Our brains are marvellous creations. We have the capacity to create, invent, build and love. But, our brains are easily distracted. What happens when you hang a shiny or noise toy in front of a baby? The baby inevitably tries to grab it. Unfortunately, our electronic devices are becoming the next shiny new toy and our brains are constantly distracted.
It’s strange when we consider how much we have all become a ‘jack of all trades’. In the past, we had people to help us accomplish certain things. We had a milkman who delivered milk, a travel agent to book trips, and secretaries who typed and handled letters and other types of correspondence. Today, one person is expected to do all of this. Plus, we often expect people to not only excel with handling everything at work, but to also purchase groceries, get the tyres rotated on the car, keep the laundry at bay, and still pick up the kids from soccer practice.
We Are Feeling The Burnout From Top To Bottom
It’s no wonder we are burning out, and it’s not just people in leadership positions who are affected. Burnout in employees is linked to a multitude of health effects, including mental disorders and depressive symptoms, hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol), musculoskeletal disorders, and even dying at a younger age.1
Multitasking can help exacerbate the symptoms of burnout. When we try to multitask, we create a feedback loop in the brain, where our brains essentially become addicted to dopamine. We reward the brain when we lose focus (and dopamine is released), so we are more open to losing focus again (so dopamine will be released again).
This cycle can be difficult to break. To compound matters, our prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain which handles most of the higher-processing skills, such as decision making) is easy to distract, so the phone that is buzzing or the iPad that is dinging is simply too tempting to ignore.2
You Can’t Really Multitask, No Matter How Much You Think You Do
The experts have spoken, and according to neuroscientists we really can’t multitask very well at all. We may THINK we are, but in reality, we are just moving from one thing to another very rapidly. You cannot truly process multiple lines of thought at once because our brains just aren’t wired that way.
So, what do we do? Do you have the courage to challenge your thinking and set aside your electronics? Some ways to reduce the load on your brain (allowing you to really focus on what’s important), include:
- Mindfulness. Being mindful can help us stay on one task before we indulge in something which may capture our attention. Learning how to filter out the background noise is an essential skill for a leader, and really, for everyone.
- Say no when you need to. We can’t do it all. Our brains can’t handle it, and truthfully, neither can our bodies. Sometimes you have to say no, and that’s OK. Giving yourself permission to say no is probably one of the most courageous things you can do.
- Set aside time for your tasks. If you have to spend time checking email each day, set a certain amount of time (with a timer if you need to), and read and respond to emails. We can’t be constantly at the beck and call of our devices if we want to be productive.
- Do things for yourself. To be a good collaborator, you must first be in the right headspace yourself. Research has shown what we need, including enough quality sleep, time to spend on ourselves, a healthy diet and plenty of exercise and time spent outdoors.
When we think we’re multitasking we’re actually multiswiching. That is what the brain is very good at doing--quickly diverting its attention from one place to the next. We think we’re being productive. We are, indeed, being busy. But in reality, we’re simply giving ourselves extra work.
Finding The Courage To Disconnect Sometimes
There is no doubt that our technology has increased collaboration across the world. We can speak to people almost anywhere in an instant. Yet, this increased reliance on technology means we are always using it, even when our brains are screaming for a break.
The documentary film, Make Me A Leader, can help leaders learn how to harness neuroscience to optimise brain and body performance to thrive in the Imagination Age. You can also learn more about how to cultivate your courage in the workplace while supporting brain health with the i4 Neuroleader Methodology.
Our daily lives tend to revolve around our technology, and our brains are suffering as a result. What if we could find the courage to set aside these devices and instead, allow our minds to unlock fantastic and wonderful things?
1. Salvagioni DAJ, Melanda FN, Mesas AE, et al. Physical, psychological and occupational consequences of job burnout: A systematic review of prospective studies. PLoS One 2017; 12: e0185781.
2. Levitin DJ. Why the modern world is bad for your brain | Neuroscience | The Guardian. The Guardian, (2015, accessed 29 July 2019).