brain rest, quiet time, getting perspective

Employers Say Refresh Your Mind, Not Your Inbox

October 07, 2008 08:59 AM
by Shannon Firth
More businesses are learning to limit their use of technology for the sake of their sanity, and their bottom line.

Decrease Distractions, Increase Productivity

In our iPhone- and BlackBerry-saturated culture, which demands instant answers to e-mail and text messages amid a swirling maelstrom of other electronic interruptions, some people are learning the value of quiet time. But this forced withdrawal from tech devices is catching on slowly.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, a writer for BusinessWeek, reported on two amateur tennis players who continually ran to the sidelines to their BlackBerrys between drills at a tennis clinic. Hewlett writes, “Have the demands of our professional lives become so extreme that it’s impossible to be ‘off line’ for 90 minutes on a Sunday morning in August? Have we become addicted to our canny communication devices because they allow us to feel indispensable?”

Edward Hallowell, a psychiatrist and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) expert said, “People think it’s their fault that they’re falling behind,” he says. “They think they have to sleep less and work harder and stay later at the office, which only makes it worse because they’re not taking care of their brain by getting enough sleep.”

How important were the messages those tennis players were checking? According to a BusinessWeek survey designed and conducted by the Center for Work Life Policy, “37% of emails received by executives are either redundant or irrelevant.” And constant monitoring of often irrelevant messages may be harmful. A study from Kings’ College at London University reported an average drop in IQ of 10 percentage points as a result of “communication overload.” The report noted a greater drop in men’s IQ’s than in women’s.
Conversely, studies have shown that designated quiet time helps workers gain productivity, and that the ability to induce a kind of mental quietness helps many executives better assess problems and make important decisions.

Tech industry giants have recently started looking to tame the ogre they helped create. Following a seven-month “Quiet Time” study created by Nathan Zeldes, an engineer at Intel, results showed that workers were more able to focus on their projects when given a half-day of uninterrupted time, free from meetings and other distractions. The Austin American-Statesman reported that 45 percent of the workers said the quiet period helped them in their work, and 71 percent recommended the policy be implemented in other branches of the company.

Google followed suit in the tech withdrawal
, creating an experimental tool that allows workers a 15-minute reprieve from their in-boxes. Why the need for such a reprieve? RescueTime, a research firm that analyzes individuals’ computer use, said the average person checks e-mail 50 times a day and instant messages 77 times each day. Basex, another research company, estimated that the U.S. has lost more than $650 billion annually in productivity due to unwarranted disruptions and “predominately mundane matters.”

A study conducted by the Canadian Institute of Management nearly 20 years ago, long before the BlackBerry craze, examined the behavior and focus of 20 top executives in North America. Anonymous executives responded to the survey, defining quiet time as a “very special way to come to terms with change.” Another executive explained, “It provides a sense of confidence that all things have been considered and that you have made the right decision.” Though times have changed, the message resonates today: quiet, or the ability to extract mental calm, is essential to making good decisions.

Related Topics: Technology and relationships; nap your way to better memory

Brian Newsome, a writer for The Colorado Springs Gazette, spoke with relationship experts on how technology affects relationships. Earl Friesen, a marriage and family counselor told Newsome, “Technology makes it easy to run and avoid issues in life.” Steve Tucker, a program manager for a counseling service, discussed the perils of online interaction to existing relationships: “People have actually jumped out of a marriage and filed for divorce and never met the person” for whom they are ending their marriage. Still, both men agree that technology does have its benefits; some relationships flourish online and new technology can help keep families together.

In 2007, a Harvard School of Public Health study found that naps may improve cardiac health, especially in working men who nap 30 minutes a day at least three days a week. These men have a 67 percent lower chance of dying from cardiac arrest than men who don’t nap. A German study published in New Scientist magazine on memory and napping found that students who took a six-minute nap were better able to recall words an hour later.

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