Are You Damaging Your Brain?

AdvisorBlast – Quick Tips to Accelerate Your Practice
In this issue:┬áMulti-tasking actually damages your brain’s ability to focus and makes you chronically distracted!


Are you still buying into the myth of multi-tasking? It’s appealing to think you can do three or five things at once, but the reality is your brain doesn’t work that way. Your mind is kind of like a camera lens with a very shallow depth of field – you can only have one thing in sharp focus at any one time. Other things are still “in the picture” but they cannot all be equally in focus. The reality is, you can only concentrate on one thing at a time.

Even though this has been proven by studies over and over, people still think they can (and should!) multi-task – that there is something noble in juggling multiple things in their heads at once. Even though they scoff at the idea of focusing solely on one thing at a time (“If I only had the luxury to afford to do that!”), they are simply switching rapidly from doing one thing to another to another. The results are that they are stressed, inefficient, and simply distracted.

I’ve seen it time and again with clients I coach: we try to carry too much in our heads, and then our clogged and cluttered minds become so very easily distracted. Next thing we know, we are feeling overwhelmed, things fall between the cracks, and it feels like nothing of any importance is getting done.

In a recent interview on NPR Radio, Dr. Clifford Nass, a professor of communications at Stanford University, explained that new scientific research is proving this very thing. He explained, “People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted.” He went on to say that even though these people think they are more productive, they simply cannot keep on task because they have developed such habits in their thinking process that they are no longer even able to physically have “laser-focus.” Multi-tasking isn’t just ineffective, it’s causing real damage to our brains: by constantly taxing the pre-frontal cortex, multi-taskers even have trouble managing their emotions. This is scary stuff!

So, with the volume of demands on us in today’s business environment, how do you get serious about getting things done? How do you retrain your brain to determine what’s relevant and what’s not?

Structuring your work day and disciplining yourself to address one issue at a time isn’t a luxury at all, but an absolute necessity to be effective in your work.

Start with planning – even down to weekly and daily details. Structuring one’s time so that particular activities have set times frees a top performer’s mind to focus intently on the job at hand. Do you have a system that allows you to have a thought, jot it down, and confidently refocus on what you were doing, secure in knowing that your brilliant insight won’t be lost or forgotten because you have a set time to come back to that idea?

David Allen’s Getting Things Done is a great book for helping you begin to de-clutter and thereby de-stress. Once things are in their right place and you know you will follow up, you can fully focus on the immediate task at hand, un-distracted by items that need your attention, but not RIGHT NOW. I shared about how I focused on very specific activities at specific times when I was training for the Olympics in a newsletter earlier this year.

If you’re struggling, this month, simply begin committing to getting your email folder under control. I’ve wrestled with this one myself: I used to have thousands of emails in my inbox. Start with small steps. Turn off your email alerts because it is almost impossible to resist the urge to check them when you know they are coming in. (And, trust me, it won’t take “just a second” to check it!) Then, schedule specific time each day to address your email, say 20 minutes midday and half an hour at the end of the day. Delete stuff you don’t need. If you can read or answer an email in less than two minutes, do it and be done with it. If something requires more thought or time, move it to one of a couple of strategic folders where it can be easily retrieved, reviewed and followed up at a more appropriate time.

In my Favorites email folder section, I have folders for:

  • Inbox – If I can deal with it quickly, it gets answered when I first see it. Otherwise, stuff gets moved into another folder or deleted.
  • Sent Items – If these don’t automatically get cataloged by your CRM software, immediately move those that you may need to refer to later into an appropriate folder.
  • Review Today – I look at this each morning to see if there is something I’m waiting on, or answer emails that I’ve wanted to think about. I know anything in this folder will get seen again in no more than one day, so nothing gets forgotten.
  • Review 1st Week of Each Month – This is for emails that don’t require my immediate attention, but I need to come back to. This is also for emails that I have sent to people, where an urgent reply was not needed, but I want to remember to get back in touch with the person in a few weeks. (I currently have 9 emails in this folder.)
  • Industry Reading – If I can’t read a newsletter or article that is of interest in 2 minutes (there aren’t many of these), they get filed here. I have two half hour time blocks each week where I do this reading.
  • Free Time Reading – These are articles of interest that will be helpful to me, but are not urgent. I often look at these while I’m eating lunch or sometimes review these in the evening – note these are NOT business related (take a break!).

If you have any questions or want help implementing this for yourself, feel free to email me, and we can set a time to talk.

Until next month when we’ll look at more ways to focus and de-stress your brain!

To your un-cluttered mind,

Copyright Paul Kingsman 2013

As a motivational speaker and executive coach, Paul Kingsman helps financial services professionals successfully grow their businesses by taking practical daily steps to achieve outstanding long-term results. Combining his experiences as an Olympic medalist and his background as an advisor, Paul understands how to stay focused over the long haul, as well as the unique business challenges faced by advisors. Through his professional speaking and executive coaching he equips them to overcome distractions so they can get the money they need, the clients they want, and the time to do what they love.

To find out more about how Paul can equip you or your team to achieve outstanding results, visit or email him at

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