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The Secret Success Killer: Cognitive Junk Food

What is Cognitive Junk Food?

I can't claim credit for the phrase "Cognitive Junk Food", but I knew exactly what it was when I heard it!  There have been plenty of articles on the distraction of web browsing and social media.  The problem has become even worse with the advent of the smart phone.  We've are a society that's addicted to distraction, but at what cost?  Often we struggle to be present with our families or at work.  We're unable to focus on important tasks for long periods of time.  We're wasting time that we could be using to make a difference.  Do you find yourself distracted or is any of this starting to sound familiar?  How much time do you spend on social media?  What does your time management practice look like?  Keep reading to get tips on how to address this.

Zero calories, but no time for the gym?

This magical phrase came to me while listening to Cal Newport on episode 9 of Chandler Bolt's self-publishing school podcast.  Cal has a Ph.D. in Computer Science from MIT and also studies the impact of technology on how we work.  I've not read his recent book, Deep Work, but it's now on my list after listening to him on the podcast.  In general I find most people struggle with distraction and it has become much worse with smart phones and social media.  I coach many people seeking to improve focus and be better at execution.  The majority of the time those sessions turn into time management strategies to prevent my clients from being distracted.

It's just Facebook, what's the big deal?​

It's never just Facebook.  After that it's Twitter, Snapchat, Youtube, Reality TV, and the list keeps going.  We can't just put it down either!  I recently had to put my foot down when my own family sat down to watch a movie together.  At the beginning of the movie my kids were distracted responding to messages, snaps, etc..  The initial distraction turns becomes an endless chain and it just goes on and on.  With my children, it was during the early part of a drama where the plot and characters were still developing.  This means it was not exciting their brains yet and it craved distraction!

The question worth asking is how much time do we spend eating cognitive junk food?

That's the big deal!  Our brains crave short term gratification and excitement.  We live in a day and age where there's no limit to the distractions, but also the energy invested by companies to capture our focus.  All of our experiences are engineered to captivate our time and money.  The question worth asking is how much time do we spend eating cognitive junk food? What else could we be doing with that time?  What would your time management strategy look like?

It's time to limit the use of these!

So what should I do to avoid distraction?

Create a time management strategy to stop the madness! This problem stops you from living the life you deserve to experience.  Worse than that, the others around you are losing out as well.  We only have one life to live and you deserve to say you did more than spend hours upon hours distracted liking posts and snap'ing your friends.  Here are three quick tips to help you take your life back from the genius marketing people taking advantage of how your brain is wired.  These will serve as the start of your time management strategy that will prevent you from living a distracted life.

  • Turn off non-critical notifications
  • ​Schedule the time browse the internet, play video games, use social media, etc.
  • Practice resisting your brain's urge to be entertained
  • Read part one on how to improve your self-awareness
The call to action is to be deliberate with your time and make sure it's not floating away in an ocean of distraction.

I would say Cal has rare discipline and some would say he is extreme in his practice, but it's serving him in the way he wants.  I'm just to the left of his practice and that it's also serving me in the way that I want and need for my own life and goals.  I'm not saying you have to give it all up, nor is anyone better or worse based on where they are with their practice.  The call to action is to be deliberate with your time and make sure it's not floating away in an ocean of distraction.  Do yourself a favor and create a time management strategy that prevents you from living the "distracted life".