Is Distraction Good for Business?

You’re going to face many challenges over the course of your blogging or Internet marketing career. You’ll want to keep up with the latest changes in Google’s algorithm, for example, if you want to ensure that your key webpages rank well in the search engine results page. You’ll want to explore new and innovative strategies for extending your reach on social media, because it’s always in your best interest to grow your audience.

And whether you work out of the convenience of a home office or you pack up your laptop to get work done somewhere else, the life of the Internet entrepreneur is rife with distraction. Inside that web browser of yours are boundless opportunities to get lost down the bottomless pit of Facebook or through the ceaseless sequence of recommended videos on YouTube. It’s easy to get distracted from the tasks that you set out to do.

This is all before you even consider the infinite number of distractions that populate the real world around you, whether that’s your son or daughter tugging at your pant leg, the hot new sports car that just flew down the street in front of the coffee shop where you’re working, or just the chance to daydream as you stare blankly out the window. You can and will always be distracted. And distractions are bad, right?

It turns out that the answer is not so straightforward.

In a scientific study, volunteers were randomly assigned to two groups. Both groups were presented with a wealth of information about what car to buy for a hypothetical customer with a defined set of preferred criteria. The study was designed in such a way that, objectively, one car would be the better choice than the other.

The first group was given more time to think about the problem more deeply. They could revisit all the different material presented to them, mulling it over for an extended period of time. The second group, after only a short time with the same material, was distracted by having to solve simple math problems for the same amount of “extra” time that the first group was provided.

Most of us would think that the first group, the volunteers who were given extra time to review all the pertinent documentation, would make the “right” decision more often. After all, they had the most time to consider all the factors and to get to know the information more deeply. They had more time to think about the decision. As it turns out, though, the “distracted” second group actually made the “right” decision more often. Why?

The researchers, as far as I know, didn’t jump to any concrete conclusions, but can certainly propose a few of our own. The first group may have been overwhelmed with too much information, frozen in indecision. This is why it can be so much harder for someone who is tech-savvy to pick a new smartphone than someone who isn’t as savvy and doesn’t really care as much as long as it works. When you know too much, it can be harder to make the decision and you start to second guess yourself.

A more profound way to think about this, though, is that the second group allowed their brains to work passively on the problem in the background. It’s not like they forgot that they’d need to make this decision. This background processing is similar to the test-taking strategy where they say you should skip the questions that stump you at first and return to them later, because your brain will continue to work on those questions while you actively work on new ones. It’s the same reason why they say you should read all the essay questions before starting on the first one.

And you might also conclude that your initial gut response, the one that the second group would have had to go on, is right more often than not. Spend less time brooding over it and spend more time actively doing something productive. Truly, that is a great lesson to take to heart in the context of business, especially when you work for yourself. If you can’t come to a definitive answer right away, put it aside, work on something else, and you just might surprise yourself with the “right” answer later on.

Distractions aren’t necessarily a bad thing if you leverage them to your advantage.

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