Issue 42

Seven Myths About Work That Are Bad for Your Brain

Echipa Steelcase
@ Steelcase


Near-constant distractions have become the norm in workplaces around the world. Workers are struggling to get more done and focus harder with little understanding of what attention is or how to attain or manage it productively. Steelcase research revealed seven myths (and their truths) about how to manage your attention at work.

1. I can pay attention from the back of the room.

Attention depends on how close we are to sensory stimuli. To create new ideas, we have to work in spaces where people can hear well, have eye contact with one another and can easily view shared documents and materials.

2. Sitting down all day will help me focus more.

Static sitting sabotages our ability to concentrate, but movement stimulates production of the protein BDNF (brain-derived neuro- trophic factor), which helps brain areas vital to learning, memory and concept thinking. Get up, take a walk or encourage your workplace to add a treadmill desk.

3. Drawing is only for creative types.

People think in shapes, pictures and patterns— not in numbers and letters.

Using digital and analog tools to visualize information can support better thinking and increase focus. Help your brain organize information by sketching out your ideas or projecting what you are working on.

4. I will be more productive if I respond to email during this phone call.

We cannot consciously keep more than two things in our brain at one time. When we think we are multitasking, we are really switching our attention rapidly between things—and the more we do it, the worse we become at prioritizing. Create workspaces away from distractions to encourage focusing on one task at a time.

5. My brain is easily distracted and cannot change.

Mindfulness—keeping your mind tuned in to the current moment—can train the brain. The practice has proven to increase gamma activity in the brain, indicating intensely focused thought. Consider identifying a place for moments of mindfulness and peace in the workplace.

6. If I work more hours, I will get more done.

Brains get tired. The brain's capacity is limited and complete focus isn't usually possible for longer than 45 minutes. Do your brain a favor and take breaks throughout the day. Move to a café or social area for rejuvenation after an extended period of focused work.

7. I can sleep when I'm dead.

Sleep plays an important role in our ability to focus and hold attention. When we are sleep-deprived, our ability to learn, focus and regulate our mood decreases. Consider adding nap rooms or taking short breaks to rejuvenate and refresh the brain.

Learning from these myths can help us change our existing habits and gain more control of our brains and our lives. The workplace can help, too. In a work environment designed as an ecosystem of different zones and settings, workers can appropriately select spaces that match their brain modes and needs, helping them Think Better.





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