In today’s business world, we often find ourselves in a strange, paradoxical situation. Information is at our fingertips; computers, phones and other gadgets are always available to help us communicate, do research and fulfill just about any task that might be put in front of us. And yet, productivity levels seem to be on the decline. We have all experienced it – and for some, it is an everyday occurrence. Despite all of the technology and resources at our disposal, the spark of creative business ideas and the steady flow of concentration are hard to come by, and harder yet to maintain for a longer period of time. Why is that? Could that same technology have something to do with it? Let’s delve a little deeper in search of an answer.
Are Gadgets Dragging You Down?
Technology is extremely useful, there is no doubt about it. However, time and time again, people fail to recognize its proper place and function in the work process. Today, more than ever before, we have a true treasure trove of information at our disposal. However, we consistently do ourselves a disservice by confusing information with knowledge. According to Theo Compernolle, a neuropsychiatrist specializing in the emotional and relational aspects of leadership, we are in a unique position to use modern technology for the simpler tasks, which frees up our time and intellectual power to make decisions and plans. However, in reality, we often find that being constantly connected devours both our time and our attention. We are bombarded with a never-ending torrent of information of no significant use. News, apps, social media and other aspects of ICT have a very clear addictive streak. In short, ICT poses a useful tool in our arsenal, but if the roles reverse and we stop being the master, they can have a strong detrimental effect to our performance.
How Exactly Does the Brain Work?
To answer this question we need to get familiarized with the way the brain works. Professor Compernolle divides all our brain processes into three distinct categories: those governed by the thinking brain, the reflex brain, and the archiving brain. Together, these three form the most powerful computer that has ever existed: the human brain. With the recent advances in artificial intelligence, we might live under the illusion that computers have surpassed the power of the human brain. In fact, according to Forbes Magazine, while computers are faster than us when it comes to simple mathematical operations, in terms of more complex tasks, they are still on the level of a child. With a complicated network of billions of cells, synapses and transmitters, the human nervous system has an almost endless potential. However, it does still have one very definite limitation. Let’s find out what it is.
How Does my Phone Decrease my Productivity?
In evolutionary terms, our thinking brain is still pretty young – for millions of years, we had emotions, reflexes and intuition, but not the capability of abstract thought. It makes sense then, that the thinking brain has not yet evolved to its full potential. Namely, it is only capable of concentrating on one thing at a time. It also works slowly, and needs prolonged periods of focus to yield the best results. You are starting to see what we are getting at, right? In order to turn all of the data we are receiving through technological channels into something meaningful, we need to give the thinking brain time to organize and reflect on all that information. Only then is it able to turn it into real knowledge, and perhaps even use creative processes to transform it into a new and original concept. The longer the stretch of uninterrupted work, the higher concentration levels we are able to reach, and the more productive our work is. If, on the other hand, we pause every time our phone dings with a Facebook notification, a new e-mail, or a call, the brain doesn’t have time to focus and it further prolongs the amount of time it takes us to complete a task. By allowing ourselves to be taken out of the work headspace every time our phone chimes, we compromise the quality of the work. “But it’s just a glance at the screen, it doesn’t really matter”, I hear you say. Yes, well, next time you’re flying, imagine your pilot texting his wife, while simultaneously trying to land the plane. Do you still think it doesn’t matter? Exactly.
Further Damage and How to Prevent it
The damage phones do to our work performance is two-fold. By repeatedly interrupting us, they lead to a constant switching between different points of focus. As a result, our attention becomes fractured. To make things worse, when our brains miss crucial pieces of information because of divided attention, they automatically try to fill in the blanks. This leads to misunderstandings and disinformation. The other way our overall performance suffers is when we try to fill every single moment of rest with content. If you are on a coffee break, don’t reach immediately for your phone. Facebook will still be there when you’re done. The news will wait for you. You can play your favorite game after work. The thing is, to reach its full potential, the brain needs a rest as well. In particular, the archiving portion of our brain needs time to regroup and organize all of the data it collected. In the moments when you slow down and give yourself room to breathe, without burying yourself under an avalanche of content, you are freeing up your brain, so that it can archive and think at the same time. The storage process turns information into long-term knowledge, while the reflecting process boosts creativity and often results in brilliant ideas.
From the insight into the workings of our brain, it is abundantly clear that distractions have a fatal effect on our performance levels. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance to afford our mind the luxury to work uninterrupted and become its best self.