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brain drain

“I’m bigger and I’m faster. I will always beat you.”

This is what Joan Crawford tells her daughter, Christina, in the 1981 movie ‘Mommie Dearest’ after shamefully beating her in a swimming race. When it comes to your phone you might want to think of your brain as Joan Crawford and yourself as Christina; you can’t beat your brain’s phone addiction, it will always win.

new study has found that every time your phone distracts you with its buzzes and beeps your performance suffers, whether you respond to them or not.

A related study by Gloria Mark at the University of California-Irvine revealed that at work we are typically able to attend to one task for about three minutes before we are interrupted. They concluded that it takes about 20 minutes for people to return their full focus to the original task at hand. This does not bode well for productivity let alone our sanity.

Somewhere in the back of our minds we know we should not be beholden to this shiny object of immediate gratification, but there’s a fine line between knowing and doing. So why don’t we practice the doing more often?

1. The Dopamine Loop.

Dopamine makes you crave and desire, seek out and search. The Opioid system makes you feel pleasure. These two systems, the wanting and the liking, work hand in hand with each other to create the productivity zapping cycle known as the dopamine loop. The wanting (dopamine) propels you into action and the liking (opioid) makes you feel satisfied.

The problem is, your wanting system is more powerful and less satiable than your liking system.

Every time your phone chimes, dopamine piques your curiosity and starts you seeking. Then you get biologically rewarded for that seeking, which makes you seek even more. Over time, the reward cannot be great enough to satisfy the craving to check your phone to see if you have a new text, email, like, notification or whatever it may be. As with any of life’s addictions, this dopamine loop can be significantly more powerful than your human gift of self-control.

2. We are Pavlov’s dogs.

Dopamine can be triggered simply by the many sounds your phone uses to alert you, or any cue that you’ve come to associate with pleasure. You hear your phone ding or buzz and it immediately sets off the reflex to check (dopamine loop). If your phone is incessantly alerting you throughout the day the addiction to keep seeking is heightened.

3. Anticipating “The Liking” makes it even more difficult to focus.

Even thinking about your phone potentially buzzing will distract you from the task at hand. Once the buzz does come through, even if you are self-disciplined enough to keep it at bay, the simple fact that you are aware of something waiting for you is enough distraction to make your performance suffer.

4. Curiosity killed the cat and your focus.

Your mind will always pay attention to new stimuli over whatever you are immersed in.

Gloria Mark explains that our brain has this bias towards novel things. As such, our ability to sustain adequate levels of attention and concentration is easily toppled by anything new. So that ding or buzz we hear (and the association we have to it) works on us the same way a shiny new toy works on a baby. According to Mark, “humans will work just as hard to obtain a novel experience as we will to get a meal or a mate.” The end game is an ongoing battle between the part of our brain which desires the rewards from staying on task, and our brain’s novelty centre, that is continuing to search out the latest updates from our various apps.

5. We seek to minimize pain and maximize pleasure.

It was not so long ago that when you left the office you were unreachable. Our ever-demanding and connected world has given rise to the expectation of 24/7 accessibility. We have quickly learned to associate that buzz or beep with urgency and/or importance. Thus, not checking the phone can potentially cause anxiety, for fear our boss or whomever urgently needs to communicate something very important to us.

As humans, we will do anything to minimize pain (discomfort and anxiety) and maximize pleasure (the dopamine loop). The insatiability of the dopamine loop is sometimes the lesser of two evils.

Our brains and the addictive qualities of the dopamine loop are tough to counteract. There was a time, however, before the buzzes and dings when we had more self-control (well, some of us). There wasn’t the need for families to implement “tech free dinners.” We made eye contact instead of screen contact. These are all learned behaviors and learned behavior can be unlearned. Just like riding a bike, it can come back.

Here are a few things you can do to regain self-control:

Set some boundaries: If you don’t have to be on 24/7 then don’t be on 24/7. If you always respond in the moment then the world expects things from you in the moment. Set some boundaries to shape other people’s expectations that you are not accessible 24/7.

In case of emergency: Tell the people in your personal and professional life to call if there is an emergency versus text or email. That way you’ll know it’s necessary to pick up.

Re-adjust your settings: When you are working and need to focus, put your phone upside down and turn off the dings, beeps and buzzes on all devices. This is the only way you can stop the dopamine loop. You are not a rat in a cage so stop letting your technology force you to act like one.

Check at scheduled times. If you are working on a task, shut everything else off. Start with 5 minutes and build to 10 and so on. Just like training for a marathon, small wins and small goals help you stay on track.

Take a tech detox. Just for a day or two. It resets the system and you learn that life goes on without Facebook. You may even find that you can have a great face-to-face conversation again!

Get the SelfControl App. This app blocks access to email and certain websites for a pre-determined period of time. Fortunately for us junkies, the block cannot be deactivated until that time expires.

Do it because you care about other people. Just like second-hand smoke is harmful to those around you, so is second-hand beeping and buzzing. Just hearing a beep or buzz, yours or someone else’s, can zap productivity.

My phone is telling me I have to end this here so good luck. You can overcome this productivity zapper!

Originally published at blog.gotomeeting.co.uk on October 1, 2015.

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Nicole Lipkin, Psy.D., MBA is a organizational psychologist and the CEO of Equilibria Leadership Consulting. She is a speaker, consultant, and coach and has shared her expertise on NPR, NBC, Forbes, Entrepreneur, CBS, Fox Business News, and other media outlets. She is the author of “What Keeps Leaders Up At Night” and the co-author of “Y in the Workplace: Managing the “Me First” Generation.” Check out the award winning book trailer for What Keeps Leaders Up At Night.

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The Perfect Storm

Posted - 29 March, 2010
Picture of storm

The decline in the economy hit most corporations like a massive earthquake. As we recover, the majority of organizations, especially those that have not handled this economic downturn gracefully, will experience a perfect storm of three potentially massive crises: The Knowledge Transfer Crisis, Corporate Brain Drain, and the Resume Tsunami. As always, the companies that maintained perspective during the economic crisis and were able to plan for the recovery with relation to their human capital will be the ones most able to protect themselves from the storm of the century. So what makes up this perfect storm? The first component, the Knowledge Transfer Crisis, alludes to the fact that more than 1/3 of our population can retire tomorrow and take with them the institutional history and most effective customer relation and business development practices of their organizations. It is estimated that only between 4% and 10% of companies have developed formal knowledge transfer programs to pass down these vital lessons and practices to their legacies. Knowledge transfer programs, soft and hard, need to be a core focus in organizations. However, most companies don’t think of the potential damage of not installing them until it is too late.

Now, in this transitional period, when we need such programs desperately, it’s going to be much harder to siphon that information from the top to transfer to other levels. Boomers and Traditionalists are suffering from job security paranoia more than ever before creating a general feeling of, “If I give this information away, will I become obsolete and replaced by a kid who makes half my salary?” Herein lies the existential workplace crisis of the Boomers and Traditionalists. The second crisis, Corporate Brain Drain, refers to the fact that there is an aging talent pool and a diminishing pipeline of leaders. What is this going to effect? Everything! With limited talent to take over the legacies and leadership of organizations, we are going to experience reduced efficiency, reduced innovation and diminished growth capacity. Traditionally, organizations have spent money developing, coaching and training current leaders while neglecting those that should be filling the leadership pipeline. Why do we invest so much in top leadership and ignore those we have targeted for succession? It’s partially a case of paranoia on behalf of those who make the decision about succession planning in the sense that if money is thrown into development of younger talent, then those at the top become obsolete. It is also due to a bad case of, “this is how we’ve always done things.” Whatever the case may be the combination of the aging workforce and lack of potential leaders in the pipeline is creating a huge global, crisis for organizations spanning all industries. The third crisis is the Resume Tsunami, expected to pound organizations as the economy recovers. According to a Deloitte survey released in September 2009, 49% of employees surveyed have intentions of leaving their current employer, with Generation X representing the greatest turnover risk and Generation Y representing the next greatest turnover risk. Why? Well, there are different reasons for each generation. For the youngest generation, and often our most challenging to retain, research has shown that traditionally 50-70% tend to job hop within 2 years of hire. Many times the job-hopping is simply due to better market opportunities. However, unfortunately it is often, because American companies, despite existing research, refuse to make the investments and structural changes necessary to retain this group. Retaining Generation X is a little more complicated. As the smallest generation in the workplace, Generation X employees are frustrated by the bottlenecking of the Boomers.

Boomers are supposed to be retiring and they are not because they want to work longer and because they are afraid to stop working because of financial concerns. Generation X was promised, at this point, top leadership positions, but they are just not available. As the economy recovers, Generation X-our next group of top leaders-is at greatest risk of leaving for better opportunities and most companies have not even considered how to retain them and provide them with the career advancement they deserve. Regardless of who decides to jump ship, losing a key employee is expensive, 2-3 times their annual salary expensive, depending on the position. How? Well, when you calculate the actual costs of attracting and recruiting someone new to the organization and retaining them and then calculate the costs of the loss of intellectual capital, client relationships and productivity/job skills, you are looking at quite a high ticket price. Yet, according to the Deloitte 2009 survey, 44% of corporate leaders still believe that voluntary turnover increases profitability. Wake up and smell the strong, bitter tasting coffee folks—this mass defection is not going to benefit anyone except the companies who have been prepared all along and have created attractive organizational cultures, benefit packages and market opportunities to attract the cream of these newly unemployed. These same companies also consider generational differences when it comes to retention rather than applying a one strategy fits all solution. What can you do? Well, look at the companies who seem to “get it.” All along, they have prioritized their strategies for managing the demographics of their human capital.

Despite economic turbulence, they have continued to invest in the development of their leadership pipeline and have created ways to retain key employees, via both financial and non-financial incentives. They have systematically figured out what their employees really want (not what they think they want) and then realigned their retention strategies, tactics and priorities to match those goals. In addition, the companies that have build protection for this perfect storm have designed creative retirement strategies for their Boomers while developing soft and hard knowledge transfer programs. They have purposely re-engaged their key Gen Xers, providing career development and incentives to stay on board. They have been more open to adapting to the needs of Generation Y in order to retain and attract top young talent and they have developed and implemented clear and precise succession strategies in order to nurture the leadership pipeline. These are techniques that should be standard in organizations, regardless of the economic climate because a company is only as successful as the talent it retains and nurtures.

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