An e-mail, that one message on WhatsApp and then still checking Facebook: those who don't pay attention don't get to work anymore. This is how you give your brain some rest from all that digital violence and you get your tasks done.
Your brain has a hard time with current technology. The constant stream of beeps, messages and notifications that it gets from your phone and laptop may cause a bit of the lucky substance dopamine, but they also ensure that you become addicted and crave another message via WhatsApp, or a like for your photo.
Not only in our private lives, but also within the office walls, this addiction causes problems, writes Belgian neuropsychiatrist and author of the book This is how you get more out of your brain Theo Compernolle. "The fact that we can be reachable all day is a wonderful fact for the workplace."
He remembers his thesis, in which he had to wait six weeks for a single scientific article from the library in a little accident. "That will now be in front of you in less than a second, via Google."
Respond quickly with 'the old part of the brain'
But being available at all times has a major impact on the brain. "When we are busy with all the messages that we receive, we mainly use our reflex brain. This is the old part of our brain, which reacts mainly to stimuli and impulses. It responds at lightning speed, but real thinking does not work itself."
"Multitasking does not work." Theo Compernolle, neuropsychiatrist
The thinking brain, on the other hand, is focused. So goal-oriented that it can only do one thing at a time. "That is why multitasking does not work, but it also takes a lot of time to get back into your workflow if you are distracted by your phone or e-mail notification."
Margriet Sitskoorn, professor of clinical neuropsychology at Tilburg University, sees more and more people acting as slaves to their phones. "The information we receive today appeals to the old structures in our brain. They react very strongly to emotional things that are important for survival: sex, status, fear, food."
"How we use technology is the problem"
Both scientists emphasize that technology itself is not the problem. "What stuck is the way people use it," said Compernolle. "We are gradually becoming addicted to technology."
The degree of stress that results from this is what affects our brains, says Sitskoorn. "The constant feeling of being on, being reachable. That has an effect on the hippocampus, the area in your brain that you use for remembering things and your emotion regulation."
Other areas that almost everyone uses at work are the prefrontal cortex, good for keeping goals in mind, paying attention and planning, and your neocortex, the shell that sits over your brain and looks like a walnut. "That is where information is brought together."
Junk of your notifications
Yet it is not impossible to use your brain optimally in the office. Although it requires some perseverance. "In fact, you are a junkie of your notifications, and you literally have to quit," said Sitskoorn.
According to Sitskoorn, a good start is checking your e-mail at set times. "Twice a day: at the beginning and the end. That way you can continue to focus on the important issues." Do you think you are really indispensable? Set up an out of office with the message that you check your mail twice a day. "Then senders know where they stand."
"We let our phone send our attention." Margriet Sitskoorn, professor of clinical neuropsychology
Another tip, which may seem obvious, but is still not followed very much: put your phone away. "We let our phone send our attention." Place your telephone with a colleague, put it in your bag or, if necessary, put it in another room. "That way it requires less and less attention," says Sitskoorn.
The third point is training your attention. "Attention is called the new gold. From the MAX Memory Trainer to apps that offer mindfulness: try to hold your attention as long as possible on a certain subject," Sitskoorn said.
Three quick tips for a rested brain
- 1. Sleep well. When you sleep, the information moves from your short-term memory to your long-term memory and new connections are made in your brain. This happens less frequently for people who sleep irregularly.
- 2. Move every day. Exactly at work. It doesn't have to be a marathon, a lunch walk can be enough. Also try to get out of your seat every hour, so that you can work fresher again afterwards.
- 3. Expose yourself to new things. If you let your brain do the same work all day, the brain will have little work. To prevent that the only question they get is that of technology, you will occasionally have to learn new things.