It’s tough to concentrate at work these days. You sit down to finally get to work on a project you’ve been putting off, but before you get into it, you decide you have to check your email and Twitter. And then you remember that you forgot to fix the lawn mower this weekend, and also that you want to check out that new Italian place that just opened up last week. Before you know it, it’s noon, you have a zillion tabs open on your browser, and you haven’t gotten a single bit of work done.
Take heart. It might just be because you’re intellectually gifted. This, according to a new study from workplace solutions company Steelcase. They surveyed 10,000 workers from 17 different countries and found that almost half reported difficulty concentrating at work. How difficult? Participants in the study said they found their minds wandering once every three minutes.
The difficulty is even worse for people with higher intelligence, who have trouble prioritizing tasks. Which, according to psychiatrist Ned Hallowell, can lead to “a feeling of inadequacy and inability to deal with the workload as a whole.” That translates to poorer performance in the workplace. Not good.
“Employers are always on the lookout for the brightest people available, however the difficulty to withstand multiple tasks and distractions in the office affects smart people in the same way as everyone else, if not more,” Steelcase vice president Bostjan Ljubic said.
Another huge contributing factor to the concentration issue is all the distractions the modern workplace provides. Specifically, the study found that workers have, on average, eight browser tabs open at one time, and check their phones more than 200 times a day. In fact, workers waste twice as much time on smartphones now than they did back in 2012.
The good news is, it’s not too late to fix your intelligent-person brain. The paper suggests a few strategies. First off, multitasking does not work, so don’t even try it. David Meyer, a faculty member at the University of Michigan and a leading researcher of multitasking and what it does to the brain, likens it to smoking cigarettes before we knew what they did to our lungs. Meyer’s exception: multitasking using two entirely different regions of the brain—for example, walking and talking.
Secondly, mindfulness is the key to training your brain to concentrate. Which means focusing on the here and now, instead of giving what’s been coined “continuous partial attention” to everything around you. Organizational psychiatrist Beatriz Arantes spoke of the benefit of mindfulness in everyday life:
“Essentially, engaging in mindfulness means that we are practicing our ability to recognize when our minds have wandered and gaining ability to redirect our attention. The process of nonjudgmental observation of thought trains your brain and allows you to calm your responses and maintain more emotional stability. The more we practice this, the better we get at it.”
Finally, motion helps. Studies have found not only that it triggers the release of “enhancing hormones,” but that it also aids cognition. So, have your boss buy you a treadmill desk… tell her it’s because you’re a genius.