Making decisions and solving problems throughout the day requires a lot of energy
by: Harold Taylor
People who work long hours are not necessarily workaholics, although it may be an indicator. But when people becomes obsessed with work to the point they feel a constant need to be successful and gain approval exclusively through work, they are considered to be workaholics. They have an addiction to work or a compulsive drive to continually perform at peak level.
If you spend at least part of every weekend doing office work, take work with you when you go on a vacation, have closer friends at work than you have away from the office, and most of your conversation revolves around your work at social functions and at the supper table, you could have a problem.
This would not only have a negative impact on your health and relationships, but on your business success as well due to excessive stress or burnout or depleted energy and a concomitant decrease in both efficiency and effectiveness.
Dr. Amir Allen Towfigh, a neurologist with Weill Cornell Medical Center, claims that multitasking, for instance, can jam up your brain processing. He says our frontal lobes are the main engines directing our attention, and they have a limited amount of processing power. Multitasking puts a strain on working memory since it requires you to bring back important pieces of information for each task as you switch back and forth between them.
As explained by Wray Herbert, in his book, On second thought, if we are overtired and mentally depleted, which would be the case if we worked long hours with inadequate sleep, our brain switches automatically to its less effortless mode; it’s just too difficult to crunch a lot of information and sort it intelligently if we lack the fuel for thinking. If you’re in the habit of composing email while carrying on a conversation on the telephone, for instance, you could be creating a brain drain.
David Rock, in his book, Your brain at work, claims that the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for thinking things through and making decisions, uses up metabolic fuel faster than people realize, and that we have a limited amount of energy resources for activities such as decision-making and impulse control. Making one difficult decision makes the next one even more difficult.
Making decisions and solving problems throughout the day requires a lot of energy. The frontal lobes of our brain are constantly weighing the pros and cons of every bit of information, trying to determine which ones are the best choice.
Starting in the mornings we tend to get sleepy every 90 minutes. These 90-minute cycles are ultradian rhythms, which determine when we feel alert and productive. We perform best during these 90-minute cycles, with about a 20-minute “sleepy zone” in between.
If you force yourself to work on tasks requiring high energy beyond the 90 minutes, your performance suffers and you get a low return on your invested time. It makes sense that when you are concentrating on the same task for a long time, your brain needs a break.
But even a change of pace is relaxing, and doing low-energy work like checking e-mail is usually okay. I have formed the habit of scheduling 90-minute blocks of time to work on my high energy tasks, such as writing, creating and planning – followed by more mundane tasks such as checking e-mail, returning phone calls and ordering office supplies.
Of course, managing energy presumes you are building enough energy in the first place – through such things as adequate sleep, exercise and proper nutrition, relaxation and a balanced life.
Probably the biggest reason for an inadequate supply of energy is due to a lack of sleep. Sleep has taken the brunt of our need for additional time to do all the things we want to do – to the point where the average recommended sleep time of 7 to 8 hours a night is being short-changed by at least an hour.
If you feel you are a captive to your work, try balancing your life by spending more time with family, friends, leisure time, non-competitive sports and hobbies and cultivate interests other than your job. Stop multitasking, working excessively long hours, working on lengthy tasks without a break, and trying to do everything yourself rather than delegating or outsourcing.
In other words, work smarter, not harder. One advantage of the “Lunch & Learn” sessions we offer at the Sussex & District Chamber of Commerce, is that they allow people to get away from their work environment, share ideas with other managers and entrepreneurs, and have an opportunity to take an objective look at how they are managing their work and their life.
Harold L Taylor, owner of Taylorintime.com, is a member of the Sussex & District Chamber of Commerce and a columnist with the Kings County Record, tj.news/kingscountyrecord.