‘A study done at the University of London found that constant emailing and text- messaging reduces mental capability by an average of ten points on an IQ test.’ (David Rock, Your Brain at Work)
Smart phones are rapidly becoming the norm and jokes are made about those who still have ‘dumb phones’. But maybe those of us who have smart phones aren’t so smart after all. Having 24/7 access to our emails and constant communication, through various apps, means we are ‘always on’. But it is being discovered that being always on does not equate with productivity and may actually have a cost.
After reading ‘Your Brian at Work’, I’m beginning to wonder what damage I am doing to my brain! The modern tools of communication and productivity may actually be harming us. Dr Rock explains that the problem is our brains are forced to be on alert much of the time, which increases our stress hormones and creates an artificial sense of constant crisis.
He goes on to say "the surprise result of being always on is that not only do you get a negative effect on mental performance, but it also tends to increase the total number of emails you get. People notice you respond to issues quickly, so they send you more issues to respond to.” And while multitasking is admired in those who can do it well, accuracy goes down when more than one task requires our attention.
While being ‘always on’ can seem productive, the cost on the brain can be significant. Research has repeatedly shown that our performance, either accuracy or quality, is impacted when we try and hold several chunks of information in mind at once, and perform more than one mental task. Each process uses incredible amounts of energy. Dr Rock explains that it’s not doing two things at once that is the problem, but doing two mental tasks at once which leads to mental exhaustion and a drop in capacity. The key is to finish one operation before the next can begin; conscious processes need to be done one at a time.
So what do we need to do in order to preserve our brain’s energy and IQ (and to maintain accuracy and quality in our work)? Some helpful suggestions given in the book:-
- Catch yourself trying to do two things at once, slow down and focus on one at a time.
- Limit the time you are doing several things at once and then go back to focusing on one thing. Perhaps turn your smartphone off while you do focused work, for example only having it on in the afternoons. (You may want to let your colleagues know this work strategy.)
- Embed on-going tasks so that they become routines and patterns, which require much less energy for the brain to perform.
- Get decisions and thinking tasks into the right order. Don’t try and make decisions where the information is not all available. Wait and save energy by not thinking about the same incomplete things on and off, over and over again.
(For more detail on this issue, refer to Your Brian at Work, Scene 3, Dr David Rock)
Question to Ponder:- What working habits do you need to change in order to preserve and maximize your mental energy?