Is Background Music a Boost or a Bummer?

How music affects your productivity depends on the nature of the task and the demands of your work. It can distract you, but it also can affect your mood and arousal levels in ways that can help.

Interrupt Me for Five Seconds? — Fuhgeddaboudit!

Interruptions are a constant in daily life and especially at work. But a recent study reports that even a five-second interruption can dramatically increase our errors when we return to what we were doing. And the study doesn’t just apply to aging boomers who are known for a declining working memory capacity. It was conducted with college students!

Is the Internet a Drug or Just an Attractive Nuisance?

Whether or not people are “addicted” and whether or not what they do is harmful, many people find themselves spending increasing amounts of time online, often at the expense of other activities, like getting things done at work. Businesses need to find ways to reduce productivity loss without facing a backlash from employees.

How to Succeed Without Really Trying

You don’t have to sleep on the job to enhance your memory. And you don't have to be a workaholic either. Brief wakeful resting enhances your memory for what you've just done. And I’m talking about just 10 minutes of rest and memories that last a week or more.

Five Reasons We Can't Stop Distracting Ourselves

You’ve got an imminent deadline for that creative project. And yet, you can’t stop checking your email or Facebook, playing your favorite Zynga game, or seeing what’s happening in sports, entertainment, or the news online. Why are these temptations so irresistible even when you’re up against the clock? And how can you arrange to resist these time-wasting demons?

Is it Alzheimer’s? Normal Aging? Or Simply Cyber Overload?

Do you sometimes wonder if that thing you forgot or that name you can’t remember is the beginning of Alzheimer’s? If so, you’re not alone, judging by the turnout at a recent UW Hospital public health symposium.

Mindus Interruptus: Distractions are Costlier than You Think!

Let's face it. We hardly ever have the luxury of focusing on one thing anymore. No matter where we are, our gadgets are there, too, ready to beep, ping, display an alert, or serenade us with our chosen ring-tone.

Don’t Speak 'Til You See the Whites of Their Eyes

"What can I help you with?" asked the Apple Store clerk as he kept his eyes focused on what he was entering into his iPhone. "I'll wait ‘til you're finished," said I. "No, go ahead," said he. "I can multitask." "No, you can't!" said I, which finally got him to look at me and listen.

Where Did I See That? When Paper Beats Pixels

OK, I agree. I could never give up my Kindle. E-books are taking up a greater and greater percentage of titles sold, and for good reasons. But there are at least three ways in which print on paper is superior to words on a screen.

Mining Your Brain to Jump-Start Your Creativity

It's easy to spend lots of time working, but hard to come up with something new. Creativity may be necessary in a wide variety of realms—but where does that aha! moment come from? In a recent episode of "The Writer's Almanac," Garrison Keillor quoted an interview with J.K. Rowling on how she got the idea to write a novel about Harry Potter.

Doing Your Best Work When You're Not "Working"

Here's the good news about our digital devices: We have convenient access to virtually limitless information. No matter how much we know, we can always get more information on any topic with another press of a button. But the good news is also the bad news: More is not always better.

Beyond the Digital Burqa

There are many of good reasons to communicate digitally. It's convenient, of course, and we often have no choice because we're miles away from the people we want to talk to. But more and more, we seem to rely on emailing, texting, tweeting, and Facebooking when a face-to-face interaction is available. What are we hiding when we text instead of being there?

Competing with The Daily Show: Keeping Students' Attention

 "You're crazy to even try!" came the blistering comment from a colleague. I had just reported that I planned to give presentations to students about turning off their laptops and smartphones during class and pay attention to lectures. . . A few months before that, I'd thought the same thing. 

Something Terrible May Have Happened: Stay Tuned!

"The plane is circling the airport to burn off fuel before it makes an emergency landing. Stick with us right here. We'll bring you all the details." I kept hearing on-air reports like this through my earpiece as I waited to appear on a national cable news channel last month. Although there were many important events that day, the host returned four times to the airplane story ("still circling, stay tuned"), with no new information until handing it over to the host of the next program. It was finally reported that the plane had landed safely without incident. This  makes me think more about how our digital culture has affected our need for the news. Because we CAN know about something as soon as it happens we feel we MUST know it NOW.

This is Your Mind on Media: You’re Not Crazy—You’re Human!

              “Anyone who's scared by a film must be raving mad,” says Peejay, one of 130 people who have commented on a recent story in the London Daily Mail. The article describes our research on the long-term effects of frightening movies.[1]  Having performed an informal content analysis of the relevant comments, I can report that about 10% of the entries are like Peejay’s. Another 11% of the commenters claim that reality is much scarier than fiction. And 3% complain that such research is a waste of time and money.  The remaining 76% of the commenters meet Peejay’s criteria for raving madness, I guess.  

The Fault, Dear Brutus, Is Not in Our Gadgets But in Ourselves

 "The Internet is making us stupid!" —"No, smarter!"There has been quite the back-and-forth in The New York Times between people like Nicholas Carr, who argues that the Internet is making us dumber; and Steven Pinker, who contends that it's making us smarter. The NYT has weighed in with its own editorial, arguing that the Internet is "a global library of fact and data . . . [that can] enrich our lives."I agree with all of them. 

Mining Your Inner Moron: Why Multitasking Is Such a Waste

"Right this way, folks!" shouts the carnival barker. "REDUCE YOUR BRAIN POWER WHILE INCREASING YOUR STRESS LEVELS!" Are you tempted to follow him? Of course not. And yet, if you spend a lot of time multitasking, you're achieving the same result.

Strategic Sleeping: Snooze and Release Your Muse

Why is my brain more creative when I'm asleep? And how can I prime it to be even more creative? Neuroscience research says that while I'm sleeping, my brain is not. It's actively trying to make sense of what I've been working on. It also suggests that new insights occur when the brain relaxes its focus and allows distant connections to be made between previously unrelated ideas. But what does this mean in practical terms?

Sleep for Success: Creativity and the Neuroscience of Slumber

I've gotten into the habit lately of waking up with friends and collaborators. It's not what you think. These helpers are the good ideas that come to me in the middle of the night or—if I'm lucky—first thing in the morning. I've long believed there was value in the expression, "let's sleep on it." But now that I've reviewed some of the very recent research on what goes on in the brain during sleep, I'm ready to take much better advantage of my sleep-induced ideas.