Skip navigation
Brain Overload and Workplace Distraction a Real Threat

Brain Overload and Workplace Distraction a Real Threat

Do you know the six most common types of workplace distraction that interfere with your ability to focus and be productive?

Best selling author Edward Hallowell, MD, says too many of us suffer from “attention deficit trait” (ADT), a neurological condition that’s caused by brain overload in a hyper-stimulating environment.  While ADT may make us feel as if we have ADD/ADHD, which originates generically and is usually treated with medication, it is a temporary condition that does not need medical treatment.

In his book, Driven to Distraction at Work (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015), Dr. Hallowell provides tips on how to prevent distraction, improve your focus, and offset ADT.

I’ve been struggling on and off for years with maintaining some sense of balance in my life, so I was anxious to see how I did on the free ADT test available on the Harvard Business Review site ( After answering the 16 questions using the little “slider bars” to record my personal assessment on things such as “worry”, “multi-tasking” and “playing the hero,” I looked up from my laptop where almost everyone in the airport terminal was interacting with some sort of electronic device.

After smiling at a passerby, I looked back at my screen and was surprised by what I saw.

Low and behold, my scores in all six areas were well underneath the danger line. Even so, the system gave me a number of helpful tips to use the next time I felt like a “row boat in the water” – a description I commonly use to tell my team that I am reaching coping overload. When things are really complex, which is often the case as the owner of a thriving small business, tell them I feel like “a thousand ping pong balls and flying at me in random bursts.”

Perhaps I’m coping better than I thought.

Could be that my verbalization of these mental pictures helps defuse the complexity and stress. Or maybe it’s my ace team stepping in to buffer, bolster and act when they sense or hear certain things from me. Then again, it could be my stoic German lineage.

While I am sure I have through years of trial-and-error developed the ability to deflect the disabling effects of ADT, I still feel overwhelmed and deflated from time to time. But the test results are encouraging and I plan to embrace a number of the tips provided such as:


  • When you get bored, don’t immediately turn to an electronic device. Try reading an article you’ve been meaning to read, or calling an associate you’ve been meaning to speak with.
  • Delegate tasks that someone else can better complete, and give yourself back some time.
  • As much as possible, do what you’re good at. Many of us feel compelled to improve our weaknesses, only to waste a lot of time in the process.


I’m also cognizant that my initial scores may have been influenced by my being out of the office, sitting in the airport terminal waiting for a flight, so I may redo the self assessment when that “row boat in the water / flying ping pong balls coming at me every which way” comes over me again. In any event, the advice provided at the end of the test is worth a second look. 

How did you score on the test? What did you see about yourself?


Marie Swift is President and CEO of Impact Communications, a full-service marketing communications firm serving a select group of independent financial advisors and allied institutions.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.