Ask a room full of busy professionals how they feel most days and you're likely to get a lot of very similar answers--overwhelmed, overscheduled, super busy, etc. Just about everyone these days, it seems, is struggling to keep focused among a welter of distractions.

But could this distraction epidemic actually mask a much more complicated phenomenon? People might be describing themselves as distracted, but according to a new book, there are actually half a dozen distinct ways to become chronically unfocused.

That's the message of Driven to Distraction at Work , by Ned Hallowell, MD, reviewed recently by the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center. In the review, Jill Suttie lays out the essential argument of the book--namely, that rather than being one single problem, our feelings of wandering attention actually stem from six "distraction syndromes."

What are they? Hallowell outlines these half-dozen ways we end up frazzled and overcommitted:

  • Screen sucking: the tendency to lose control over our technology so that we are hyperfocused on them and feel withdrawal when we are separated from them, a bit like an addiction.
  • Multitasking: trying to do too much at once and never feeling able to say "no" to anyone, often the problem of a perfectionist.
  • Idea hopping: difficulty sticking with a project until it's completed because you lose focus or interest, often a problem with someone having no good structures in place to get their work done.
  • Worrying: wasting too much of our time doing things to counteract anxiety instead of using our time to master our tasks.
  • Playing the hero: fixing everyone else's problems but your own and placing their needs above yours out of guilt or duty.
  • Dropping the ball: being unable to get organized, something more typical of people with ADD or ADHD.

The book explains the possible roots of each syndrome. For example, Suttie summarizes that "someone who multitasks to the point of exhaustion ... may have gotten the message early on in life that being a 'good' person means being perfect." Driven also offers strategies to counteract the syndromes' ill effects. (Though it's not a book for those looking for a deep dive into the science of focus, Suttie warns, noting that Driven would have "carried more heft, perhaps" if Hallowell had written more about "the research behind giving that particular advice.")

Driven also offers a general, five-step plan for improving your focus that can help you no matter which syndrome you suffer from. It entails sensible-sounding advice like sleeping more, eating better, and getting regular exercise, as well as tips on getting in touch with your emotions, making sure you're doing work that matters to you, and structuring your day for greater focus.

Do you recognize your own focus problem in one of these "distraction syndromes"?