Going the distance

Disconnect to get more done

By Edward T. Creagan, M.D. April 17, 2014

Need more help?

If the stress in your life is more than you can cope with, get help right away.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Go to the nearest hospital or emergency room
  • Call your physician, health provider or clergy
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
    1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

I learned an important lesson at a coffee shop. It was time for final exams, and students from the local college were cramming for the finals. Almost every student was surrounded by a smart phone, the obligatory tablet and laptop. Almost every student had headphones on and was plugged into an iPod. Every time the door of the coffee shop opened, their heads popped up like little birds in a nest. Oh by the way, there was the occasional textbook and loose-leaf binder of course material. So, where am I going with this?

Stress occurs when the circuits are overloaded, when demand exceeds capacity. These students obviously didn't get the liability of multitasking and how you can't do two things at once. If you don't focus on the task at hand and address it as best you can, you dilute your energy and defuse your focus, with the result that the job takes dramatically longer to do.

Let me share with you a fascinating diagram. At a recent stress program, an instructor shared a drawing of train that had six train cars linked together. Car 1 was email. Car 2 was social media. Car 3 was a computer. Car 4 was a phone. Car 5 was a delivery, and Car 6 was a colleague with a question. If you shift back and forth from one car to the next, you might lose your grip and end up under the wheels. However, if you stop car hopping and stay focused, you'll be far more efficient and far less stressed out.

The moral of the story is real simple. When the job needs to get done, focus all of your energies on it. Filter out distractions so that your brain can come to grips with the task at hand.

A few months ago, I spoke at an international computer conglomerate, which was undergoing dreadful changes in terms of off-shoring, downsizing and outsourcing. One of the engineers shared with me a published study that showed that following an interruption it takes about three times the length of the interruption to get back to where you were. So think about it. There's a knock on the door and somebody consumes five or 10 minutes of your time. It will then take you on average 15 to 30 minutes to get back to where you were before the interruption.

So the message is clear: To get the job done, eliminate distractions, or your stress will multiply. Does this make sense? Share your experiences.


Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

Join the discussion at #Stress.

April 17, 2014