for great reading.

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