“Psychogeography – an approach to geography that emphasizes playfulness and drifting (dérive) around urban environments. It’s about how we’re affected by being in certain places – the architecture, the weather, whom you’re with – a general sense of excitement about a place.”, (Beatriz Arantes)
There are certain key insights that are important to bear in mind when considering the nature of the brain and its role in workplace design and management. These include:
- Attention is limited and is a human’s most precious resource
- People do not know how to manage their attention
- Attention is directly linked to productivity, wellbeing, engagement and overall performance
- There are three brain modes—focus, activation and regeneration—that each requires distinct behaviours and settings
- The workplace can help mitigate distractions and prime us to better manage our attention
The prefrontal cortex, often described as the executive centre or the CEO of the brain, is the director of our attention. Other brain functions that impact attention include:
- The psychological state of arousal: Being alert or lethargic determines if we can control our attention or if our minds are unable to sit still and jump from topic to topic.
- Limbic System: Dispersed parts of the brain that deal with emotion help bring attention. Fear or excitement calls for attention more easily than neutral objects or topics.
- Motor orientation: The closer our sensory receptors are to a source of stimulation the easier it is to pay attention.
- Internal thoughts and concerns: Internally generated lapses in attention are activated by the medial prefrontal cortex, a special part of the prefrontal cortex that’s triggered by thoughts of ourselves and of other people.
The brain comprises merely 2 percent of the body’s weight but consumes more than 20 percent of the daily caloric intake of energy—more than any other organ in the human body. It, therefore, developed mechanisms to ensure that it doesn’t use up finite supplies.
Losing attention is a simple energy-saving mechanism
Never in history has the human brain been asked to track so many data points; people ask more of their brains than they have the energy to handle. But while the brain is on a budget, workers today are constantly trying to stretch it by putting in more hours and focusing harder.
Only 20 percent of people have flow moments at least once a day, while around 15 percent of people never enter flow during a typical day. Entering flow is something workers must consciously choose to do. The mind can only stay in this state for about 45 minutes at any given time until a person needs a well-deserved break.
Multitasking is a myth. Research shows that a person can’t consciously keep more than two things in their brain and that multitasking increases error rates by 50 percent.
Mindfulness trains the brain. Research from Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin shows that gamma rays of Buddhist monks who practiced intense meditation for years were 30 times stronger than those of a control group of college students. Instead of getting lured into distracting thoughts, the monks had trained themselves to focus at will. As little as 30 minutes of mindfulness a day for eight weeks can physiologically change the brain, according to research in the journal of Psychiatry Research.
Peaks and valleys in the brain’s energy make it impossible for any individual to engage in eight hours of controlled attention with any reasonable expectation of quality or quantity of output.
Workplaces should include places designed as retreats away from noise distractions and frequent interruptions. When we need to deeply focus on something, it’s important to avoid unwelcome distractions. Whether the distractions are external or internal, every time we switch our attention we burn through finite neural resources and increase opportunities for the limbic system to hijack our focus.
Regeneration and inspiration
When we need to activate our state of arousal, moving our bodies is key. Although we may have learned otherwise in school, static sitting sabotages our ability to concentrate. Numerous studies have proven that movement boosts attention by pumping oxygen and fresh blood through the brain and triggering the release of enhancing hormones.
A study found that those who worked from a treadmill desk were 34.9 percent more likely to answer a comprehension question correctly compared to those who sat in a chair.
Arantes, B. (2015, October). Neuroscience: The next great competitive advantage. Retrieved November 02, 2020, from https://workplaceinsight.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Work-Place6.pdf#page=10