Thinking about distractions

Having spent most of yesterday and half of Sunday thinking about, preparing for, and watching Hurricane Sandy pass through, it seems like a good time to report on this column from the Harvard Business Review Blog, "Three Ways to Think Deeply at Work." The author, David Rock, of the NeuroLeadership Institute, conducts research into the role of the unconscious mind in solving problems.

Rock identifies three techniques to help you think more deeply. These should help whether you work in an office or from home. Here they are:
  • Distraction: Experimental work shows that a brief distraction can help you solve a complex problem, one that is too big for the conscious mind to solve. (The experiment involved picking which car, each with 12 attributes, is the better buy.) The group given a brief distraction did better than the groups told to solve the problem immediately and those told to keep working at it. But keep the distraction short. Rock says it works because
stepping away from a problem and then coming back to it gives you a fresh perspective. The surprising part is how fast this effect kicked in — the third group only had two minutes of distraction time for their non-conscious to kick in. . . something  . . .  accessible to all of us every day, in many small ways.
  • Plan for time to do the tasks that require deep thinking, and time for the distractions. Here's what Rock suggests:
* Think about one question/idea that needs insight and keep this thought in your subconscious mind.
* Clear your conscious mind by using this two-step system: move your thought(s) from your mind to a list and then clear your list when you have a short break (if your meeting is canceled, for instance, or your flight is delayed).
* Plan your week and month by listing three priorities you would like to accomplish.
* Make certain you have at least four consecutive, uninterrupted hours a day dedicated to the three priorities you identified.
  • Understand that your mind can manage only so much at once. So, in addition, Rock recommends scheduling the tasks that require the most attention when your mind is fresh and alert, and "grouping ideas into chunks whenever you have too much information."
I'll admit I'm trying some of these. Do they work for you? Let me know.

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