By Edward M. Hallowell5 minute Read
You know the problem–swarms of distractions, constant interruptions, various tones chiming all around, rampant “screen sucking,” texting under the table during meetings, the overloading of mental circuits, and frequent feelings of frustration at trying to get everything done well and on time. This is the modern context in which most of us work. Whether the workplace itself or the numerous demands on your time drive you to distraction, the end result is the same. You can’t focus on anything anymore at work, and it’s taking its toll on your performance and your sense of well being.
Our current problem, the ongoing mental traffic jam–if not gridlock–in which it’s always rush hour, grew out of our most spectacular successes, the amazing inventions that define our era. We created the laborsaving devices that catalyzed the unplanned explosion within which we live today. But as enlightened managers everywhere are learning, we can learn to manage what we created. When we learn how to take back controls that we’ve given away, we can get better at managing our attention and not surrendering it to every distraction.
[Related:Chill With The Adderall: Four Non-Chemical Brain Hacks To Help You Focus]
Below are five elements of a broad basic plan for managing your attention more generally, with techniques for developing habits to help you consistently find focus and achieve your goals. Additional examples and specific tips for each can be found in Driven to Distraction at Work: How to Focus and Be More Productive (January 2015).
You–especially your brain–can’t focus without energy, and plenty of it. As your supply of energy gets low, you start to fade. Taking steps to monitor your brain’s energy supply is as basic and essential as keeping your car’s tank full of gas. Most people ignore or take for granted this fundamental necessity, as if the supply was infinite, and they do not monitor carefully how they spend their energy, thus wasting great quantities of it on trivial tasks. But when you invest your energy wisely and see to it that energy tank is always full, you become able to feel positive emotion.
Emotion is the on-off switch for learning and for peak performance. Often ignored or taken for granted, your emotional state drives the quality of your focus and thus the results you can achieve. If you work in a fear-driven organization that is low on trust, your performance will necessarily suffer. It’s a neurological fact. But if you work in a group that is high on trust and low on fear, then you can achieve at your best.
The better you understand yourself, your personal psychology, and your emotional hot buttons, the better able you will be to hold yourself in the right emotional state for focus, while steering clear of the negative states that render sharp focus impossible. Positive emotion, in turn, galvanizes engagement.
You must be interested in order to pay close attention. You must also be motivated. Interest and motivation equal engagement. Such engagement develops naturally when you work in your “sweet spot,” the overlap of three spheres: what you love to do, what you are very good at doing, and what advances the mission of the group or what someone will pay you to do.
[Related:What Happens In Your Brain When You Lose Focus]
In addition, there should be some novelty in what you’re doing and some room for creative input on your part to hold your attention. Lack of novelty leads to boredom, which leads to loss of focus. But beware, too much novelty and too much creative input will cause you to wander all over and grow confused, which is why you also need structure.
Such a simple word, but such a magnificent tool when used creatively and wisely. Tim Armstrong’s “10% Think Time” (AOL’s CEO requires his executives to spend at least four hours a week thinking) is a perfect example of structure. Structure refers to how you shape your day, how you spend your time, what boundaries you create, what rules you follow, which assistants you employ, what filing system you use, what hours you keep, what breaks you take, what priorities you set up, which tasks you take on and which you farm out, what plans you make, and what flexibility you create. Without structure, focus is impossible. Chaos reigns. In order to create, preserve, and promote your own best structures, you need to take control.
In today’s world, if you don’t take your time, it will be taken from you. Most people exert less control over how they use their time than they should. Take back control. The fact is, most people give away great gobs of their time and attention every day without meaning to and usually without being aware that they are. They surrender their attention to the onslaught of modern life without putting up much of a fight, as if they were overmatched. No one would dump $150 into the garbage every day, but most of us flush at least a 150 minutes every day without even noticing we’re doing it.
These five elements–energy, emotion, engagement, structure, and control–combine to create a plan that will allow you to perform at your best without feeling frazzled, frantic, and feckless. You need to individualize your own plan, based on your situation and your own personality and emotional makeup, but the basic elements of this plan will work for everyone.
To help you sort out where you should put most of your efforts, you can take this assessment. This will give you a weighted score, showing you which of the syndromes most apply to you. With this knowledge in hand, this book will help you get started on combating the distractions you most commonly deal with and developing your plan to regain focus at work.
Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted and Adapted from Driven to Distraction at Work: How to Focus and Be More Productive. Copyright 2015 Edward M. Hallowell, MD. All rights reserved.
—Edward M. Hallowell, MD, runs the Hallowell Centers in Sudbury, Mass., New York City, and San Francisco, all specializing in training attention in people of all ages.
Why Students Don’t Do Their Homework–And What You Can Do About It
byDr. Jennifer Davis Bowman
‘That was homework?’
‘That’s due today?’
‘But… it was the weekend.’
We hear a lot of stuff when students don’t do their homework. Our cup runneth over with FBI-proof, puppy-dog eyes, procrastinated-filled homework excuses. What we don’t hear, is the research on how to excuse-proof our classrooms for homework. It seems, we are in the dark about engaging students in the homework process. Specifically, what contributes to homework resistance? How can we better support students in not only completing, but learning (gasp) from assigned homework?
To answer these questions, I examined a number of research articles. I focused on interviews/surveys with classrooms that struggled with homework completion (to identify triggers). Also, I used data from classrooms with high homework achievement (to identify habits from the homework pros). Here are 6 research-backed reasons for why students resist homework- plus tips to help overcome them.
6 Reasons Students Don’t Do Their Homework–And What You Can Do About It
Students resist homework if…
Fact #1 The homework takes too long to complete.
In a study of over 7000 students (average age of 13), questionnaires revealed that when more than 60 minutes of homework is provided, students resisted. In addition, based on standardized tests, more than 60 minutes of homework, did not significantly impact test scores.
Teaching Tip: Ask students to record how long it takes to complete homework assignments for one week. Use the record to negotiate a daily homework completion goal time. As an acceptable time frame is established, this allows the student to focus more on the task.
Fact #2 The value of homework is misunderstood
Students erroneously believe that homework only has academic value. In a study of 25 teachers, interviews showed that teachers’ use of homework extended beyond the traditional practice of academic content. For example, 75% of these teachers report homework as an affective tool (to measure learning motivation, confidence, and ability to take responsibility).
Teaching Tip: Communicate with students the multiple purposes for homework. Reveal how homework has both short-term (impact on course grade) and long-term benefits (enhance life skills). Identify specific long-term homework benefits that students may be unaware of such as organization, time management and goal setting.
Fact #3 The assignment is a one-size fits all.
In a study of 112 undergraduate chemistry students, the learners report interest in different types of homework. For example 62% of students are satisfied with online assignments (this format provided immediate feedback and allowed multiple attempts), whereas, 41% are satisfied with traditional paper assignments (this format had no computer printing issues and it is a style most familiar).
Teaching Tip: Assess student learning style with the use of learning inventories. Differentiate homework to account for student interest and learning preference. Educator, Carol Tomlinson provides examples of low-prep differentiation assignments that include negotiated criteria, ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ projects, and choices of texts. As teacher Cathy Vatterott emphasizes in The Five Hallmarks of of Good Homework, consider placing the differentiation responsibility on the learner. For instance, ask students to ‘create your own method to practice the key terms’.
Fact #4 Feedback is not provided.
Acknowledging homework attempts matter. A survey of 1000 students shows that learners want recognition for attempting and completing homework (versus just getting the homework correct).
Also, students desire praise for their homework effort. In a study of 180 undergraduate students, almost half of the learners agreed that teacher recognition of ‘doing a good job’ was important to them.
Teaching Tip: Expand homework evaluation to include points for completing the assignment. In addition, include homework feedback into lesson plans. One example is to identify class time to identify homework patterns with the class (student struggles and successes). Another example, is to give students opportunities to compare their homework answers with a peer (students can correct or change answers while obtaining feedback).
Fact #5 The homework is not built into classroom assessments.
Students want their homework to prepare them for assessments. When surveyed, 85% of students report they would complete more homework if the material was used on tests and quizzes.
Teaching Tip: Allow students to select 1 homework question each unit that they wish to see on the test. Place student selections in a bowl/lottery and pick a 2-3 of their responses to include in each assessment.
Fact #6 Students don’t have a homework plan.
It’s unsurprising that making provisions for homework, increases the likelihood that homework is completed. In interviews with ninth graders, 43% of the students that completed all of their homework indicated that they had a plan. Their homework plan consisted of the time needed to execute the work, meet deadlines, and follow daily completion routines. Amazingly, the students with a plan complete homework in spite of their dislike for the assignment.
Teaching Tip: Help students develop a homework plan. For example, you may show examples and non-examples, offer templates for home-work to-do lists, or challenge students to identify phone Apps that help track homework planning procedures.
- Bempechat, J., Li, J., Neier, S. B., Gillis, C. A., & Holloway, S. D. (2011). The homework experience: Perceptions of low-income youth. Journal of Advanced Academics, 22(2).
- Kuklansky, Shosberger, & EsHach (2016). Science teachers’ voice on homework beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 14(1).
- Letterman, D. (2013). Students’ perception of homework assignments and what influences their ideas. Journal of College Teaching and Learning, 10(2).
- Malik, K., Martinez, N., Romero, J., Schubel, S., & , P. A. (2014). Mixed method study of online and written organic chemistry homework. Journal of Chemistry Education, 91(11).
- Science Daily (2015). How Much Math, Science Homework is too Much?
- Vandenbussche, J., Griffiths, W., & Scherrer, C. (2014). Students’ perception of homework policies in lower and intermediate level mathematic courses. Mathematics and Computer Education, 48(12).
Why Students Don’t Do Their Homework–And What You Can Do About It