Thanks to the digital revolution of the past decade, knowledge has become the most valuable economic driver today. Indeed, so many of us today make a living from the things we know and have learnt or studied over time.
Few would refute that a knowledge worker’s greatest asset is his sharpness of mind. Yet we still fall short in cultivating and preserving our mental sharpness.
Indeed, the speed with technological developments changed our lifestyles is extraordinary. At the same time, that’s exactly why we consistently underestimate its adverse effects on our mental sharpness.
Simply put, we often don’t realise how the modern working environment has changed the way we think. Most of us also fail to make the link to the growing endemic, amongst knowledge workers, of perpetual mental exhaustion.
Of course, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem; here are three fatally flawed thinking habits that cripple your mental sharpness.
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Two things characterise our unprecedented relationship with information today:
One tap, click, or swipe—that’s all you need to answer almost any question you can think of.
Paradoxically, though, being inundated with information from the minute we wake up to the second we climb into bed has taken its toll on our mental clarity. It’s one of the most dire and yet least visible impediments to a knowledge worker’s mental sharpness.
According to Nicholas Carr in his book “What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains”, this information overload hasn’t just left us with shorter attention spans; it’s also made us more prone to reacting in knee-jerk ways instead of reflecting deeply and responding.
With so much information to process 24/7, we spend far less time thinking deeply than before. Unfortunately, it’s exactly this deep reflection which allows us to organise, consolidate, and make sense of that information.
Consequently, we unwittingly end up blunting a bevy of intellectual faculties—including mindful knowledge acquisition, creative thinking, reflective thinking, and critical thinking—that could otherwise make a huge difference to knowledge work.
Most of us are task-switch so much in our everyday lives that it’s second nature. Between the incessant pings of notifications, alerts, and reminders, we probably spend our days being perpetually interrupted, disrupted, and distracted. At the same time, we also often constantly switch between different work tasks throughout the day.
The idea is that the more things you work on simultaneously, the more you’re getting done, compared to someone who just does things the old-fashioned way: one at a time.
The end result, though, is that we mentally stretch ourselves paper-thin over so many ongoing commitments. Consequently, it overworks and tires itself out much more easily than before.
Research has shown, for instance, that regular multitaskers often report higher levels of stress and frustration at work than their mono-tasking counterparts. Ironically, they’re also less productive. Ultimately, it’s much more mentally taxing to engage in constant task-switching than it is to focus on one task at a time.
Thanks to the KonMari craze of recent years, most of us appreciate the value of decluttering our workspaces. We fail, however, to treat mental space the same way. The reality is that the condition of our mental space, just like any other physical space, directly affects our performance.
As management consultant David Allen expounds in his classic time management bestseller, “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Productivity”, the key to maximal productivity is actually to stop keeping things in your head.
So many of us stress ourselves out more than necessary without actually being more productive. A lot of it comes down to feeling mentally overwhelmed by your commitments that seem to self-multiply. Having a comprehensive system to keep track of all of it clears up enough mental space to engage in the kind of deeper thinking that knowledge workers benefit from.