4 Careers for People Who Are Easily Distracted
For all its clear advantages, one big drawback to the digital age is our exposure to ubiquitous distractions — from our endless need to check stuff on Google, to the perpetual stream of WhatsApp messages, to our impulsive additions to our Amazon baskets. Although it’s too soon to know just what long-term impact living in the digital bubble will have on our brains, recent psychological research suggests that heightened social media usage is linked to deficits in concentration, empathy, and social skills, as well as increases in narcissism and life dissatisfaction. And the more drastic idea that our inability to be offline may have detrimental intellectual and cultural consequences for society is now less unusual than it was once.
One particular research area that has been reinvigorated by our preoccupation with digital distractions is work-related productivity, which has turned into a pretty common obsession, as more and more people search Google for advice about “how to be productive,” according to Google Trends. Earlier research in this area called for organizational policies to regulate and limit the use of social media, and experimental studies do report productivity improvements from the implementation of website blockers.
At the same time, restricting access to apps or sites can also harm productivity and job satisfaction, with studies reporting positive effects of work-based social media use on team morale and productivity, in part because it enables more efficient knowledge sharing and collaboration.
Perhaps more importantly, one size rarely fits all, so it would be wrong to assume that everyone is equally affected by distractions, whether digital or analog. Indeed, scientific research has long suggested that there are brain-related individual differences in the propensity to be distracted, with the tendency for mind wandering (basically the opposite of mindfulness) considered to be a common dimension of personality.
Note that while we tend to celebrate the propensity to focus on or be immersed in something for extended periods of time, therefore resisting distractions, it is useful to remember that distractibility has the potential to enhance curiosity and creativity: the less seemingly irrelevant information you filter out or censor, the more original and unusual your ideas and inventions may be. Likewise, the inability to tolerate routines, boredom, and repetition will motivate people to seek novel and unconventional experiences, broadening their mind and horizons, as well as nurturing their social, intellectual, and experiential curiosity. (To find out if this may be you, you can try this very quick free assessment.)
Thus, a better antidote to the noxious impact of distractions may be to pick a job or career that provides the right amount of distractions for your natural temperament or personality. After all, talent is largely personality in the right place: If you find a task or job that is a natural fit for your natural habits and behavioral tendencies, those habits and tendencies will manifest themselves as “talent.” In other words, if you find an environment where your natural inclinations and proclivities are valued, your probability of being a high performer will be significantly higher.
With this in mind, here are four potential careers that may benefit from higher levels of mind wandering and distractibility. If you find yourself unable to focus on the same task or problem for extended periods of time, get to the solution of things pretty quickly, and wish that the day had more variety so you can broaden your range of work-related experiences, here are some career options that may suit your temperament and type.
Few career paths will provide you with more variety than entrepreneurship, and this includes its simplest and smallest version, namely being self-employed or your own boss. From coming up with an idea, to finding the resources to turn that idea into action, to interacting with key stakeholders, to selling and developing your business, there’s just no time for boredom or routine when you have turned yourself into a business. Unsurprisingly, meta-analyses indicate that entrepreneurs tend to have higher levels of “openness to experience,” so they differ from managers and leaders in that they are more curious, interested in variety and novelty, and are more prone to boredom — as well as less likely to tolerate routine and predictability. Research also shows that compared to fully employed professionals, entrepreneurs tend to develop a broader range of skills and expertise.
2. PR/Media Production
If you have difficulty switching off, disconnecting, or staying focused on the same topic for extended periods of time, you may also want to consider a career in PR or media production. Indeed, there’s rarely a dull moment when you have to manage clients from different industries and businesses, be prepared to react to any news eventuality, or learn how to communicate with very different audiences and in a wide range of media. PR professionals must be able to absorb and synthesize vast amounts of information, filtering out as little as possible, and turning distractions into the raw materials of their content and stories. Likewise, media production requires you to truly be a generalist, equally comfortable brainstorming initial concepts and ideas, and managing the many phases of execution and implementation (from scripting to scheduling to casting and directing). And the social distractions will be relentless: dealing with very different types of personalities who are demanding and expect you to be always on.
Another good career alternative if you want to avoid monotony and routine is consulting. There are, of course, many different types of consulting careers, but they typically benefit from a fair amount of mind wandering, openness to experience, and dispositional lack of focus. Note that while expertise is the dominant currency in consulting, what you know is less important than what you are willing to learn. Consultants are always more successful when they are generalists rather than narrowly focused on a niche topic or angle. Besides, each assignment is a unique opportunity to learn something new, understand a new client, and develop new expertise.
A final option you may wish to consider if you have a hyperactive mind is journalism. In fact, this career often combines elements of the three careers described above: You need to brand and sell yourself like an entrepreneur, you need to be always open and reactive to the news and real-world events, and you need to be able to switch from one topic to another, always exploring new questions. This means turning your distractions into actual learning experiences, and being far less sentimental about what you know than what you can learn. As the American moral and social philosopher Eric Hoffer noted: “In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
In sum, there’s no need to stress out if you struggle to improve your attention, not least because your typical patterns of focus and distraction are an inherent part of who you are, and what makes you you. A better approach to improving your job performance and maximizing your career potential is therefore to identify a role that is a natural fit for your natural dispositions. Instead of following your passions, try following your personality.