by Victoria McIntosh | Featured Contributor
We’ve all been there: lots of things to do and not enough time to do them. Some days it can feel like we’re just jumping from last to task, and days when we don’t move forward enough are marked off as ‘unproductive’. However, while knowing how to hustle can be a good thing, hustling all the time is actually a problem in its own right. Pushing yourself hard all the time has definite drawbacks, and asking for speed constantly in the office can actually hurt productivity more than encourage it. If constantly running a marathon, heads up: here are four times when slowing down will actually be better for your mind and your work.
1. The Myth of Multitasking
Multitasking alas, isn’t the productive hack we wish it was: neuroscientists have revealed that while we think we’re doing two things at once, what’s actually going down is the brain switching back and forth between tasks very quickly. We can’t split our attention between multiple focus points: instead, when we try to handle multiple activities, our brain is playing a game of mental Tetris, putting attention on each new piece of information to react appropriately before switching to the next bit of incoming. This means that while so-called multitasking might be useful for short-sprinted tasks that require little mental processing, such as cleaning the kitchen while the coffee pot pours, it’s a horrible tactic when trying to nail down the big stuff, like a report due by the end of the day. Your brain simply isn’t getting the time it needs to process the work as effectively as it would if you spent time on the isolated task, because it’s too busy trying to handle the incoming buzz of information from everything else you’re trying to complete at the same time. Worse, because your mind is switching back and forth, it will take longer to complete your original objective: is it really worth trying to do two things at once if it takes twice as long to do them?
2. Slowing Down Improves Mental Ability
Want to boost your thinking power? Slow down, advises Daniel Kahneman, author of Positive Intelligence. In his book, Kahnman connects a solid habit of regularly slowing down and practicing calm, relaxed sensory observation with better business brains. Our minds, according to Kahneman have two settings: the instinctual fight or flight upfront, and the more creative processor running behind. Problem is, while fight or flight thinking has it’s uses, it’s not built for logical problem solving: when we try to get to the answers quickly, we’re not using our best mental abilities. To get to the heart of the issue and make better decisions we need to channel that back-end processor, and let it take in all the data. Kahnman recommends regular, if short, intervals of awareness: regular repetition of momentary mindfulness, focusing on the incoming data your five senses are bringing in at any given time. Michael Gelb, author of How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci echoes this recommendation. Da Vinci, according to Gelb, was a man who valued the refining of the physical senses, with Saper Vedere (knowing how to see) as one of the master’s personal mottos. From the master’s own observations, an important part of the path to greater brainpower is actually taking time to stop and smell the roses along the way.
3. Your Mind Needs Rest: Be Sure To Give It
This should come as no surprise: while we like to envision our bodies as machines, for the human body to run effectively, we need to give it rest. While it may be tempting to work through lunch and take more home at the end of the day, in reality your mind may be in better shape if you allow yourself to step back from work and take a break. “Our brain thinks more clearly when we get off the hamster wheel,” states Dr. Sandra Champman, founder and Chief Director of the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas. “Stop rushing from one obligation to the next, and make time to relax.” Resting also allows the brain to actually process some of the harder problems without stress, with studies showing the act of daydreaming a critical part of the problem solving process. If you’re working hard but don’t seem to be getting anywhere, don’t force yourself to skip breaks or cut sleep: that rest time might be exactly what your brain needs to finish the job.
4. Give People The Time They Need To Do The Job Right
Sometimes, no matter how soon you want to see the end result, you’ve got to trust the process and respect the time of all involved. While you have your priorities, so do others, and sometimes other projects and tasks will need attention before your assignment. Respect the deadlines, workloads and involvement of those around you: avoid last-minute requests when possible, and don’t become difficult if others can’t upend existing timetables to grant you priority. By being patient you can look forward to a higher quality of work, while building better relationships that will serve you well in the long run.