The overflowing brain

Posted on November 11, 2010. Filed under: overflowing brain, stress |

“You have just entered a room, presumably to look for something, but you’re not really sure why you’re there, you stare straight into the wall and try to remember.”

In his book named “The Overflowing Brain – Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory”  Torkel Klingberg, professor of cognitive neuroscience, gives us the answers to many questions about what happens in the brain when you are disturbed by your cell phone? When you try to do three things at once? When there is an abundance of information?

“It is no longer the technology that limits us, but our own brain capacity.” he says in his book.

I can only agree that this is where I find the biggest mess among my participants these days. When I started working with efficiency 15 years ago, I rolled up my sleeves and dug into large stacks of paper helping people who sat trembling with tears in their eyes and saying “I can not stand this anymore, there’s something wrong.” They had all the symptoms of stress. Talented professionals who found it difficult to say no and had no limitation on how much they could work.

Today, I meet well-educated, experienced people with a fairly clean workplace and a mini-computer that stares at me with confusion and wonder “Should it be like this? Why do I never have enough time for everything? ”

When I ask my participants to measure how often they are interrupted, their average is every 8 minutes. The thing is that it takes more than 7 minutes to get down into deep concentration. An equation that is difficult. People who work with their computer has an average of eight different windows open at once.

My participants tell stories about how they are at work at eight on Monday morning and go through hundreds of e-mails. “At ten o’clock, I am still not finished with the e-mail, but begin to make a presentation to the meeting and read through some of my colleagues ideas for the meeting. Five minutes into the presentation, I am interrupted by a colleague seeking advice on buying a new mobile phone. We search through the internet for different options, I ignore my own ringing cell phone. My colleague answers hers, which has an annoying ringtone and I’m trying desperately to find the email which the caller refers to. As she continues talking I delete some emails while listening and this order of working continues until I go home on Friday and wonder what I actually did this week? “

This is a very common experience. Researchers confirm that the constant distractions buzzing like mosquitos around us are making it difficult to concentrate on what we should do. The information flow increases and with it, the demand for what we are expected to know, but also the requirements of what we are expected to ignore (open offices).

A participant in the beginning of the week suddenly became very angry for not having received training in time management earlier. “I’m just back from being sick for a long time and now works half-time. What I wonder is why I have not learned these tools to manage my work and all the flow of information before I got sick? “

Her boss admitted towards the end of the day that he had thought about cancelling the training. “You know, Petra, I have been to so many training that did not give me anything useful or were of no benefit to my work. But this was really great. “

I might be lucky enough to encounter very nice students, but in my mission to help people out of the information stress that technology can create if we do not learn how to handle the technique, it feels good  to have saved some souls again this week.

Now it is time for my weekend and to see if my little angels at home are receptive for some new knowledge. Like picking up laundry from the floor, setting the table and put dishes into the dishwasher. I do not know what it is like in your home, but isn’t it easier to do your mission at work?

Happy weekend,


“Brain: An apparatus with which we think we think.”
Ambrose Bierce


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