Last week I was in Berlin on a short business trip and, since I was meeting with some friends there and didn’t want to create logistic problems at dinner, I let down my strict ketogenic diet for a couple of days. I was tempted into two hamburger lunches: one in a cosy and as-much-kitsch-as-I-expected pub near Leopold Platz, and another in the airport at a Burger King. Besides the obvious difference in quality between the two places, I noticed another thing. While I was queuing at BK, I felt a discomforting sensation, like I could not concentrate at all on a problem that was on my mind. At first, I thought it was normal, since it has been an exhausting day, and maybe I was asking too much from my brain. As comforting as this thought was, it was false: I realised that I was not able to concentrate because I was unconsciously reading the meaningless text/advertisement on the tray’s placemat!

Before telling you the end of the story, let me digress a while. I believe that, broadly speaking, there are three types of distractions (intended as what divert our mind from the matter at hand):

  • Those we actively seek when we feel like taking a break (TV, Facebook, taking a walk…)
  • Those that just happen (a sudden noise, a sneeze, a natural phenomenon…)
  • Those that others impose on us (phone calls, Facebook notifications, advertisement, commercials…)

I will not comment about the first two, but the third kind is surely something we can deal with if we recognise it and are willing to take action. Turn off that phone if you are doing something important, use your remote to switch channel during commercials, turn off FB notifications… The list of possible actions is endless, but it can save the integrity of your productivity and problem-solving ability: it has been proven that long stretches of uninterrupted concentrations are just what you need to overcome some types of problems or to get to a breakthrough.

So, what did I do when I finally recognised the issue? A simple trick that I used to perform in the university’s cafeteria, but that I somehow forget: I turned the placemat to the other side, and I went on to chew my burger facing a wall and not the crowded passageway. The result? I enjoyed my dinner and went on uninterrupted pondering what was on my mind.

So, who said that flippin’ burgers is a low-income-no-ROI job? It can save your work if you learn when and how to do it!

Until next time, enjoy your meal!

P.s.: I can’t resist wondering how History would have changed if The Wall was erected in Hamburg. Can you imagine JFK uttering “Ich bin ein Hamburger”?