Uniform dressing, unicolour diets, theme days, Mail Sabbaticals, and my favourite: Digital Detox. We can do a lot to make our lives easier, give our brains a little break, and prevent decision fatigue.
Entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Arianna Huffington, and Tim Ferriss lead by example when simplifying one’s routines. Capsule Wardrobes (or, say, a very recognisable outfit) and a willingness to redirect routine tasks helped these guys stay focused on tasks and accomplish what they planned.
One could argue that the ability to put aside distractions distinguishes the high achiever. But I would even go further than that; Being able to lay aside distractions leads to peace of mind.
After all, focus is not just some flimsy concept that increases productivity. Focus goes way beyond the sphere of productivity. Being able to focus is crucial for a healthy brain, better concentration and memory and overall well-being.
I experienced it after years of meditation – when my head’s clutter became more silent, when I started to observe and interrupt immediate reactions.
A look into our brain suggests it, too. Distractions make us nervous and have an immediate impact on our well-being. It is way more serious than we make it out to be.
What happens in the Brain when we get distracted
When you’re distracted, especially during a task that requires concentration, the brain shifts resources away from the original task to address the new stimuli or activity. The prefrontal cortex, responsible for executive functions, gets engaged in this task-switching. This continual shifting is not efficient and consumes more energy than sticking to a single task.
Distractions Release Stress Hormones in your Body
Frequent distractions and switching between tasks can cause stress. This makes the brain release cortisol, a stress hormone. Constantly having high cortisol levels in our body can harm memory and attention. It can also cause changes in the brain’s structure over time.
The anterior cingulate cortex is a part of the brain that helps us focus on long-term goals. It doesn’t work as well when we’re distracted, making it harder for us to achieve long-term goals.
The hippocampus is essential for making memories. It may not work correctly when we’re frequently distracted. This can make it tough to remember things.
Getting countless notifications can make the brain’s reward pathways activate. This releases dopamine, a chemical that makes us feel good. It can make us want to keep getting distracted, even if it’s not good for us in the long run.
Why you should reduce distractions
There are dozens of reasons why you should eliminate, or at least reduce, distractions.
In our modern lives, we may be unable to eliminate our smartphones (and I don’t think we should). Still, we can help ourselves a lot by removing push notifications and replacing them with “Scheduled Summaries” on our phones.
We can have phone-off times and schedule these on our phones.
We could set a time limit for social media (and any other possibly distracting apps)
There are a ton of apps we can use to help us become more focused, and I believe it is just about time we make use of them.
This is why it is so essential to focus.
- Better Productivity: By minimising distractions, we can stay focused on tasks and get more done.
- Improved Memory: Fewer distractions help our brain process and remember information better.
- Improved Mental Health: Being constantly distracted can cause stress and anxiety, but fewer distractions can help us feel more calm and in control.
- Save Mental Energy: Every time we get distracted, we use up mental energy. Reducing distractions helps us save this energy and use it more efficiently.
- Deeper Thinking: When we can focus without interruptions, we can think more deeply and develop better solutions to problems.
- Improved Skills: Focusing without distraction helps us develop and strengthen our skills over time.
But what is Decision Fatigue?
We have abundant choices and competing tasks that demand our attention. Choosing, over and over again, can lead to decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue is when the quality of decisions someone makes gets worse after making many decisions. This is not just about picking between chocolate or hazelnut ice cream but also about important decisions in our personal and professional lives.
Imagine a typical day: you decide what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, how to navigate your work emails, how to prioritise your tasks, what to cook for dinner, and so on. You might feel mentally drained by the end of the day, and the mere thought of deciding on a TV show to unwind with can seem daunting.
This reduced ability to think can lead to impulsivity, avoidance of making choices, or going with the default or easier choice rather than making a thought-out decision.
Addressing the Problem: Eliminating Distractions
The volume of distractions we face on a given day is… insane. Every notification, every email, and every choice we didn’t anticipate can quickly add up. Reducing these distractions allows us to reserve our decision-making energy for tasks that matter.
Get inspired by the techniques and tools that high achievers use! At the most basic level, consider to:
- Prioritise Your Day: Start your day by setting clear priorities. Knowing what needs immediate attention and what can wait can prevent you from spending mental energy on low-importance tasks. Make sure that your priorities align with your goals.
- Limit Choices: The fewer choices you have to make, the less tired you’ll become. For example, consider having a set work “uniform” or a weekly meal plan. Steve Jobs and Karl Lagerfeld are renowned for their uniform fashion. Make your daily decisions in a set order, so you do not have to think over and over again. By doing so, you can focus on more important matters.
- Automate: Technology has advanced to the point where many decisions can be automated. Whether scheduling regular bill payments, having groceries delivered, or using AI-driven tools to sort your emails, automation can substantially reduce your daily decision load.
- Establish Routines: Routines are a powerful tool against decision fatigue. When certain actions become a habit, we no longer need to decide about them. Morning and evening routines, in particular, can help set the tone for the day and provide a sense of closure, respectively.
- Take Regular Breaks: Your brain, just like any muscle, tires out with use. Taking short, regular breaks during tasks can refresh your mind. Techniques like the Pomodoro method, which involves working for 25 minutes followed by a 5-minute break, can be super effective and keep you on track.
- Stay Nourished and Hydrated: Low blood glucose can impair decision-making abilities. Regular meals and staying hydrated can keep your brain functioning at its best.
These methods can be handy, but we must think carefully about how we use them. For example, while automation can be helpful, we shouldn’t rely on it too much as it may make us less able to make good decisions in the future. Similarly, following routines can be good, but every so often, they can be too strict and prevent us from being flexible when we need to be.
Furthermore, one size doesn’t fit all. What works for one individual may not work for another. It’s crucial to be self-aware and gauge which strategies align with your personal and professional life.
Decision fatigue is an inevitable by-product of our modern, fast-paced lives. However, by understanding its origins and strategically minimising distractions, we can preserve our cognitive resources for decisions that genuinely matter. It’s all about striking the right balance and being attuned to our needs and limits. By doing so, not only can we make better decisions, but we can also lead more fulfilling lives.