Mental Overload

An interesting article on Forbes.com discussing how technology makes us rude in the office, actually touched on stress and burnout that comes from overloading our brains which then affects our relationships. The full article is here, but I’ve excerpted a few quotes for you if you’re um… busy 🙂

Technology, of course, was supposed to make life easier and give us more time. And it does enable us to do many things more quickly than before: type documents, send invoices…. But there is a price. It has also created an expectation that all tasks can be accomplished as quickly as it takes to check a Wikipedia page.

The problem is our brains aren’t wired any differently than they were 30 years ago, and tasks that require concentration and creativity (say, writing a Beach Boys song) take the same amount of time that they always did.

“The brain hasn’t changed,” says Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. “We still can only handle so much. But we’re asking our brains to process exponentially more data points than we ever have before in human history, and that mental energy has to come from somewhere.

Unfortunately, human relationships are often the casualties of this mental exhaustion. We have so much to do and so much information to process that we don’t even realize we are interrupting each other, failing to listen, subtly or not-so-subtly saying, “Hurry up. Get to the point, already.”

Not only mental exhaustion, but stress also impairs our productivity…

“The stress level is so high, not just for those laid off or the people worried about layoffs, but also for the people who are left doing a lot more work,” says organizational psychologist Henry L. Thompson.

It quickly becomes a vicious circle: You’re under the gun to get that quick-turnaround project into the boss, which makes you late for the meeting, which annoys your co-workers. Each incident builds on the last and the stress level ratchets, making you–quite literally–unable to think.

Stress, Thompson explains, impairs our ability to use our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that organizes, plans and processes information. The result is you become more disoriented–and more likely to ignore the e-mail or forget the lunch date. “There’s a whole series of things that is exacerbated by stressful events,” says Thompson.

Last week I had the CFO of a multimillion dollar social sector organisation employing hundreds of people who told me, he’s had his actual work hours changed so he can work a half day on Wednesday’s and go play golf. He makes up his hours, but he says for the first two days of the week, he looks forward to playing, and on the last two days of the week, he looks forward to the weekend. He still gets the same amount of work done, or actually probably more as a result of maintaining positive mental health. Smart guy.

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