Starve Your Distractions

Welcome to the 21st century. Distractions are literally everywhere you look. How can we not get caught up in distractions when everything we own seems to buzz, beep, or flash at you? This habit may be the hardest to pick up, but I guarantee it will be the most lifechanging.

Distractions come in the form of emails, texts, phone calls, co-workers, and other variables in your environment. In a study produced by Michigan State University, 300 participants were given a task to complete consisting of a sequence-based on a computer. This chore mimics the usual work tasks of a majority of office workers. They then produced distractions with various intervals. They found out that it only took a distraction of less than 3-seconds to result in twice the errors to their original effort. Less than 3-seconds! That’s similar to just glancing at your phone to read a text message. So why would this very short distraction cause so many errors? According to the lead researcher, Erik Altmann, “the answer is that the participants had to shift their attention from one task to another. Even momentary interruptions can seem jarring when they occur during a process that takes considerable thought.”

As I’m sitting here typing the book, my phone’s notifications are constantly drawing me away from concentration. So how do we take back our attention from the technology that now surrounds us? One strategy to remove distractions from our electronic devices is to simply turn off the notifications. This sounds maybe too intuitive, but without that little pop-up to check an email or the ding of your phone saying that you have a message, I can guarantee that you would not check your messages nearly as regularly. That “little” notification is intoxicating. It sends a rush of dopamine to your brain. Like that of drugs or sex. The unpredictability of the message triggers your brain to produce dopamine. You can actually become addicted to these alerts. Scary, right? I suggest picking two to three times a day to check emails and respond to calls or messages. You may miss a few “important” emails now and then, but your productivity will increase exponentially with just this small shift.

As a student at the University, we had various study groups that would meet to trudge through thermo’ homework or study for the next big test. These groups were great when you didn’t understand a topic because you could often get someone else’s take on a subject. They were not so great when you failed to grasp the concepts, because of the distraction caused from your peers. This takes place in corporate offices throughout the business world. Many distractions are in the form of questions or requests from co-workers, managers, or clients. How do you eliminate these distractions without abolishing the company’s culture norms and maintaining relationships? The key is communicating your needs up front. Tell your roaming colleague (oftentimes looking for a distraction their selves), that the best way to ask a question of you is to email you and you will get back to them. You may lose a few friends at first, but you are becoming more productive and taking your time back. You shouldn’t feel bad for this. They will eventually respect your requests and will start to make it a habit of sending an email first. You will then answer emails when you originally prearranged to. This will significantly cut back on distractions in the workplace.

With all of the distractions taking place these days, it’s a wonder anything gets done. You now have the advice and tools to reclaim your day from the power of disruptions. All of these distraction elimination techniques require discipline. Discipline to turn off notifications, discipline to confront diverting co-workers, and the discipline to block certain websites.

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Marketing Oneself

In business school, we are taught the five Ps of marketing. The five “Ps” were known as the five attributes of a marketing campaign that can be altered to make a product launch or marketing campaign successful. The five “Ps” are as follows; Product, Price, Promotion, Place, and People. These attributes can be used to describe your “market share” in a given space. Your “product” is your knowledge and skillsets that you bring to the arena. This can constantly be improved through lifelong learning. Your “price” is how much value you bring to your organization. Your “promotion” is your ad campaign. What are you doing to broadcast your “product” or your skillsets? Your “place” is commonly referred to as the channels in which you utilize your product. Do only the people in a small town know your accomplishments and understand your talent or is it known throughout? Your “people” refers to the human element that is inherent in the market. Do you know and understand people? Are you respected in your market? These “Five Ps” can change the way you look at the marketing of your own skillsets. With engineers, the hardest part of this marketing equation is “promotion”.

Many engineers do not selfishly promote themselves. As someone that never promoted my own accomplishments before, I can relate. I always thought that people that “tooted their own horn” were arrogant and irrational. This is your career though and many of your colleagues won’t take note of your accomplishments unless you broadcast them. I’m not saying that you should constantly remind your peers of the numerous accomplishments you have achieved, I am simply saying that you should be proud of your accomplishments and not be bashful of letting others know what you are capable of. As with accomplishments, your values should also be visible to others. Your values will be challenged often in your career. It is essential to be able to stick to your values to gain respect from your peers. This is extremely important in not only engineering, but business as well. With the advent of social networking, marketing your own brand and values has never been easier in history. In the following pages, we will discuss ways that you can build your brand that others will identify immediately. Similar to the colorful Google icon, your brand will be sought out for answers if you follow the next steps. See below for a flow chart on the natural progression for building your own personal and professional brand. Now, this is not set in stone. These processes can be done simultaneously and should be. When added together, your marketing reach will multiply.

Creating Creativity in the Engineering Field

Experience in a certain job or field can be a blessing or a curse. In the book, Rookie Smarts, Liz Wiseman states the following; “When the world is changing quickly, experience can become a curse, trapping us in old ways of doing and knowing, while inexperience can be a blessing, freeing us to improvise and adapt quickly to changing circumstances.” I have found that over my short career, my inexperienced peers seem to come up with more creative solutions to problems than my more experienced cohorts. Why is this?

Inexperience breeds curiosity. When you are inexperienced, you don’t get stuck in the trap of doing it the way it’s always been done. As a “newcomer”, you don’t know everything, but you know those who do. You begin to seek out information from those more knowledgeable than yourself. The novice then begins to compile all of their resources before making a decision. They do not let ego get in the way of seeking out helpful information. The greenhorn often seeks out knowledge from everyone that is located along the supply chain including; shareholders, producers, suppliers, and even end-users. This glut of data often gives the tenderfoot a unique perspective of a problem or process. He or she does not pretend to know everything, because they simply don’t. This is often seen as a disadvantage, but when harnessed correctly, it can be a giant benefit.

As consumption of resources continues to increase in the world we live and work in, creativity will be ever more important to ensure longevity for future generations. Consumption of resources include; fossil fuels, potable water, forests, etc. Implementation of creativity can ultimately decide the fate of future generations to come. As cheesy as this may sound, we need to embrace creativity as a necessary skillset and not let it fall by the wayside with other nostalgic skills, such as, imagination and curiosity that were so prevalent in our youth.

Increasing Natural Disaster Occurrence?

With the recent flooding in the Midwest & Southwest United States and the occurrence of devastating tornadoes in Texas, are we seeing more and more devastating natural disasters? Oftentimes, people in this part of the country say that, “if you don’t like the weather here now, wait 5 minutes.” This is often a poke at the seemingly constant change of weather in the area, but is there more to it?

Yes, in a simple answer. According to the EM-DAT International Disaster Database, Center for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters, University of Louvain, the occurrence of geophysical disasters has increased three-fold in the first decade of the millennium when poised against the 80’s decade. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, “natural disasters, particularly floods and storms, will become more frequent and severe because of climate change. Organized deadly onslaughts against civilian populations will continue, fueled by the availability of small arms, persistent social and political inequities, and, increasingly, by a struggle for natural resources. These events affect the mortality, morbidity, and well-being of large populations. Humanitarian relief will always be required, and there is a demonstrable need, as in other areas of global health, to place greater emphasis on prevention and mitigation. ”

So what can we do as engineers to mitigate these disasters? Our calculations and designs are already very conservative. What more can be done to protect the citizens in which we serve? It appears that the inadequate calculations used in the past have not been able to keep up with the rate of devastation caused by these superstorms. As the trend continues, engineers like myself will have to constantly monitor our systems to insure that they have not become antiquated and continue to “Hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties. ” (From the ASCE Cannon of Ethics).

Public Speaking Mind Shift (Quick Read)

As a speaker, it is your duty to convey a message that benefits the audience. Whether this be a wedding toast, award presentation, or a technical seminar. Tony Robbins, a famous life coach and speaker, once told interviewers with Business Insider magazine, “Don’t ever speak publicly about anything that you’re not passionate about and that you don’t actually believe you have something truly unique to deliver,” he says. “Don’t get roped into talking about something that you don’t really have passion for, and don’t get roped into something you don’t have expertise in. Why should somebody listen to you? If you’re going to take somebody’s time, you better deliver.” This should change your perspective about speeches as a whole. Once you see your speech as a chance to deliver valuable information to the audience and shift your mindset outwardly, the speech becomes easier. You are no longer the focus of the speech; the message becomes the focus. This takes a lot of pressure off of you, the speaker.

If you are uncertain on how best to deliver a message to an audience, take some time to watch YouTube videos of certain outstanding presenters such as Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Tony Robbins, Steve Jobs, Eric Thomas, Jim Rohn, etc.… Watch their physical, non-verbal communication. Pay attention to their delivery, pauses, and voice inflections. Pick one of these speakers as your “speech mentor”. Try your best to emulate your mentor and practice their movements, gestures, and other non-verbal cues.

The Wonderful Deadline

The familiar word “deadline” had ominous beginnings when first coined back in the late 1800s.  As with many business words we use today, this word stemmed out of war. In Andersonville, Georgia, a prison camp for Federal prisoners of war was constructed. This camp was come to be known as Camp Sumpter. The camp was the largest confederate prison camp constructed during the Civil War.

The walls were constructed of pine logs of staggering height. Along the wall, stood look-out towers for the confederate soldiers to keep an eye on the captured prisoners. Located approximately 19 feet from the wall was a small fence row. This fence was far enough from the wall to prevent someone from scaling over or tunneling under the camp walls. This smaller fence was considered the “deadline.” If a prisoner crossed this literal deadline, he was shot by the confederate soldiers keeping watch in the towers.

Surprisingly, deadlines can be a powerful tool in productivity. Deadlines are simply a timeline for which to finish a project or task. When you (or another agency) have assigned a deadline to a task, you understand when it needs to be finished. This allows you to prioritize certain projects. If you don’t have a deadline on a certain chore, it tends to slip further back into the proverbial “pile”. This is where the power of deadlines takes place! When you create deadlines for certain tasks, you are assigning a ranking for each task. This allows you to stay focused on a certain project because you know that time is of the essence.

Your project deadline doesn’t sound so bad now, does it? This may be why deadlines are always imposed with a negative connotation. Deadlines are a necessary evil, whether self-imposed or not.

Much to learn you still have…This is just the beginning. A guide to Lifelong Learning.

The title to this chapter came from a scene in “Star Wars Episode II, Attack of the Clones.” Yoda was having one of the most intense battles of his life with his nemeses Count Dooku. If you are not a fan of Star Wars, this is still one of the coolest fight scenes in screenplay history. It’s worth a YouTube. But I digress, at age 874, Yoda still believed that there was much to learn. Talk about lifelong learning! I always enjoyed hearing Yoda’s wisdom and the backwards grammar he used so eloquently. This phrase stuck out to me though. Yoda’s pursuit of wisdom enabled him to survive for hundreds of years (900 to be exact). He must have been doing something right! As Yoda would probably express it, “Learning a lifelong endeavor, you must make.”

As Henry Ford so eloquently stated it, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” To be able to compete in the workforce, you must never stop the pursuit of knowledge. This was not a concept I understood straight out of college. I was naive to think that college had taught me everything I would need to know to excel at my job. Why is it important to continue learning though? What are the benefits to lifelong learning?

Through the art of lifelong learning, you can propel yourself light years ahead of your stagnant peers. You will be able to adapt to change much quicker because you have never stopped the art of learning. By making simple changes in your life, such as adding the habit of going to one seminar a year or reading 10 books a year, you can catapult your career ahead of your peers. Out of all of the lessons in this book, I think this is the most actionable and beneficial for your life. I challenge you to take a step-in learning more in your everyday life, whether that means listening to an audio book in the car on your way to work (instead of that sports radio talk show with outraged fans) or setting aside 15 minutes a day to read non-fiction books. Just these little shifts can produce habits that persist and grow your entire lifetime.