Think better, work less
Pressure in the workplace is on the rise, resulting in reduced performance, anxiety and, in the worst cases, burnout. Knowing how to optimize performance (your own and your team’s) while avoiding psychological exhaustion is fast becoming a valuable leadership asset. It is also a skill that can be acquired, as revealed by Gaël Allain, a cognitive psychologist.
Is greater efficiency with less effort nothing more than a pipe dream? Far from it! It is possible to build your mental strength so you can reach and sustain an optimal level of professional excellence over time without becoming exhausted. In Penser mieux, travailler moins, Allain suggests building an entire ecosystem of intellectual resources through a method and process that can be applied to individuals and organizations to achieve more sustainable personal and collective performance.
Know yourself and build a virtuous mental ecosystem
It seems paradoxical that, to maximize the potential of the human brain, you first have to be aware of its limitations. Since they are easily exhausted, you need to allocate cognitive capacities wisely. For example, you can’t perform several different activities simultaneously without undermining the speed and quality of execution. Your attentional abilities are as limited as they are fragile, and the cost of distraction is high: 30% of your basic daily work. To preserve your capacities, you need to put strategies in place, including creating a sober and ergonomic office environment and imposing distraction-free windows for working with no external interruptions (emails, phone calls, and so on) as a way of promoting concentration. Allain also recommends not allowing yourself be overwhelmed by details when making decisions or solving problems. Learn to “cut to the quick” even if it involves a degree of guesswork. The aims is to sift through information at speed, picking out what is relevant and meaningful and putting aside anything that is superfluous and that might unnecessarily distract you. Don’t forget that 80% of your mental energy is devoted to non-essential tasks. Another function of your finite capacity is your working memory, which can theoretically retain an average of seven different items of information at a single time. In practice, however, it requires a special effort to handle three or four items simultaneously. Reducing the information load by using mnemonic strategies such as association or mind maps is essential (see box: Using the loci method to improve your memory). Integrating new data means actively appropriating it by “encoding” the material at source in the most personalized way possible: episodic information linked to deep personal meaning is the most straightforward to retrieve. Furthermore, cognitive expertise varies between individuals.
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Based on Penser mieux, travailler moins by Gaël ALLAIN (Eyrolles, January 2013) and his lecture given at the fifty-second HR Lab meeting organized by Business Digest and HEC Executive Education on March 24, 2016.
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