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workplace award

This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Register your company now at www.employeerecommended.com.

Most employees are bombarded daily by information overload. Some feel like they simply cannot keep up with the amount of information coming at them.

Technology has become a burden – a bad distraction – for many employees because it generates more information than can realistically be processed in the time allotted. One study found the average knowledge worker spends about 20 hours a week processing emails.

This article introduces the micro skill of good distractions. Distraction refers to what a person consciously does in order to get a break from the demands of home and work. A good distraction creates a mental break that lets you charge your batteries.

This micro skill's focus is on creating a good distraction from information overload and the demands of life for the singular purpose of creating more mental space.

To master a micro skill, you must to make a couple of daily decisions and repeatedly take small actions. Over the long term, adopting micro skills and turning them into lifestyle habits can positively impact your total health.

In addition to information overload, it is also common for employees to struggle with balancing the demands of home and work. Many employees feel they are on a treadmill that results in them spending most of their energy dealing with competing demands from home or work.

These pressures can result in a sense that life stress is closing in on them. The consequence of an over-active stress response is the person's fight or flight stress response stays on. Not getting a break from prolonged stress or feeling a sense of not being able to cope can negatively impact a person's mental health.

One way employees can create mental distraction is through meditation. Meditation has been found to help employees build their resilience, resulting in better management of life's demands. It provides an opportunity to train and focus the brain to become distracted from – and ignore – the constant inflow of information and automatic thoughts that flood the brain. It helps a person learn how to turn off their autopilot, become more aware of the present, and to create more mental space that can help them cope and focus better.

Whether or not you adopt meditation to facilitate distraction, this micro skill is a way to get off the treadmill for a bit.

Many passions such as reading, writing, gardening, recreation, volunteering and taking part in hobbies create positive distraction. However, some activities can require too much time or are seasonal and can't realistically be done every day. The length of time of a good distraction is not as beneficial as the frequency.

To get the full benefits of a positive distraction, choose an activity you can do at least twice a week.

When picking your activities, test your choices against the following criteria:

· It provides a mental break from the world.

· You look forward to doing it.

· You feel rested after doing it.

· You are mentally charged after doing it.

· You don't worry about work or home while doing it.

· It's your personal time.

· It creates positive emotions.

· It doesn't add conflict or stress.

· It is within your financial means.

The caution of a positive distraction is not to get lost in it. Spending hours on the Internet or playing video games may be a distraction but it can strain personal relationships or cause you to fail to fulfill your responsibilities.

But a healthy distraction can add quality to your life and promote total health.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this link: http://tgam.ca/workplaceaward