You’re working on a project and desperately need to concentrate. At that exact same moment a colleague decides that they need to ask you something. They interrupt. It’s urgent – for them, but not for you. Try as you might to politely signal that you’re busy, they’re not for budging. Your flow, your task and your patience have been mightily tested. How do you deal with colleagues unable or unwilling to decipher your subtle (and not so subtle) “Can’t you see I’m busy?” cues. Fanfare. Meet the ‘FlowLight’
Ever pressed click and send and wished you hadn’t? We’ve all been there. If you can’t leave your inbox alone and you’re constantly connected, bringing mindfulness to your work and your email may prevent you from becoming an E – hostage. Here are our 6 top tips to stop email consuming your waking (and sleeping) hours. [Read more…]
We uncover the uncomfortable truth about multitasking and why creating ‘Flow’ moments is the answer
The Myth of multitasking
Ever wondered why other people seem to master multitasking whilst you struggle to manage multiple tasks at the same time? If you’re envious of the seven-second attention span of a goldfish, flow moments are for you. Worry no more. Multitasking is and has always been, urban myth.
The truth is out. After decades of articles opining the benefits of multitasking, the ‘how to’s’ ‘Made simples’ and ‘Guides’ – we now know that the ability to focus on several tasks at the same time just isn’t neurologically possible. So when you’re checking your phone whilst talking, reading the paper whilst watching TV or driving and making a call using hands free, you’re not completely focused.
Working faster but producing less
Research by Gloria Mark, Professor of Informatics at the University of California found that when we’re continually distracted we may work faster but we produce less. That would explain the plethora of mistakes we typically tend to make when we’re not completely focused on the task at hand.
Leaving mistakes in your wake?
Dr JoAnn Deak author of ‘Your Fantastic Elastic Brain” states that “When you try to multitask, in the short term it doubles the amount of time it takes to do a task and it usually at least double the number of mistakes.” Worse still, researchers at Stanford University found that regular multitaskers are particularly bad at it, suggesting that serial multitaskers are easily distracted. Known as ‘switchtasking’ quickly jumping from one task to another, leaving a slew of mistakes in its’ wake. Rather than making us more efficient, switchtasking makes us less accurate and slows us down. The problem is, we’re so convinced that it’s possible, we just don’t notice our performance has suffered due to our lack of focus.
Feeling focus fatigued?
Switchtasking can also elevate our stress levels, ramping up the pressure, feeding into the feeling that there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it in. Research by René Marois at Vanderbilt University, using fMRI found that the brain responds to multiple tasks with a “response selection bottleneck” slowing us down as it attempts to prioritise tasks. Little wonder then, that multitasking impacts our learning and leaves us feeling even more fatigued, contributing to the release of stress hormone nasties like cortisol and adrenaline. Left unchecked, the long-term effects upon our health can be catastrophic.
The negative impact of distractions
It’s all thanks to the default mode network (DMN) a cluster of brain areas that become active when we’re not actively focusing on a specific task. It’s just the way that we’re wired.
David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work says, “A distraction is an alert. It says, orient your attention here now; this could be dangerous.” The digital world that we now live in offers a multitude of distractions “It reduces our intelligence, literally dropping our IQ. We make mistakes, miss subtle cues, fly off the handle when we shouldn’t, or spell things wrong.” To add insult to injury, multitasking makes us less intelligent than we might otherwise be.
During a Harvard study examining mind wandering by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert 2,000 adults were tested throughout the day. Killingsworth and Gilbert found they were distracted for a whopping 47 percent of the time. What’s more they were less happy as a result, typically experiencing stressful thoughts or negative rumination. All excellent reasons to ditch switchtasking.
How to focus
So if multitasking is dead, how do we focus? The good news is your brain is a muscle, just like any other muscle in your body. The trick is to train it. Flow is a state of optimum performance and you can develop it. Here’s how.
- Minimise distractions. That means turn the TV off, put your phone down and concentrate on one task at a time. Don’t start a new task until you have finished the last one.
- Identify and work with your circadian rhythms. Keep a log of your energy levels and engagement in tasks throughout the day. Work out when you energy levels best support your focus and plan your day accordingly. Tough tasks that require focus and mental energy should be scheduled at peak energy times, less demanding tasks for when you have a dip in energy. Even better, try and schedule a walk when you know there will be a slump.
- Build that critical brain mass with mindfulness. Start with one breath at a time, focusing on the breath, not breathing deeply or changing your breathing, simply noticing what’s here, right now. Notice your breath as you inhale, feeling the breath moving over your top lip as you inhale, the coolness around the tip of the nostrils. Exhaling, feel the warmth of the breath around the nostrils. If you find that your mind wanders, just notice the distraction and bring your focus back to the breath. The more you practice this mindfulness of breath meditation the more you’ll see results in terms of your ability to focus. We know from research that experienced meditators are better able to quieten down an area in the DMN called the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) than non-meditators. That’s it, now you’re training!
- Get moving. A study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that aerobic exercise improved the areas of the brain related to attention, both long term and short term. Whether it’s walking, jogging, playing tennis or hitting the gym, investing in physical exercise will reap multiple benefits.
- Drink more (and no, we don’t mean alcohol). A 2012 study in The Journal of Nutrition found that mild dehydration increased levels of inattention in test subjects. It took as little as a 2% drop in hydration to negatively affect the subjects ability to concentrate on cognitive tests. Make sure that you keep hydrated, drinking between 7 to 8 glasses of water a day.
Positive Change Guru are experts in performance at work. We offer bespoke training, mindfulness, resilience and positive psychology courses as 1 day, bitesize espresso or organisational consultancy. Check out our events page https://positivechangeguru.com/events-2/ Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org we’d love to here from you.
Image courtesy of Patrick Tomasso and those lovely people at Unsplash.
In our Halloween special, Gill Crossland-Thackray discusses…
How do you know if you’re a scary boss?
We’ve all heard horror stories about scary bosses and the fallout from their behaviour. The old adage that people don’t leave organisations they leave bad managers is true – it’s the number one reason why people move on to new pastures. When leadership is toxic it demotivates employees, costing business time, money and an exodus of talent. But how do you know if you’re a scary boss? Here are three signs that you might be causing your staff nightmares this halloween.
1. Lack of Engagement
The latest Gallup research suggests that approximately 70% of employees are disengaged. That’s a chilling figure if you’re the one leading them. Bekker, Demerouti, & Sanz-Vergel, 2014, experts in employee burnout define engagement as ‘a positive, fulfilling work-related state of mind that is characterised as vigor, dedication and absorption. The kind of state that you’d expect to see employees in if they were in ‘flow’ or working at optimum performance. That’s what we’re all aiming for but it’s hard to get into flow or any other state of engagement with someone breathing down your neck. The old command and control style of leadership is widely recognised as defunct and out of date, it’s not something you need to resurrect, not even at Halloween. It’s worth investing in engagement by;
- Allowing your staff to use their strengths
- Increasing their level of autonomy and decision making
- Listening to their ideas – and allowing them to implement some of them
Still not convinced? Even if you’re old school when it comes to leadership and believe in the stick rather than the carrot, it’s worth remembering this. The higher an employees level of engagement, the higher their financial returns (Bakker, 2011).
2. Zero Trust
If your people can’t trust you, you’re on a hiding to nowhere. If your staff don’t trust you and they’re frightened of how you’ll react you’ll stunt innovation creating a dysfunctional culture of blame instead. If you recognise a lack of openness or unwillingness of people to come to you with issues or ideas, building trust should be number one on your Halloween ‘To Do’ list. Gretchen Pisano states that trust is founded on these four traits.
- Common ground. This is about similar values and objectives. They know what you stand for and believe in the same vision.
- Predictability. They know that you mean what you say and will behave in a way that they predict. You have consistency and can be relied on to to the right thing and do things right as Warren Bennis famously espoused as a trait of decent leaders we want to follow.
- Consideration. You will think about them, their needs, their role and position in the company before you act. In short, you’ve got their back.
- Forewarning. You will tell them if something is going to happen that will affect them – positively or negatively.
Remember, trust is important and key as a leader. Nobody likes things that suddenly go ‘bump!’ in the night…..
3. You Blame your Employees for Failing
Let’s be honest, nobody enjoys failing, but the truth is, we all make mistakes. When you operate a blame culture as a leader it’s hard for your employees to learn from failure (they’re always too busy looking for someone else to pin it on). You’re not alone if you find it tough to tolerate mistakes, it’s a rare organisation that truly embraces failure as a way of learning, but it’s the only way to improve future performance. Failure isn’t always a bad thing, sometimes it improves systems, teams and overall performance.
How can you shift your organisational culture to one that examines and learns from errors?
- Make it safe to admit (and report) failure
Think about creating a checklist to identify causes and solutions. Atul Gawande’s ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ is a thorough guide to the ‘checklist’ and details how it has been embraced successfully by the World Health Organisation (WHO) significantly reducing the rate of error during surgery.
- Think like Toyota. The Toyota Production System harnesses continual learning by learning from small mistakes and building that learning into their production processes and systems. Toyota even have a rope for employees to pull when they spot a mistake, initiating a process of diagnostics and problem solving.
- Build a culture of learning. Positive psychologist Martin Seligman’s research recognises that individuals and organisations learn by failure. Some of them even build it into induction procedures, allowing new employees to fail (in a safe way) as part of their learning. Failure builds resilience and resilient employees are more engaged which takes us right back to where we started on our spooky journey.
So if you recognise yourself as something of a spooky boss make a committment to incorporate some of these techniques into your leadership style. Surprise your employees this Halloween by putting these strategies into practice, placing your broomstick to one side and watching as you strengthen your team and their performance.