Digital distractions top 'concentration killer' list

Digital distractions top 'concentration killer' list

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In this Oct. 13, 2009, file photo, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Scoville displays part of the Facebook page, and an enlarged profile photo, of fugitive Maxi Sopo in Seattle. The Feds are on Facebook. And MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter, too.

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by Katherine Cook

Bio | Email | Follow: @KCookKGW

kgw.com

Posted on November 21, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Updated Friday, Nov 18 at 1:17 PM

Whether it's texting, talking on a cell phone, emailing or using Facebook, it seems most people are constantly plugged in these days, even when they're at work.

Some experts said digital distractions may be taking a toll on our ability to concentrate and compromising the quality of our work.

"One of the biggest distractions we have is actually technology," observed Dr. Courtney Stevens, an assistant professor of psychology at Willamette University.

Stevens' research has examined attention and concentration in children and adults. She said doing work and social media at the same time can be detrimental to both.

"If you're attempting to multi-task, listen to a lecture and send and receive text messages at the same time, your comprehension is going to go down," said Stevens.

Portland State University student Kelly Russell disagreed. She said she often checks Facebook while doing homework and felt it hasn't hindered her ability to concentrate.

"I think people in this generation have kind of learned to multi-task better than older generations," said Russell. "It doesn't really throw you off when you get a text or a Facebook post if you check it real quick then go back to work," she said.

Others, like student Dillon Bergstad disagreed.

"I don't multi-task," said Bergstad. "I believe in doing just one task at a time, finishing that and moving onto the next," he said. "That's been the key."

Stevens suggested limiting distractions and maximizing concentration by carving out time for each activity.

"That might mean turning off your cell phone and e-mail for part of the day," Stevens said. "Sometimes what we find with science is it reinforces what common sense tells us."

Doctors say besides digital distractions, other forms of concentration killers are all around us, and sometimes, even inside us.

"Stomach rumbling, brain just kind of getting tired and fatigued," said Dr. Jim Mol, a psychologist with Providence Portland and St. Vincent Medical Centers.

Mol said lack of sleep and food are some of the biggest concentration killers, and while it may seem obvious, Mol said people often ignore them.

"If you don't have adequate sleep then your brain's just not working at an adequate level," said Mol.

Mol suggested choosing snacks high in protein like nuts, and avoid sweets and simple carbohydrates.

"If you eat something really sweet, it may get you thinking happy thoughts and get you pretty zippy for a little while, but chances are it won't last long and you might even crash," warned Mol.

Sometimes, sheer lack of motivation is a concentration killer, especially if a certain task is boring.

Doctors suggest making a deal with yourself: Stay on task for a certain amount of time and then reward yourself with a 10 minute break. Take a walk outside, grab a cup of coffee or get a snack to keep you motivated and help you get the job done.

Doctors say certain concentration killers, like worry or stress may seem out of our control, but can possibly be managed with a little effort.

"If you've got something you need to worry about, schedule a time to worry about it," suggested Stevens. She said compartmentalizing, even when it comes to stress, can help you stay focused on the task at hand.

"It's very difficult to throw something completely off of your mental radar," admitted Stevens. "But for some people, if you know you have a time you're going to be thinking about (your stresses), it can be easier not to ruminate on them while you're focused on something else."

And finally, you've heard of "to-do" lists, but Dr. Mol said, you might want to try making a "to-don't" list.

"Ask yourself, 'What are the least important things that I plan NOT to do today?" said Mol.

Because today requires enough of your concentration as it is.

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