Thanksgiving 2012
November 21, 2012 by Kay Grossman

I have a story I’d like to share with you for Thanksgiving…


The speaker began his presentation in the usual way. He thanked the host for the kind introduction and the conference organizers for inviting him. Very nice. Fully expected.

But then he continued to thank people. He thanked the pilot for safely flying him across the country and for being well-trained and well-rested. He thanked the mechanics for their competence and care in preparing the plane for flight. He thanked the engineers and fabricators for constructing an air-worthy vessel. He expressed gratitude for the people responsible for making his hotel room comfortable and for the people who greeted him with smiles as he walked down the hall to the meeting room.

He continued in this fashion for what seemed a very long time.

His long recitation of thankfulness first struck me as slightly odd and a bit humorous but became compelling and beautiful as the list grew. I realized that there are far too many things I take for granted, and that it is my loss.

The speaker went on to explain that to live a life of gratitude is to open our eyes to the countless ways in which we are cared for and supported by the world around us. The strongest take-away message for me was that expressing gratitude shifts our attention to reality and reveals what has been there all along.

The speaker was Gregg Krech, a psychologist who specializes in cultivating the art of gratitude. He is the founder of the To-Do (rhymes with go-go) Institute and author of several books. He includes a reflection of gratitude in his book Naikan: Gratitude, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection.

I’ve paraphrased and added to Gregg’s reflection to make it more my own, and I plan to read it aloud prior to eating our Thanksgiving meal. I invite you, too, to write your own version, or to use mine if it speaks to you.

I wish you and your loved ones an abundance of hope, peace, and gratitude as you celebrate this holiday season.


Thanksgiving Blessing
Modified by Kay Grossman
(I thank Gregg Krech for writing the original version of this reflection.)

We give thanks for the food that gives us life and for the plants and animals that help sustain us.

We give thanks for the cars and planes and roads that allow us to be together on this day.

We give thanks for the health of our bodies.

We give thanks for the shelter that keeps us warm and dry.

We give thanks to our parents who brought us into this world.

We give thanks for the care and support we receive from our family, friends, and community.

We give thanks for our beating hearts and sentient brains.

We give thanks for our ability to choose our perspectives.

We give thanks for our ability to feel gratitude, optimism, and love.

We give thanks for both giving and receiving blessings.

We vow to live each day fully, to see reality as it is, and to live our life with purpose.

JOMO your FOMO and love what’s missing!
October 10, 2012 by Kay Grossman

o you suffer from FOMO, the “fear of missing out?” Discover JOMO, the “joy of missing out!”

Flickr founder and blogger Caterina Fake popularized the term FOMO to describe the social media-exacerbated phenomenon of feeling like you are missing out. By constantly comparing your life to the life you imagine others lead based on their status updates, you inevitably feel like you don’t measure up. You are not as popular, the events you attend are not as exciting, and you lag behind in business ventures and accomplishments. You conclude that in comparison with others you are most certainly missing out.

It’s both an absurdity and a double whammy. The very fear of missing out is what keeps you going back for reinforcement of the feeling that you are missing out!

FOMO motivates you to be hyper-vigilant about real-time events and other people’s opinions about them. You feel up-to-date and in-the-know with RSS feeds, news apps, and blog or twitter alerts. Without the constant flow of information across your devices you fear that you will be out of the loop, that you will miss out.

The irony is that this fear of missing out leads to a much deeper form of missing out. You miss what’s real — and right in front of you.

By staying hyper-connected and always “on” through social networks and digital devices, you cannot listen deeply to the people you are with. You miss the quiet time needed for self-reflection, insight, and creativity. You don’t actively appreciate the beauty in everyday things. In short, you are not fully present in your own life.

You do have a choice, however. You can choose to opt out of tuning in to digital information at least some of the time. Like me, you may have accidentally experienced the positive effects of imposed reprieves from digital devices. Airplane rides became a haven of uninterrupted focus. Vacations in places without Internet access provided the freedom to enjoy conversation, the beauty in nature, and true relaxation.

Why not create these reprieves on purpose, and more frequently?

Entrepreneur and blogger Anil Dash used the term JOMO, or “Joy of Missing Out,” to describe the phenomenon of moving beyond the fear of missing out to a sense of “enjoyment in knowing, and celebrating, that there are folks out there having the time of their life at something that you might have loved too, but are simply skipping.” You feel the joy of consciously opting in to your own life, instead.

JOMO can also refer to the relief you feel in accepting the fact that there is more real-time information than any one person can possibly manage. Why pressure yourself to do the impossible? Researchers have found that the average person is bombarded with enough information every day to overload a laptop computer within a week! It is truly liberating, sensible, and — dare I say, necessary — to staunch its flow.

Where is the joy? In moving away from status comparisons that result in tension and anxiety. In learning new things by limiting Web content to the amount your brain can readily absorb. In paying attention to the people you are with, thereby enhancing relationships. In owning your gadgets, rather than them owning you. In short, you can find the joy by more thoughtfully choosing where to allocate your precious attention.

Following are some suggestions for opting out of status updates and information overload:

  1. Limit your time spent checking social media. Keep track. Start small.
  2. Set specific times you check updates rather than have your attention pulled there by an auditory or visual alert. Turn off the alerts.
  3. Be wary of Web access. Set your intentions carefully and limit your access to what is essential. Use software that limits Web access for periods of time (i.e., Freedom app).
  4. Create digital-free zones when you’re with people you care about. For example, turn off your smart phones at meal times and for at least an hour in the evenings at home.
  5. Connect with people face-to-face. Pay attention to the person and the conversation in the moment.
  6. Bring your conscious awareness to the benefits of supposedly missing out!

Challenge your FOMO and bring on your JOMO!

Deficit Attention Disorder?
March 15, 2012 by Kay Grossman

Attention is getting more attention these days. Marcus Buckingham, author and co-author of numerous books including Now, Discover Your Strengths, and the more recent StandOut, frames effective problem-solving in terms of where we choose to place our attention. Are you focusing on what’s wrong? Or are you focusing on what the situation will look like when it’s working? The latter is the way to go, since what we pay attention to grows, or as Buckingham aptly describes it, “attention amplifies everything.”

We know from brain studies that neuronal circuits are activated by focused attention. We also know that these circuits become strengthened when we activate them, and that strengthened circuits become our default patterns of thinking and behaving. Rather than focus on the problem itself, which is likely to further exacerbate the problem, we can serve ourselves well by intentionally placing our attention on possible solutions.

Following is Buckingham’s attention-based approach to problem-solving. I recommend that you add it to your Attention Portfolio!

Solving Problems: Your 5-Step Plan

By Marcus Buckingham

When we look at many aspects of our lives, our instinctive reaction is to pay attention to the deficits of the situation, to what’s wrong. When you ask people, “what is the most effective way to solve a problem?” 83 percent choose “find out what is wrong and fix it.” I call this Deficit Attention Disorder, and I suggest that it merely serves to amplify problems rather than resolve them. A more productive and positive approach looks like this:

  1. Define the problem as objectively as possible. Leave out any judgments. Simply state the facts as if a video camera were replaying the issue to you.
  2. Know that attention amplifies everything, so detach yourself from what you perceive as being the source of the problem. Your focus on it will exacerbate it. You are not fixing the problem. The problem is simply showing you something.
  3. Change follows the line of your questioning, so ask, “what does it look like when it’s working?”
  4. Define three steps that you can take to shift the situation toward the imagined future that your question helped you create. This is the best use of your energy. Ensure that the steps allow you to use identified strengths or will help you create strong-moments.
  5. Look for evidence that your steps are having the intended result. Keep asking, “what’s working?” and focus on further expanding the success of your intent. The problem will shrivel.

When problems do occur, don’t analyze them, break them down and ruminate over their meaning. They don’t mean anything. They just are. Shift your focus to what working looks and feels like, and then dedicate your energy to manifesting that. Problems don’t magically disappear, but they do transform when your attention is on generating a positive vision.

Your Attention Investment Portfolio
February 29, 2012 by Kay Grossman

When we talk about “time management,” most of us refer to the daily challenge of getting things done. In the midst of many competing demands, we struggle to move through our to-do lists. We often end the day feeling like we didn’t come up for air, and we still didn’t accomplish what we’d wanted to accomplish. There is never enough time.

It seems that the solution is to hone our time management skills. Yet, due to its nature, time is completely unmanageable. It tick, tick, ticks away no matter what we think or do. It’s no wonder that our attempts to manage time fail.

The “time management” solution is not about managing time. Rather, it’s about managing ourselves, and more specifically, about managing our attention. Many wiser people before me have asserted that what we pay attention to determines the essence of our reality, let alone what we accomplish in the course of a day.

Pulled to sparkly, noisy, easy, novel, urgent

Yet, in our distraction-filled modern world, it is not easy to focus attention in productive ways. Our attention is naturally pulled to the sparkly, the noisy, the easy, the novel, and the urgent – mostly without our conscious assent. We inadvertently give away our precious, finite commodity of attention.

The solution, then, is to consciously choose where to pay attention, to bring intention to the act of attending. Neuropsychologist Elkhonon Goldberg perfectly captures this phenomenon:

“The best defense against the manipulation of our attention is to determine for ourselves—in advance—how we want to invest it.”
— Elkhonon Goldberg

Goldberg’s words merit parsing. Let’s start with “invest,” which implies that there is both value and cost to the allocation of attention. In fact, we implicitly acknowledge that attention is finite and valuable by the ways we talk about it. We give attention, or pay attention. We hold a sense that it is a limited resource.

The opportunity cost of attending to this over that

And we are correct. We can truly pay attention to only one idea or complex task at a time. As William James, considered by many to be the father of modern psychology, famously said about attention, “… It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.” There is an opportunity cost for attending to one thing over another.

Goldberg’s use of “manipulation” also deserves comment. From the subtle allure of “buy-me-too” application icons on smartphones to the more startling interruptions of blaring TV commercials, advertisers know how to grab our attention. They capitalize on our natural propensity to seek novelty and to react to our senses.

Our brains… primed for distraction!

These same natural tendencies, if we are not consciously aware of them, virtually manipulate us on their own, as well. Our attention moves effortlessly from the task at hand to incoming email and text alert tones, the ringing phone, ancillary conversations, the pile of papers on the desk, and to our own random thoughts. Knowing that our brains are primed for distraction and will take the path of least resistance or effort whenever possible, gives us the power to intentionally take control, or as Goldberg says, “determine for ourselves” what to pay attention to.

Goldberg’s highlighting of “in advance” sets the stage for solutions. I suggest the following actions as components of your “attention investment portfolio.”

  1. Find a calendar that suits your needs. Whether you prefer paper or a smartphone application, find a calendar that you can easily access throughout the day.
  2. Use your calendar as your attention investment guide. Commit fifteen minutes every morning to determining where you will allocate your attention that day. Schedule all tasks you intend to complete, giving them the “time-space” you anticipate they’ll need. Remember, anything that requires your attention, also requires time. Be sure to schedule planning and pre-task preparation activities.
  3. Ask yourself what is urgent and important to help you determine what merits your attention. Why? What else is important to attend to today? How does this task move something forward in a way that matters to me, my organization, or someone I care about?”
  4. Establish routines for repetitive activities, such as starting and ending the day and for managing a range of processes at work. Routines require less active attention, freeing you to allocate more attention to deeper problem-solving and creative thought.
  5. Schedule a weekly review of upcoming commitments and obligations. How do they fit within your overall personal and professional goals and core values? What merits high priority for the coming week? What can be scheduled for another time? What can be eliminated altogether?
  6. Reduce distractions and interruptions in your environment. Turn off email and text alerts, and let your phone go to voicemail while you engage in a project. Limit email and phone responses to two or three scheduled sessions per day. Schedule recurring meetings with people who need your frequent attention.
  7. Identify tasks that consistently drain or bore you. Delegate them to someone with greater interest or expertise.
  8. Don’t say “yes” to requests from other people until after you have referred to your calendar to determine if or when there will be enough time for you to fully attend to them.
  9. Honor other people by giving them your full attention. Turn off all mobile devices during meetings and meals.
  10. Honor yourself by giving most of your attention to high value activities that capitalize on your interests and strengths.

Start your attention investment process by running an inventory check of your current practices. What have you already acquired in your attention investment portfolio? Which of the above strategies do you already use? What would you like to tweak or to add?

Give dedicated focus to one new strategy at a time. The value of your portfolio will increase as you trend toward more conscious use of attention. You might start each day by asking yourself, “Where do I want to invest my attention today?” and end with, “How did my attention investments pay off? Do I want to divest, diversify, or invest similarly tomorrow?”

Manage your most precious commodity – attention

Rather than attempt to manage time, which is inherently unmanageable, manage your most precious commodity – attention. Invest it where it will bring you the greatest returns. Plan ahead, use supportive strategies and tools, and allocate most of your attention to the people and activities that bring satisfaction, meaning, and joy to your life. Your attention investment portfolio will become priceless.

To-Do, or Not To-Do… Who Knew?!
January 17, 2012 by Kay Grossman

I have noted with great interest lately that productivity experts malign to-do lists as frequently as they promote them. Daniel Markovitz offers excellent insights as to why to-do lists don’t work in his recent Harvard Business Review blog What strikes me is that it mostly boils down to brain function and the benefits of knowing how to work with our natural brain-based proclivities.

Our brains are wired to keep us alive and safe. Without our conscious awareness, they scan the environment up to five times per second, looking for threats. When a threat is perceived, the emotional center fires up in preparation for us to fight or flee. As descendents of people who survived due to hyper-vigilance, that function served us well.

No need to be wary of pouncing tigers

Most of us in the modern age rarely need to be wary of pouncing tigers. However, we frequently encounter another type of threat—the kind inherent in certain tasks. Tasks that trigger emotions such as ambiguity, fear, and not knowing how to proceed are perceived as threats in our brains. The emotional brain reacts swiftly and strongly to any perceived threat, using glucose and oxygen to stay activated. Even low levels of emotion use up resources that are then unavailable to the thinking center of the brain necessary for doing most tasks.

This has a great deal to do with why typical, lengthy to-do lists don’t work. Their very nature triggers a range of emotions that interfere with our ability to activate to even start tasks. Most to-do lists present us with too many choices, setting us up for angst in the choosing process and regrets afterward. The three-to-four-word descriptions of each to-do item don’t provide enough information or context, thereby setting the stage for ambiguity. When we are uncertain about which task to choose, let alone how long the item will take, what the first step will be, what we need to know before we start the task, who else needs to be involved, or what priority the item merits, we activate the threat center of our brains which then de-activates the thinking, action-taking center.

Feel good, conserve energy – why to-dos don’t work

Other built-in brain traits, such as a desire to feel good and to conserve energy, also help explain why to-do lists don’t work. We naturally gravitate toward reward and away from challenge. Markovitz notes that most to-do lists include a wide range of tasks of varying priority and time requirements. We tend to select the shorter tasks because they promise more immediate payoff and to avoid the longer or more difficult tasks because we sense they will require more effort. This leaves potentially important tasks to languish on the list, which doesn’t serve us well in terms of productivity and effectiveness.

Markovitz suggests a resolution to the to-do list problems that I’ve advocated for years. He calls it “living in your calendar.” The underlying premise is to make tasks more concrete, specific, and grounded in real time.

Physically calendar key to-dos

The technique I recommend is to choose no more than three to five priority items from your to-do list to physically schedule into your calendar each day. Give them the time and space they merit based on your estimate of how long they’ll take. Break multi-step tasks into their component parts and schedule each part individually. This practice removes the emotional triggers that the brain perceives as threats, keeps your emotional brain calm, and allows your thinking center the glucose and oxygen it requires to get you into action to get things done.

Save the “excitement” of threat responses for other kinds of thrills. Safari, anyone?

Stuck in a loop? Reboot!
December 24, 2011 by Kay Grossman

The thought of making another New Year’s Resolution drags me down. I’ve made resolutions for years that too easily went “poof” — either forgotten or too difficult.

Surveys show that about half our New Year’s Resolutions expire by June. January gym binges end up couched by mid-February. Structured diets are soon starved for attention. We feel like perennial failures, stuck in familiar patterns, clinging to default behaviors.

To break out of that loop, I developed an approach that I find successful, which includes: 1) Pick one main goal; 2) Empower it with “approach-oriented” wording; 3) Maintain the buzz; and 4) Reboot if caught in a loop.

The key is to get into action.

Pick One Main Goal

With countless opportunities to improve our lives we can be quickly overwhelmed by an avalanche of goals. Pick just one main goal at a time for a greater chance at success. Ask yourself the following questions to help you choose your goal. Keep your answers handy to remind you why you picked that goal.

  1. Would achieving this goal inspire me? Why?
  2. Is this goal true to my core values? Which ones?
  3. What’s in it for me? Is it worth the effort?
  4. Why this goal now ?

Empower Your Goal With “Approach-Oriented” Wording

Language is powerful. The words we use to identify our goals determine if we will approach the goals with a positive or negative mindset, which ultimately affects the outcome.

The science of positive psychology tells us that optimism and an “approach” style to goal setting are linked to perseverance, achievement, and higher self-regard. In contrast, an “avoidance” style of goal setting is associated with lower expectations for achievement, lower perceptions of progress, decreased self-esteem and personal control, and a lesser sense of well-being.

The wording of our goals, therefore, makes a big difference. Approach-oriented language focuses on moving toward or reaching positive outcomes. Examples include “to produce more successful projects,” or “to take on leadership roles at work.” Conversely, avoidance-oriented wording conveys moving away from undesired outcomes or states. Examples are “to avoid procrastination,” or “to quit being a follower at work.”

Most goals can be framed as either “approach” or “avoidance.” We can “stop overeating” (avoidance), or we can “achieve a healthy weight” (approach). We can “reduce clutter in the house” (avoidance), or “optimize household organization for peaceful living” (approach). The distinction is subtle, but important.

Framing goals with positive, approach-oriented language sets us up for greater success.

Maintain the Buzz

It is human nature to start new goals with a sense of exhilaration and then to lose steam as time passes. It’s how our brains work. As the novelty wears off, our brains are less stimulated by thoughts of achieving the goal. It becomes more difficult to stay engaged. Here are a few tips to help you maintain enthusiasm for achieving your goal.

  1. Display photos or symbols that signify what it means to you to achieve the goal.
  2. Savor your accomplishments along the way. Write them in a journal or on your calendar.
  3. Practice mindfulness related to your goal. As you make choices throughout the day, ask yourself, “Will this action step take me closer to my goal?”
  4. Note positive trends as well as specific markers of achievement. Make healthy food choices more often, exercise more days a week, or keep fewer paper piles on the kitchen table, for example.
  5. Identify and engage with people who are willing to become a positive part of your support and accountability team.
  6. Jump back into action after a lapse in progress. Chalk it up to being human, problem-solve around obstacles you are now aware of, and reboot.

Reboot if Caught in a Loop

To reboot is a foreign concept to most of us, since we often think something like this: “Who starts a diet on a Thursday?!” “I’ll start my exercise program at the start of next month… assuming that’s a Monday.” “What point would there be in keeping a more thorough record of expenses starting in July? I’ll wait until January.” “It is now 3:37… I’ll wait until 4:00 to start the work I’ve put off all day.” We delay until the sun and the moon and the stars are appropriately aligned, essentially preventing ourselves from working towards our goals.

Developing a habit to “reboot if caught in a loop” frees us to accomplish our goals. It moves us out of an all-or-nothing mindset so that we can regroup without delay or self-judgment and take action steps toward a lapsed goal. Rather than continue in a loop to overeat after consuming a stack of Girl Scout Cookies in the morning, I can reboot and eat sensibly the rest of the day. Rather than continue in a loop to wait until the start of the next month to go back to the gym, I can reboot and go today. Rather than continue in a loop to wait until the top of an hour to start an article I’ve been putting off, I can reboot and write one sentence right now.

There are many advantages to adopting the I-can-reboot-if-caught-in-a-loop mindset. Studies show that simply starting a task changes our perception of the task. We find it less difficult, less unpleasant, and less stressful than we had anticipated. Further, starting a task changes our perception of ourselves, increasing our subjective well-being. We feel more optimistic and in control because we are in action towards achieving a goal.

Action Charge

If you want to set a new goal, how about starting the process today? Use the questions above to help you choose an exciting, meaningful goal. Throw caution to the wind, defy the gods of celestial alignment, and take action before January 1st. What’s the worst that could happen?


  1. Elliot, A .J. & Friedman, R. (2007). Approach-avoidance: A central characteristic of personal goals. In B.R. Little, K. Salmela-Aro, & S. D. Phillips (Eds.), Personal project pursuit: Goals, actions, and human flourishing (pp. 97-118). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Eribaum Associates, Publishers.
  2. Miller, Caroline Adams, and Michael B. Frisch. Creating Your Best Life: the Ultimate Life List Guide. New York: Sterling, 2011.
  3. Pychyl, Timothy A. The Procrastinator’s Digest: a Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle. Canada: Howling Pines, 2010.

© 2011 Kay N. Grossman MA, PCC

Plan your day, before it’s yesterday!
December 12, 2011 by Kay Grossman

The Concept: There’s no way around it. Planning leads to more effective allocation of attention. Unplanned days lead to mind-wandering and jumping from task to task at our brain’s whims. Without set intentions to accomplish specific tasks, we may feel very busy and productive. But at the end of the day, were we effective? Did we accomplish what was most important?

A whole industry has been built to help us in this realm. David Allen and Stephen Covey are but two examples of people who’ve written books and created systems, products, workshops, and Webinars to enhance our productivity. We have thousands of calendars and planners to choose from, ranging from hard-copy to electronic applications on every device we own. A Google search using the word “planning” yields 1.3 billion results.

Yet, while many of us sense the importance of planning, we opt out. It takes too much time. It feels cumbersome or complicated. It reminds us of previous instances when we didn’t follow our plan and felt like failures as a result.

The refuting facts are as follows: The simpler the plan is, the better it tends to be. Planning saves time by keeping us focused on and taking action steps toward our goals. Everybody can successfully plan by following practical guidelines and tweaking them to fit their own brain-style.

Action Steps for Planning your day:

  1. Choose 3 to 5 key tasks to focus on and accomplish today. No more!
  2. Post this short list in multiple places so that you’ll see it throughout the day.
  3. Block out in your planner the time you estimate each task will take.
  4. Hide your long to-do list. (I read somewhere that the average to-do list boasts 150 items. The long list serves only to nag at you and confirm feelings of not getting enough done. It robs your brain of the energy it needs to stay focused on the tasks of importance for today.)
Words With Friends – A Distraction Epidemic!
December 8, 2011 by Kay Grossman

If you are experiencing symptoms like reduced productivity, inability to sleep, ignoring loved ones, or getting kicked off planes like actor Alec Baldwin, you may be playing too much “Words With Friends.”

Count me in as one of the victims. I admit it. I’m hooked on the Scrabble-like word game. It calls to me from my iPhone. It lures me to my iPad. I live for that feel-good dopamine squirt I get each time I figure out a new word and connect (however insubstantially) with someone I like. So rewarding. So fun!

And a magnificent time waster. I like to think of it as a positive procrastination tool, if there is such a thing. But I know better. Please excuse me while I check to see if my son has taken his turn.

My iPhone, the master distractor!

It’s not enough to tell myself that I must finish a task before I check to see if it’s my turn to play. The mere presence of my iPhone serves as a distractor. Unless I am meeting with a client or deeply engrossed in an engaging project, my brain takes me to what promises to be more intriguing, satisfying, and less effortful. Period. I think I’d better check my phone again.

It’s not that writing this article doesn’t interest me. It does. How we pay attention and how our brains operate are topics that fascinate me. They are huge components of my coaching. But writing takes concentration and effort. It’s close to the end of my workday. I’m a bit fatigued, I’m hungry, I’m cold, I’m ready to relax. And my cellphone is on my desk. A perfect setup for being prey to distractions.

Distractions, by definition, are not all negative. Like most things, it depends on the context. One definition of distraction from an online dictionary is “that which amuses, entertains, or diverts.” There are times when it is useful to be amused, entertained, or diverted. Managing through physical or emotional pain, for example, is a great time to find entertaining diversions.

Words With Friends, the cookie distractor!

Sometimes it’s a matter of degree. It may be a useful strategy to purposely distract ourselves from a relatively “worse” distraction, or a way of delaying gratification. For example, playing Words With Friends might help me ignore the cookies I am craving or thoughts about going shopping when I’m trying to cut back on expenses. This use of intentional distraction gives me more control of my actions in the moment.

However, most of the time distractions render us less in control, as if our brains have been commandeered by rogue characters. Our attention is pulled to email alerts, text notifications, shiny links from one Web site to another, and another, and to games on smartphones. Other times it’s pulled to distractions in our own heads. We ponder ideas, focus on our worries, or look for something more engaging to do. The result is decreased productivity, guilt for not finishing tasks, lowered self-regard for not meeting our own standards, and more.

Here are some methods I find helpful in taking charge of my brain. Perhaps you will find them useful, too.

  1. Minimize the number of distractors in your environment. Establish electronics-free zones for set periods throughout the day. Put gadgets with tempting options out of sight. Turn off email and text alerts. Install software that limits access to attractive but off-task Internet sites.
  2. Clear your head of distracting thoughts. Create a parking lot journal for random ideas you don’t want to lose. Include brief references to anxious or angry thoughts you’d like to look at after the current task is done.
  3. Take care of your brain. Eat healthy food in small amounts throughout the day. Get enough sleep. Get up and move around, preferably at least once an hour. Exercise regularly.
  4. Single-task. Single-task for greater focus and increased productivity. Since our brains can pay attention to only one complex thing at a time, when we think we are multitasking, we are actually switch-tasking, or switching rapidly from task to task. This process takes extra time, interferes with memory and learning, and is likely to reduce our ability to sustain attention.
  5. Take breaks. Work with your natural attention span to proactively plan breaks. A well-timed break can increase focus and creativity when you return to work.
  6. Build awareness of personal distractions. Each time you notice that your attention has wandered to a distraction, whether in your head or to an external stimulus, make a tick mark on a piece of paper and bring your attention back to the current task. Over time, you will experience two major benefits: (1) You will catch your attention shift more quickly and thereby reduce the amount of time spent off task; (2) You will build “attention muscle,” which will prevent you from being distracted as easily or as often.

With practice, you can train your brain to be less vulnerable to distractions. Your brain’s director will be empowered to keep only the important actors onstage, making the wannabes wait for their cue. Rather than be victim to your brain’s distracted whims, you will be more in control. Now where was I with Words With Friends?

Double-Dare to Single-Task!
December 5, 2011 by Kay Grossman


are to single-task!

  1. Set your intentions to single-task once today. Choose a time. Schedule the task.
  2. Set up your environment to support you, by eliminating as many potential distractions as possible. Turn off electronic devices for the duration, put a “do not disturb” or “I’ll give you attention in __ minutes” sign on your door or desk.
  3. When your mind wanders, make a tick mark on a piece of paper and bring your thoughts back to the task at hand.
  4. Congratulate yourself when you’ve completed the designated task.
  5. Share your experience with me and others. What worked? What was challenging?

The Concept:

Much has been written lately about the inefficiencies of multitasking. Yet we continue to do it. We feel connected, in the know, on top of things, and productive when we do more than one task at a time. We email while on conference calls. We check our smartphones during meetings. Many of us feel that we must multitask to meet workplace expectations.

While multitasking was sold to us as the ultimate in efficiency in our technology enhanced world, research shows that it is usually just the opposite. Compared to single-tasking, it takes more time, reduces memory consolidation and learning, and interferes with creativity and interpersonal relationships. It also increases stress.

This all stems from the way our brains pay attention. They (and therefore we) cannot focus on two things requiring conscious attention at once. When we feel that we are multitasking, such as checking our email or text messages while listening to a co-worker’s oral presentation, what we are doing instead is task-switching. Our brains switch back and forth from one task to the other in quick succession, turning rules on and off with each switch, losing memory and time in each instance. What seems like simultaneous processing is actually serial processing. And the costs are high. Jonathan Spira, an expert in information overload, reported in the New York Times that extreme multitasking, an example of information overload, costs the US economy $900 billion per year in lost productivity.

Working Out, Inside
December 4, 2011 by Kay Grossman

My husband (with doctorate in exercise science) has for several years been sharing the research that it’s unhealthy to sit for long periods. Even with daily exercise before or after work. Great article in today’s New York Times with suggestions for how to get moving.

Focus -> Working Out Inside the Office

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