Office A.D.D. or, Email – the Brain Grenade

I just came across a fascinating article on MensHealth.com regarding the frantic pace of office life now-a-days.  I’ve copied some of the most interesting information below, but recommend heading HERE to give it a read in full (you’ll find more information and tips on overcoming problems):

“Our brains field more data than ever before,” says noted psychiatrist Ned Hallowell, M.D., “and with no acknowledgment of it.” Indeed, though most of us act as if nothing big has changed in our lives, Dr. Hallowell says we’re actually in the midst of a historic shift not seen since Gutenberg fired up the first printing press.

After all, do we not have big brains? Are we not multitaskers? The short answer, unfortunately, is no. Study after study shows that our gray matter really can’t handle two complex tasks at once — at least not without slowing us down or screwing us up.

“Our brains have billions of neurons, each making thousands of connections, and yet the truth is we can really focus on only one thing at a time,” says René Marois, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and an associate professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University; who proved that an actual neural bottleneck occurs in our frontal lobes when we attempt to do two tasks at once.

“Every e-mail interruption is like a hand grenade being thrown in the middle of your brain,” says Dr. Hallowell

Hallowell says that when it comes to technology, we tend to operate in one of two modes. The first, when we’re performing well, he calls “C-state,” C standing for calm, cool, collected. Its opposite is “F-state,” meaning flustered, frazzled, frantic. Not coincidentally, the symptoms of F-state look a lot like those of A.D.D.: difficulty focusing for more than a few seconds; a tendency to have a lot of projects going at once, with trouble completing any of them; a constant search for stimulation; and trouble with time management, including a tendency to procrastinate. “The busier you become, the less sense of time you feel, so that pretty soon there are only two times in your mind: now and not now,” Dr. Hallowell says. “You try desperately to put as much as you can into the pile of not now.”

Many days, <we> might as well have an F stamped on <our> forehead. …constantly interrupted by e-mail at work, unable to cut the cord between work and home, putting in 12-hour days, yet still feeling constantly overwhelmed from the bombardment of messages.

Obviously, F-state can take its toll at work. But the problems run deeper. Dr. Hallowell says that in a 1970  paper called “The Experience of Living in Cities,” the psychologist Stanley Milgram foreshadowed what many of us are now experiencing. Intrigued by the 1964 murder of a New York City woman named Kitty Genovese, who was stabbed to death as 38 people watched from their apartments and didn’t call the police, Milgram was able to show that the more data we process, the more we’re forced to screen out. It’s why people who live in small towns tend to make eye contact and say hello when they pass each other on the sidewalk, while people who live in cities pass each other blankly. Milgram said people’s “span of sympathy” decreases as the amount of data they have to process increases.

“This is the great danger of mental overload,” Dr. Hallowell says. “You lose your judgment and ability to empathize with other people.” It may be the greatest irony of the age we live in: The more ways we have to connect to one another, the less connected we really are.

Ultimately, the only way to stay in control of message overload, the only way to avoid F-state, is to artificially impose the boundaries that once existed naturally. More than anything, that means avoiding the temptation to check work email from home.