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Why Multi–Tasking Can Damage Your Brain (And Your Career)

Here’s definitive proof on why multi-tasking is a total myth.

Travis Bradberry

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New studies show that multi-tasking kills your performance and may even damage your brain. Research conducted at Stanford University found that multi-tasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time.

The researchers found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.

A special skill?

But what if some people have a special gift for multi-tasking? The Stanford researchers compared groups of people based on their tendency to multi-task and their belief that it helps their performance.

We-recommend-tickRecommended: 4 Tips to Wire Your Brain for Entrepreneurial Wisdom

They found that heavy multi-taskers were actually worse at multi-tasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time because they had more trouble organising their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another. Ouch.

Multi-tasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.

Multi-Tasking and Brain Damage

Research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multi-tasking lowers your IQ. A study at the University of London found that participants who multi-tasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night.

IQ drops of 15 points for multi-tasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child.

Cognitive impairment from multi-tasking was believed to be temporary, but new research suggests otherwise. Researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK compared the amount of time people spend on multiple devices (such as texting while watching TV) to MRI scans of their brains.

They found that high multi-taskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy and cognitive and emotional control.

While more research is needed to determine if multi-tasking is physically damaging the brain, it’s clear that it has negative effects.

Neuroscientist Kep Kee Loh, the study’s lead author, explained: “It is important to create an awareness that the way we are interacting with the devices might be changing the way we think and these changes might be occurring at the level of brain structure.”

Learning from Multi-Tasking

If you’re prone to multi-tasking, this is not a habit you’ll want to indulge – it clearly slows you down and decreases the quality of your work.

Even if it doesn’t cause brain damage, allowing yourself to multi-task will fuel any existing difficulties you have with concentration, organisation, and attention to detail.

Multi-tasking in meetings and other social settings indicates low self- and social awareness, two emotional intelligence (EQ) skills that are critical to success at work. TalentSmart has tested more than a million people and found that 90% of top performers have high EQs.

If multi-tasking does damage the anterior cingulate cortex (a key brain region for EQ) research suggests it will lower your EQ in the process.

We-recommend-tickRecommended: Lose that Scatter Brain Forever With These Neat Tricks

So every time you multi-task you may be harming your performance now and damaging an area of your brain that’s critical to your future success at work.

Award-winning co-author of the best-selling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the co-founder of TalentSmart -- a consultancy that serves more than 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies and is a leading provider of emotional intelligence tests, training and certification.

Work Life Balance

Want More Productive Employees? It’s Time To Get Physical, Together

Exercising with your employees can help to keep them productive, energised and motivated, while strengthening your team both physically and mentally

Belinda Mountain

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There’s a growing awareness that health is a huge contributor to people’s productivity at work, both in terms of mental health and physical health.

But getting employees to exercise in their own time, using their own motivation, can be challenging. How then, do we get them off their office chairs and get their heart rates going, in a fun and inspirational way? Doing it together may be the key.

Five Benefits to Team Exercise:

1. Motivation

If you’re running a race alone, it can be very easy to simply stop, because all you’re letting down is yourself. But if you’ve got a team mate cheering you on from the other side, waiting for you to pass them that baton, you’ll be that much more motivated to carry on.

Related: Is There A Link Between Physical And Financial Wellness?

The same applies to a game of volleyball, ten pin bowling or even a group obstacle course. The Fedhealth IMPI challenge has a corporate race over a distance of 10 – 12km, which includes 18 obstacles that will be hugely motivating to everyone competing. This event is held throughout the country from early April, featuring a variety of obstacles that foster teamwork and build morale.

2. Level Playing Field

In a corporate situation it can become very much an “us and them” scenario, where management sits in their ivory towers and is far removed from the day-to-day running of the business, and the people who perform these tasks.

Group exercise makes everyone equal: placing them on a level playing field where they can converse, get to know each other and work together.

It’s a case of: leave your job titles and organograms in the office, get on your tackies and have some fun! Tiffini Wissing, Fedhealth member and founder of Cool Kids’ Cabs agrees, saying:  “I love obstacle courses…I even took my entire team at the office which included 30 ladies from management, our cleaners and our drivers to do one!”.

3. Leadership

You’ll be amazed by how a different context can bring out qualities in people you may have never expected.

Related: Why You Should Be Swopping Your Lunch Meetings For Spinning Class

They may be quiet as a mouse around the board room table, but put people in a challenging physical situation, such as having to get 10 people over a three metre high wall, and you could see new leaders emerging.

Team sports and activities can highlight people’s attributes in a surprising way, and help you learn more about the individuals who make up your company.

4. Empowering

Getting people to try new things is one way of showing them their true potential, and this can extend into their careers too. If they achieve a task that they formerly thought impossible, like running 2km through the mud, or wading through a river holding on to a rope, they are highly likely to take this mindset into the office.

Tiffini says: “My staff absolutely loved it and hated me for it simultaneously! It was so empowering for so many of them who never in a million years thought they’d be able to do anything like it.”

There’s no doubt that getting your staff members to team up and complete a fun activity together has multiple health benefits.

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Work Life Balance

Boundaries, You And Success: Why They All Are Connected (And Why You Need To Choose Wisely)

Have you ever calculated how many of your 24hrs you are in “work-mode” – whether thinking, doing, commuting to meetings or responding to a quick mail at a family braai?

Anja van Beek

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I have noticed that many people, at one point or another, struggle to find time to cope with the demands of modern day life, especially as we are surrounded by technology. We are all ‘expected’ to strike a reasonable balance between the needs of our personal lives and professional careers. But in reality, it is a very tough task.

In a study done by OECD, reveals that:

1 in every 8 employees works 50 hours or more per week.

Turkey is by far the country with the highest proportion of people working very long hours, with 34%, followed by Mexico with nearly 30%. In South Africa, almost 19% of employees work very long hours, more than the OECD average of 13. This is quite alarming!

The work-life challenge: A key focus area for all managers

In a previous article, I have given some pointers how you, in your role as a manager and leader, can support your team striking the sweet-spot between a healthy work-life balance.

The reality is that leaders also need to fill their own cup. Many of my clients say they feel overwhelmed by what we need to do and achieve in a day. They also say, “there is just not enough time in one day” (sounds familiar?) and sometimes they even feel run-down, frustrated or anxious.

This all boils down to BOUNDARIES.

If you are a go-getter and crave to feel less overwhelmed, consider one of these 5 suggestions:

1. Important vs urgent – make time to reflect:

Daily reflection can be a way of creating mind space as it allows one the opportunity to gain perspective on situations we find challenging. Many successful people make it a daily habit of taking time to reflect.

By reflecting, we can consider what didn’t work, acknowledge what went wrong and choose a different way to prevent it from happening again.

An easy way to start reflecting is to do a one-sentence journal every day; also list and incorporate something that you are grateful for. If you need some inspiration, Ulysses.org provides a few good sentence starters.

2. If you take on new things, consider what you’re going to park?

All we have is time. The way you spend your time determines the quality of your life. I’m a strong believer in having a growth mindset and being a life-long learner; we all should find time to pursue goals and interest outside our family and work life.

Having said that, I’m mindful that we sometimes take on too much and set ourselves up for failure. If you take on a new hobby, venture or enroll for a course, consider choosing something that you are currently doing that you can “park” for a season.

3. Learn to say no without feeling guilty

‘No’ is also an answer. The truth is: if you say no, you are in fact just taking control of your life and prioritizing what is more important to you at that current time. Warren Buffet says, “the difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”

Related: How To Achieve Work-Life Balance

We can’t all be “yes-people” – imagine what the world would look like? When saying no, don’t beat around the bush or offer a weak excuse; just say it. In a study done by Prof Hagtveld he suggests one uses the words “I don’t” rather than “I can’t”. The latter might sound like an excuse whilst “I don’t” implies you have established certain boundaries for yourself.

4. Choose a support system you can trust

Most working women feel trapped. They feel they need to take control of every single aspect in their lives – personal and professional… and that is exhausting! We need to remember that we don’t have to do everything ourselves.

As we successfully delegate certain tasks at work; similarly, we need to delegate duties in our personal lives as well.

Yes, the #TheJuggleIsReal, I have been there…trying to do everything myself. Being a supermom at home and being an ambitious colleague at work. I felt drained most of the time.

Related: Building Real Work Life Balance

How do you get out of this rut?

  • Get a support system in place that you can rely on. It could be arranging a lift-club at school, assigning a tutor or Au pair helping the kids with homework or choosing to do your grocery shopping online.
  • Discuss sharing chores with your partner; many modern partners are more open to taking on non-traditional tasks e.g. cooking dinner, doing the washing or putting the kids to bed.
  • The best advice that I have received as a working mother was: “be present in the moment”. This simply means choosing to focus on what you’re doing and not allowing your mind to wander to other urgent matters. I often find that when I’m busy helping the kids with homework my mind is already busy with the presentation for the next morning. I then need to refocus and choose to concentrate on the important and not the urgent.

5. Are you clear on your vision or purpose?

Do you know why you are you getting up in the morning? If not, this can significantly impact your journey as you have nothing to align your priorities with.

In his research, Richard Leider, found that many 65-year old people said they wish they have understood their purpose earlier in life. Make time to clarify your vision as this will guide your choices.

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Work Life Balance

7 Ways To Be ‘On’ Even When You’re Totally Exhausted

Trade shows can test the limits of human endurance. Here’s how to survive and thrive on your next trip.

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I spent the past week representing my company at two different trade shows. I am exhausted.

The entire time I was out there, I had to be “on” while enduring the basic conference schedule: Up early for a breakfast, catch a seminar, talk to potential partners/customers at our booth instead of eating lunch, chat at coffee break “networking” sessions, circulate through cocktail parties and make lively conversation with twenty strangers packed around a dinner table. Rinse and repeat. The big question became, “How can I keep this up?”

Here’s what I learned about thriving and not collapsing at your next conference.

1. Know your pitch

When I used to work for The Metropolitan Museum of Art or Disney Theatrical, people understood who I was and what I did right away. But now I work for a start-up called Show-Score, which I need to explain. And so I learned to do in the simplest way possible.

Depending on who my audience is, Show-Score is “Rotten Tomatoes for theater” or “Trip Advisor for theater”. This saved my life. You don’t have the time or energy to give a ten-minute spiel everytime you meet someone new at a conference, so learn how to explain your business or product in one simple and intriguing phrase.

Related: How To Go From Burnout To Breakthrough

2. Don’t talk business non-stop

I’m in sales, and sometimes I worry that I sound like an endless commercial. I am passionate about my company, but no one wants to hang out with a packaged pitch.

A quick sales moment is fine on the trade floor, but when you sit down to dine or grab drinks with colleagues at the bar, what’s your go-to conversation?

I like finding out where people are from, what sports teams they like and what movies they’ve seen recently. And if you are a conference where interests are shared, lean on that. At the ticketing conference I went to, I learned so much, like how the same venue will take a completely different approach to selling tickets to a college basketball game versus selling tickets to a concert. (Okay, that may only be interesting to a ticketing nerd like me, but you get the idea).

3. Take ten minutes of Zen

7-ways-to-be-on-even-when-youre-totally-exhausted_zen-mindfulness_embeddedI must attribute this advice to a former colleague. We may not have time to grab a power nap, but we can all grab ten minutes of alone time at some point in the day.

If you are on a conference floor, walk away from the booth, find a quiet spot and zone out for a full ten minutes. Don’t scroll through your Twitter feed, don’t check email. Just chill and rebuild your headspace.

4. Talk less, smile more

For you musical fans, you’ll get the Hamilton reference of this line. (I can’t help it, I work in theater!) But the point here is that when you’re dealing with tons of people, realise that you don’t always need to be the one talking.

Spend time listening. And smile, damn it. I have made more connections with people at conferences just by smiling at them than by talking. It usually happens during a shared experience like being stuck on an endless line trying to get Starbucks before a string of meetings starts. Or I’ll just smile at someone who looks as exhausted as I am at the end of the day. Try it and your whole mood lightens, too.

5. Wear comfortable shoes, dress your best

For women, high heels without backup flats is a rookie mistake. And for men, don’t buy new shoes right before hours on a trade floor and expect to break them in. Make sure you wear something you can easily walk around in for an entire day that makes you look professional and feel confident. Same goes for your outfit. I have a few dresses that make me feel on top of the world. A friend of mine loves to change out his pocket squares to give both his look and his confidence a boost.

Related: 5 Ways to Get Unstuck in the Face of Creative Burnout

6. Go easy on the booze

Yes, a conference can mean lots of cocktails but I always follow each drink with two glasses of water. Or sometimes I just fake it completely and order seltzer with lime and sip slowly.

There is always that temptation to have an all-night rager when we are on the road, but don’t forget you are there for work. Tomorrow you will need to be back “on” and a hangover is not going to help.

7. Sleep when you can

Five AM flights and time zone changes can seriously throw off your sleep schedule. So when you do finally get a chance to catch some Zs, sleep like you mean it. Plug your phone in away from your bed (the temptation of work email can wait till the morning), turn off the lights, pull the curtains closed and rest up. I almost never turn on the TV when I get back to my hotel room. The pull of late night talk shows means I get what is called “junk sleep,” which is when light and noise mess up sleep cycles and sleep-related hormone levels. You wake up exhausted and grouchy. Not exactly how you want to start an important day of networking.

And the eighth bonus tip: Remember to have fun! I have learned so much at these trade shows, made great business connections and even a few new friends. Enjoy! And smile!

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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