How to escape the ‘hyperactive hivemind’ of modern work

How to escape the ‘hyperactive(ˌhīpərˈaktiv) hivemind(hīv)’ of modern work

By William(ˈwilyəm) Park

The constant ping of messages that keep us plugged into work chatter(ˈCHadər) might be doing more harm than good. We feel we must respond – it is about work, after all. But always being switched on means we never have the chance to think deeply. And that is a problem for companies that want to get the most out of their employees(emˈploi-ē,ˌemploiˈē).

The next great revolution in the office will need to correct this, according to one man who wants to reset(rēˈset) the way we work. He believes that the value someone can bring to a company will be judged not by their skill, but by their ability to focus. But how do we find the time to shut off distractions and do our best work?

Our workplaces are set up for convenience(kənˈvēnyəns), not to get the best out of our brains(brān), says Cal Newport, bestselling author of books including Deep Work and Digital Minimalism(ˈminəməˌlizəm), and a Georgetown(ˈjôrjˌtoun) University professor(prəˈfesər). In knowledge sector(ˈsektər) jobs, where products are created using human intelligence(inˈteləjəns) rather than machines, we must be switched on at all times and prepared to multitask. These are two things that are not compatible(kəmˈpadəb(ə)l) with deep, creative, insightful(inˈsītfəl) thinking.

“In knowledge work, the main resource is the human brain and its ability to produce new information with value,” says Newport. “But we are not good at getting a good return.”

Some people swear(swe(ə)r) by multitasking even when we intuitively(inˈt(y)o͞oədivlē) know that our brains struggle to concentrate(ˈkänsənˌtrāt) on more than one thing at a time. Psychologists(sīˈkäləjəst) thought that busy multitaskers possessed abnormal(abˈnôrməl) control over their attention. But evidence suggests that multitaskers do not have a particular gift for being able to juggle multiple projects. In fact, in many cognitive(ˈkäɡnədiv) tasks, heavy multitaskers underperform. Our brains have a limited capacity(kəˈpasədē) for what they can work on at any given moment. And using tricks to cram(kram) as much into our working day as possible might be doing more harm than good.