Training Your Brian to Handle Your Work
According to Lisa Evans:
"We live in an age of information overload. While many of us find ourselves inundated with vast amounts of data daily, our fast-paced society also requires us to make more rapid decisions."
Moreover, Psychologist Daniel Levitin says:
"Information overload creates daily challenges for our brains, causing us to feel mentally exhausted before the day's end. Our brains are equipped to deal with the world the way it was many thousands of years ago when we were hunter-gatherers. Back then the amount of information that was coming at us was much less and it came at us much more slowly."
Personally, I don't think that Levitin really has to go that far back in the history of human evolution. It seems to me that it was with the advent of readily available electronic communication, circa 1980, that the pace of communication started to heat up. Nevertheless, as Lisa continues to exlain:
"The pace at which we are exposed to information today is overwhelming to our brains, which haven't adapted fast enough to distinguish relevant data from the irrelevant, at the speed we're asking it to. As a result, our brains become easily fatigued, and we become more forgetful. However, Levitin says that by using principles of neuroscience, we can regain control over our brains by organizing information in a way that optimizes our brain's capacity."
So, here are four significant steps that you can take to ease the load on your brain that should enable you to perform more effectively.
1. Externalize Data
When information is only stored in your head, the brain has a hard time focusing on everything, and uses up too much of its energy trying to recall what's on your list. Rather than carrying around a to-do list of 20 or 30 items in your head, put them all on paper. Writing down your list manually also helps to encode the information into your brain through the use of muscle memory.
Also, getting information out of your head and into the external world helps you to see it more objectively. This way you can decide what to tackle first, and then the rest in which order.
2. Make Big Decisions in the Morning
Again, according to Levitin, each time you make a decision, it uses some neuro-resources. The problem is that these neuro-resources are used up whether you're making an insignificant decision such as which pen to use out of a drawer of pens, or something significant such as whether to sign a multimillion-dollar deal.
It follows that if you spend your day making a bunch of little decisions and then it comes time to make a big important one, you're neurologically depleted. Levitin calls this phenomenon decision fatigue. Therefore, scheduling your important decision-making tasks at the beginning of the day maximizes your brain's resources, and can help you make better decisions.
3. Be Organized
Being organized in your physical environment also lessens the burden on your brain. Thus, have a designated place for commonly misplaced items such as keys, glasses, and cellphones. Allow your physical environment to serve as reminders. This will help to alleviate the pressure on your brain to recall things.
Levitin cites the case of forgetting to take your umbrella. "You hear on the weather report that it's going to rain tomorrow, so you make a mental note to take your umbrella. But when you wake up in the morning, there's a 100 other things on your mind, so your mental note of yesterday is pushed out of mind." Levitin suggests: "Hang your umbrella on the doorknob when you hear the weather report. This will reduce the clutter in your brain the next morning and you're less likely to get wet!"
4 Multitasking is a Myth
sHow many times in a day do you find yourself checking email while talking to a client on the phone, or answering text messages while in a meeting? You may tell yourself you're multitasking, but Levitin says that multitasking is a misnomer. "What we're actually doing is rapidly shifting our attention from one thing to another. This fast-paced attention seesaw depletes the brain's glucose supply. Glucose is the fuel that the brain's neurons need to communicate with one another."
Using up the brain's glucose supply by task switching means the brain will reach a level of fatigue much sooner in the day than if we concentrate on one item at a time with sustained attention.
If all that doesn't convince you, then according to Levitin:
"Rapidly Switching Tasks can also lower Your IQ by at least 10 Points."
So just think what effect that might have on the quality of your project decision-making for the day!
1. Lisa Evans is a freelance writer from Toronto who covers topics related to mental and physical health.
2. Daniel Levitin is a psychologist and behavioral neuroscientist. He is also author of the book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload.