“So you constantly start to crave that from a cognitive base, like you want to check email but you can end up being neurologically driven to check email because you are craving that dopamine hit. It’s the same mechanism of addiction that is involved in gambling in terms of the neurotransmitters,” says Coutts.
Executives need to become aware of how reactive they really are. They need to observe the experience of being pulled away to answer their phones or emails when perhaps it’s not the best thing to do.
“If possible, kill notifications so you are accessing communications only when you have the time and space to deal with it. For instance, sitting at a traffic light in the car is a lovely piece of downtime but it’s not actually a good time to answer emails,” Coutts says.
Coutts highlights the concept of ‘switch time’ or the time it takes for an individual’s brain to come up to speed when moving from one task to another. For instance, if you check and read through an email, it takes 64 seconds to come back to what you were doing prior to that, she says.
People need to choose when they are going to switch by checking email at certain periods of the day rather than switch out of automatic pilot.
“All of this sounds like classic time management techniques … people have known this for quite a long time but still find it hard to implement. Often we are just on this automatic cycle of just reacting.”
Mindfulness interrupts that reaction cycle, says Coutts.
“Clearly these techniques are great and it helps to have some sort of practice where you train your brain to notice and focus, maybe for 10 minutes. So in the heat of the moment, you’ve actually got that mental muscle to be able to focus,” she says.
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