Understanding the brain to work more efficiently and reduce stress
I’m Tricia, Head of EHS for SI DG MAS, I’m passionate about well-being and tackling the impossible problems!
A common theme in the Siemens Global Employee Survey is around workplace stress and workloads. It’s a difficult problem to tackle. Having attended SMART resilience training, I’m aware that people have different levels of resilience and stress levels are impacted by a multitude of external and internal factors. There are times when we may be quiet and enjoy the calm; and times when we are pushed and need to go that extra mile. It’s pretty much accepted that we will always have peaks and troughs in our workload. That being said, workloads should always be manageable and if you find it constantly unmanageable, it’s time to have a chat with your manager. You’ll hopefully find out by reading this blog why…
Multi-tasking is tiring!
So, if stress is deeply individual aspect and workloads fluctuate, what can we do? This was my dilemma. Having attended talks on neuroscience and mindfulness, I was inspired to research how we can manage our own workloads, and therefore stress levels, by understanding how our brain works and using this to plan our work more efficiently. This is a “toe-dipping” article, not going into any great depth and the tips will certainly not work for everyone, but hopefully it will get you thinking and researching yourself.
Multi-tasking: buzz word of the 1980s!
We can multi-task in our day to day lives without any issue, simple monotonous tasks which take no real thought. The issues start when we try to multitask for things which require thought and attention, such as checking your email whilst you are writing a report.
What happens when we try to multitask?
- The prefrontal cortex of the brain begins working anytime you need to pay attention. This area of your brain helps keep your attention on a single goal and carry out the task by coordinating messages with other brain systems. Working on a single task means both sides of the prefrontal cortex are working together in harmony. Adding another task forces the left and right sides of the brain to work independently.
- In other words, our brain switches attention from one task to the other very quickly, shifting its attention from one task to the other. We do not pay attention to both tasks simultaneously.
- This action of fast switching uses up energy (in the form of oxygenated glucose), meaning there is less energy for other neural connections. This is why multitasking is tiring!
There is a test you can try out here to see how multitasking affects your efficiency
Multitasking and stress:
Like computer memory chips, which have prescribed environmental operating ranges, the neurons in the prefrontal cortex become less effective when someone is stressed. This stress can be the result of multitasking. Thus, multitasking can lead to stress, which can lead to less effective and efficient working memory, which leads to less efficient work.
What to do?
A few simple tips and tricks! I’ve tested all of these out and found some work very well for me, everyone will have different experiences though….
- Focus your mind by minimising your to-do list, a good article is here. (Personally, this has been a game changer for me, only three tasks on my Work in Progress at any one time, with the rest of my to-do list on separate pages.)
- Block of sections of time for tasks and take breaks after each block.
- Close down emails and only open once or twice an hour (what’s the worst that can happen), my next blog will be about the impact of checking our emails as soon as they arrive…