Why Working Like A Machine Isn’t The Best For Your Brain
I had the pleasure speaking recently with Dr Jenny Brockis, the Perth based specialist in brain health and high performance thinking, about the way we think and work. This opportunity followed on from reading a newspaper article in The Australian and the release of her excellent book, Future Brain: The 12 Keys to Create a High-Performance Brain, published by Wiley.
As previously an old school thinker on working long hours, my key takeaway from our conversation was that by chunking my workload into shorter blocks of 45 to 60 minutes focused time interspersed with a 15 to 20-minute break to refresh my brain, I can be much more productive.
I have reproduced Dr. Jenny’s Australian article below to introduce her thinking.
Working smarter requires an understanding of how the human brain is set up to operate at its best and how to implement strategies — backed by brain science — to help us work at our best.
Digitalisation has changed the how, where and type of work we do. But treating ourselves as if we are machines is counter-productive to best thinking and performance.
Cognitive load management, one of the 10 key skills identified in the Future Work Skills 2020 Report, is the acknowledgment that the human brain, while magnificent, complex and complicated, is also fallible and imperfect.
The prefrontal cortex used for logic, analysis and reasoning is easily overwhelmed and fatigued by the constant barrage of incoming information.
Effective filtering helps working memory handle what is relevant, important and deserves attention.
Critical thinking, another skill recognised as crucial to best thinking practice, can be readily learned to improve decision-making and to remind us to challenge our own thoughts, biases and assumptions.
Remaining curious, asking better questions and taking time out away from work boosts effectiveness in how well we communicate, collaborate and share ideas and knowledge.
Thinking is skilled work.
Taking care of our mental hardware begins by addressing the basic physiological needs of getting sufficient good-quality sleep, exercising regularly and eating healthily.
Rather than viewing these as a nuisance getting in the way of the relentless pursuit of doing, placing higher value on what it takes to be at your best and making these items non-negotiable provides a significant cognitive advantage.
It has been estimated that up to 33 per cent of Australians experience some kind of sleep problem.
Poor sleep patterns are consistently reported as a major difficulty affecting cognition and performance.
Overstimulated and over-busy brains find it harder to switch off, leading to chronic fatigue and elevated stress levels.
Poor workplace practices including multi-tasking and working hard for too many hours also compound the problem.
Multi-tasking, or task-switching, consumes far more mental energy than mono-tasking and is associated with a 40 per cent reduction in productivity. It is the one brain function that gets worse with practice.
People who work hard have a strong work ethic but they can compromise what can be achieved if they don’t give themselves sufficient downtime.
Chunking work into shorter blocks of focused time of 45 to 60 minutes interspersed with a 15 to 20-minute brain break helps to preserve the energy and attention required to get through busy days. The brain is not designed for long-term focus.
We give conscious cognition precedence in the (false) belief that this contributes the most to how well we think, but this overlooks the significant and bigger contribution made by the subconscious mind to the creation of new insights and ideas.
When not actively focused, the brain switches automatically to the default network where we think about ourselves and others.
Thinking socially helps prepare us to learn new information more effectively, assists in helping to understand others better, and contributes to the formation of more contributive and collaborative teams.
Working well with the brain starts with greater brain awareness to boost how well we think, learn and remember.