The following is a rough synopsis of a series of programmes broadcast in the UK on BBC Radio 4 last year entitled "Oliver Burkeman is busy". The five 15 minute programmes are available until the middle of September through BBC iPlayer.
• Research shows that, compared to the past, women are doing more paid work and less unpaid work, whilst for men it is the reverse. Overall, there has been no significant change in the amount that we do!
• In the "Knowledge economy" it is more difficult to identify what has been achieved compared to, say, working in a factory. At Microsoft, whilst young staff thought they were busy, constantly answering e-mails, etc. their managers were concerned they had lost control of their workload.
• In addition, in these situations individuals start dividing their time into ever smaller slices. This leads to a growing number of unfinished tasks. Again, research shows that we find it easier to remember tasks whilst they are still current. Consequently, the brain is trying to juggle more balls and this leads to things being missed and an increased difficulty in making even simple decisions. The brain becomes overwhelmed.
• Multi-tasking: when we are switching between two different tasks it takes about 40% longer to complete them and performance drops. A Harvard MBA performs at the level of an eight year old once they start "multi-tasking" so jobs tend to go unfinished as other priorities appear. The result is that the brain's to do list increases which creates more distractions.
As you might expect, the answers are all too familiar:
• Cluster similar tasks together, e.g. answer your e-mails, etc. between sessions focused on more important or demanding issues.
• If you are focused on something, like a meeting, and arrive early, don't check your e-mails as this is likely to distract you from the subject of the meeting.
• Don't fill your day with appointments as something unexpected will throw your schedule. Add a couple of short periods for "meeting with self". Use them for that unplanned event but if nothing crops up use them for thinking, revising priorities or getting a head start on tomorrow's agenda.
• Establish a closing down routine for the end of the day. Turn off laptops, phones, etc. and start cooking dinner. Anything that tells the brain "work is over".
• The human body is very good at coping with short bouts of stress but it is not a machine.
• The way to change is not to look for things to give up but to focus on what is important to you.
• Take time off. Really. Set aside time to rest and relax. Go for a walk. It is only when you stop and think that you will get the opportunity to change things and make improvements in your life.
I can relate particularly to feeling overwhelmed, most days there is at least one occasion when I just want to sit down and cry. Listen to the programmes and see if there is anything that helps.
A Moodscope member.