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Are the Flow of Interruptions in the Workday Actually Reducing Mental as Well as Work Flow?

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Imagine you are in the middle of trying to resolve a problem with a project that is due by the end of the day. Your desk phone rings and it is your supervisor who wants you to check on the status of another group’s project. Your mind then has to switch gears from the current project to the previous project. While this interrupting task may only take a few minutes to complete, finding the momentum, the exact “place” you were in your thought processes on the current project may take even longer; as much as 30 minutes.1 Not only that, but the quality of work may have suffered due to the interruption in mental energy, creativity, and stymy the overall mental as well as physical work flow.2

Reports show that numerous interruptions occur throughout the course of most of our workdays.3 We have come to expect them, and in some ways, we are conditioned to them.4 How many times have you questioned yourself about starting a task if you knew there was a meeting scheduled within the next hour or two? You wonder what is the point of getting started if you are just going to have to stop. Having your thought process interrupted while working on a project, purchase order, or even an office memo is like leaving a television show mid-point and coming back to it in a few hours. You need to rewind to remind yourself of what was happening so the rest of the show makes sense. Unfortunately, we do not have that capability, therefore we lose time, energy, and experience an overall reduction in productivity. 5

How Collaboration Can Actually Impede Flow and Reduce Productivity

As an increasing number of work environments encourage or even require collaboration. Whether collaborations take place online with tools like SLACK, or face to face, collaboration means depending upon other people’s time, punctuality, and work ethic; all of which can lead to built in wasted time, or as social psychologist term it, social loafing. Social loafing is what occurs when two or more people are involved on a project. Studies show that the more people involved, the less shared responsibility and productivity.6 It is a mindset that is almost inevitable and anyone who remembers group projects from their high school years can well remember that in a group of four or five, one or two did the bulk of the work.

Generally, there is a lead member assigned to a project. That lead will find that the work flow, time, attention, and productivity will be much more efficient if the work is looked at in segments, rather than the whole. Therefore, one way to combat built in wasted time is to provide each team member or pair of members a specific task with a hard deadline.7 All too often when there is a deadline for a complete project, people tend to look at that projected date which could be weeks or even months down the road often forgetting that there are parts of a project that must be completed along the way to completion. In order to ensure that each part of the project is in progress toward its deadline, check-ins and status reports are a means of keeping team members accountable for their time.8

Maximizing Breaks Through Self-Care

 Another problem with mental energy and flow is that many work spaces that do not require direct monitoring of systems or people allow for flexible breaks. For the naturally disciplined, these work out well, but those who lack personal discipline may actually find themselves wasting breaktime to where they feel the need for another break in a short while.9 It is important to not only have routine breaks,10 but also to make sure you are using that time to take care of your physical as well as mental well-being.11

The bathroom break needs to become a personal time break. If breaks are 10-15 minutes, a portion of that time of course will be devoted to bodily needs – the bathroom portion of the break- and the other part should be devoted to mental well-being. Take lunch out. Studies show that a 20-minute walk in the open air, looking at a scenic view, or practicing deep breathing can help to increase mental energy.12 Deep breathing is something that anyone can do at any time   This practice supports deep focus on the self, and circulates oxygen through the body and to the brain.13 A well-oxygenated brain is a better functioning and focused brain.

Screen-time and Brain Drain

 A caveat to taking built in personal breaks is that many take this time to check in on others rather than themselves.  Home, friends, social media, the news, even games designed to increase mental energy,14  are often drains on our mental energy and our time.15 A few minutes absorbed in screen time “catching up” on the outside world often means a loss of self-care, and can be more mentally exhausting than work.16 Additionally, some may even find it more difficult to resume a task after spending even a few minutes checking their social media.17

Strategies for Practicing Self-Care at Work

  • Block off times on your work calendar. Request all non-emergent calls be sent to voicemail.
  • Request that co-workers and even supervisors send an email for issues that are non-emergent.
  • Flag emails, and set up task list with alerts.
  • If you work in a personal office – close your door.
  • If you work in a cubicle listen to ambient noise through your earbuds – turn off all non-business-related notifications.
  • Take scheduled self-care breaks
    • Meditate
    • Practice deep breathing
    • Take in a pleasant view
    • Take a short walk in the open air
      • Can’t take a walk outdoors? Open a window or door to the outside and breathe in fresh air.
    • Use a diffuser with essential oils that promote mental energy and focus.
    • Take off your shoes and flex your feet and legs.
    • Take stand breaks. Standing once every 15-20 minutes increases blood and oxygen flow to the brain and throughout the body.18
    • Stay hydrated – drink water, tea, or other clear, non-carbonated liquids.
    • Reduce sugar and high carb foods.19
      • Snack on proteins and low sugar fruits throughout the day.
    • When you leave the office, leave the office behind. Those who take their work home often find themselves resentful of lost personal time at home. Note: Time well-used at work reduces the necessity or at least amount of work that is taken home.

Conclusion

Interruptions are a part of life. They disrupt our mental energy and workflow, but there are steps we can take on a personal level as well as implementing changes conducive to our overall workspaces to improve our focus and reduce extraneous distractions. Everyone in the work environment can benefit from minimized interruptions and the practice of breaks devoted to self-care.

 

 

Helpful Resources

Office Yoga: 5 Minute Breathing Exercise You Can Do at Work

10 Best Essential Oils for Focus, Concentration, and Mental Clarity

6 Secrets to Avoiding Interruptions at Work

Managing Interruptions: Maintain Focus, Keep Control of Time

References

  1. This Is Nuts: It Takes Nearly 30 Minutes to Refocus After You Get Distracted. (2017). Available at: https://www.themuse.com/advice/this-is-nuts-it-takes-nearly-30-minutes-to-refocus-after-you-get-distracted.
  2. Neuroscience: The brain, interrupted : Nature News & Comment. Available at: https://www.nature.com/news/neuroscience-the-brain-interrupted-1.16831.
  3. Work interruptions can cost you 6 hours a day. An efficiency expert explains how to avoid them. – The Washington Post. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2015/06/01/interruptions-at-work-can-cost-you-up-to-6-hours-a-day-heres-how-to-avoid-them/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.b33fa9eff664.
  4. How Distractions At Work Take Up More Time Than You Think. I Done This Blog (2015). Available at: http://blog.idonethis.com/distractions-at-work/.
  5. Interruptions at work are killing your focus, productivity, and motivation. RescueTime Blog (2018). Available at: https://blog.rescuetime.com/interruptions-at-work/.
  6. Social Loafing: When Groups Are Bad for Productivity – PsyBlog. Available at: https://www.spring.org.uk/2009/05/social-loafing-when-groups-are-bad-for-productivity.php.
  7. Schneider, T. van. The psychological theory that explains why you’re better off working solo. Quartz Available at: https://qz.com/848267/the-ringelmann-effect-productivity-increases-when-youre-working-solo-rather-than-on-a-team/. (Accessed: 20th April 2019)
  8. Moon, L. The Secret To Removing Social Loafing From The Workplace. Available at: https://blog.trello.com/avoid-social-loafing.
  9. Wasting Time At Work: The Epidemic Continues. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2015/07/31/wasting-time-at-work-the-epidemic-continues/#40efecb81d94.
  10. Gentile, P., Gentile, P. & Gentile, P. How to work at peak productivity–and know when to take a break. Fast Company (2019). Available at: https://www.fastcompany.com/90299580/how-to-work-at-peak-productivity-and-know-when-to-take-a-break.
  11. The Science of Breaks at Work: Change Your Thinking About Downtime. Open (2014).
  12. Publishing, H. H. Need a quick brain boost? Take a walk. Harvard Health Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/need-a-quick-brain-boost-take-a-walk.
  13. The Health Benefits of Deep Breathing: 9 Ways it Supercharges Your Body and Mind. (2018). Available at: https://www.consciouslifestylemag.com/benefits-of-breathing-deeply/.
  14. Can Brain Training Be Brain Draining? | Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/metacognition-and-the-mind/201410/can-brain-training-be-brain-draining-0.
  15. Study: Engaging With Social Media Can Drain Your Brain. Psychology Today Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/neuronarrative/201606/study-engaging-social-media-can-drain-your-brain.
  16. Screen Time, the Brain, Privacy and Mental Health. Centre for International Governance Innovation Available at: https://www.cigionline.org/articles/screen-time-brain-privacy-and-mental-health.
  17. Paul, K. This is how long it takes to get regain your concentration after texting on your iPhone. MarketWatch Available at: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-your-smartphone-could-be-ruining-your-career-2017-03-31.
  18. CNN, C. S., Special to. Stand up, sit less, experts say; here’s how to do it. CNN Available at: https://www.cnn.com/2015/08/06/health/how-to-move-more/index.html.
  19. 7 Foods That Drain Your Energy. Healthline (2018). Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-that-drain-energy.

 

Minding Your Tongue: How to Recover from a Slip and Fail

foot_mouthWhether it is a minor slip of the tongue or an entire foot in the mouth, either can lead to some uncomfortable moments followed by the instinct to explain what was “really meant.”  While most are truly embarrassed and even remorseful when making a racially, culturally, or gender-related insensitive comment, attempts to make explanations or excuses often create a more uncomfortable situation for both speaker and hearers.

Admit and Apologize

If recognition of the faux pas is immediate – as often happens- it is best not to wait for acknowledgment that it was received negatively. Unfortunately, all too often such comments are left unchallenged either by the intended or unintended target of the comment or bystanders.[1] Do not walk away with the false sense of relief that the comment went unnoticed, it is almost a definite it was noticed. The most effective thing to do is to admit you were insensitive, admit your own embarrassment, and apologize for any discomfort or embarrassment caused to others.[2]

Air Out and Move On

 Often an admission of insensitivity and a sincere apology is enough to move beyond the moment; however, depending upon the comment and others involved it may be necessary for some open discussion; again, no excuses. Having discussions of race and culture are often uncomfortable, especially in times when cultural tensions are high. Some may feel that there is an oversensitivity, but unless shoes are on other feet and miles walked in them, these types of assumptions should not be made. It is believed by diversity and inclusion professionals[3] that a work environment that invites open dialogue on these sensitive topics is one where employees develop an awareness of their own biases all the while fostering an awareness and appreciation for those who are different.

Diversity Training – Not a One and Done

 Most organizations offer diversity and inclusion training as a part of their onboarding process, annually to satisfy EEOC requirements, or in reaction to an occurrence; however due to a lack of follow up, many fall short of being truly effective.[4] Just as employees receive ongoing development of their professional skills and knowledge base, they should receive ongoing training in the areas of racial and cultural awareness, [5] for one cannot be sensitive to the feelings of others, until he or she forms an awareness and appreciation for the differences that exists and enrich the workplace.

 Take Responsibility for Racial and Cultural Awareness

 It is important to realize that as our workplaces become increasingly diverse that in the absence of continual training individuals should take some responsibility for their knowledge of other cultures. The age of technology and instant information leaves few excuses for a lack of effort to learn more about the people within shared work environments.

Make it your mission to get to know your co-workers. It is okay to express genuine interest in their culture, cuisine, and traditions. Our lives can be enriched greatly when we invite new people and new experiences into our midst. The more we learn about other cultures, the less likely we are to open our mouths and insert our feet. The closer and more familiar we are with our co-workers, the easier it is to make amends if or when we do.

 

[1] Premack, “14 Things People Think Are Fine to Say at Work — but Are Actually Racist, Sexist, or Offensive.”

[2] “How to Apologize at Work after Making a Microaggressive Comment – Business Insider.”

[3] Miranda-Wolff, “How to Talk about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”

[4] Blackman, “What Is Diversity & Inclusion Training?”

[5] Florentine, “Diversity and Inclusion.”

Announcement: Hidden Notes Book Release

I am happy to announce I have published my first novel. This is not the first novel I have written, but it is the first I have submitted for publication. The novel is available for pre-order on Kindle, with a release date of July 23, 2018.

An excerpt from Hidden Notes

An eagle took flight above them as they climbed and seemed to hold them within his sight. They were both amazed, never having been this close to nature, and to be in the presence of a creature so magnificent, and so rare. This great bird was a symbol of America, freedom, and of America’s bravery; yet, was nearly extinct. Watching the eagle as it soared above their heads, Sarah could not keep her thoughts from going to her work on post-traumatic stress disorders. The service members she had treated over the years had begun their military careers like this eagle; brave, bold, and soaring with pride. So many of them had come home mentally and physically broken. While injuries can be mended, physical illnesses treated, even missing limbs can be replaced by prosthesis, with physical therapy to improve the quality of life; PTSD kept many as prisoners of war on domestic soil.

 

Mothers and Daughters: Conflict, Confusion, Conciliation

Mother-daughter conflict is as old as time and often the topic of many a classic as well a modern novel. Freud believed that the mother figure could very well be the root of all grown children’s neurosis[1], but it is probably much simpler than that. Mothers have the age-old desire to see their daughters achieve what they did not in their generation.

The Origins of Conflict

When a mother experiences fear or concern for a young daughter’s behavior she also remembers when she was young and how receptive she was to her own mother’s advice, talks, shouting matches[2]. Yes, there is a progression and any daughter or mother can attest that sometimes advice and talk get bypassed and shouting becomes the way of saying this simple sentence: I love you and I am so afraid of you making a mistake that could cost you your future[3].

Part of the reluctance to say these very true and meaningful words is the memory of how obstinate she was at “that age.” Even if a mother has done most everything right herself in a mother-daughter relationship, there may come a time when she projects her teenaged behaviors, thoughts, and feelings upon her daughter.

Most good mothers are so, not because they had a stellar relationship with their own mothers, but because they did not, and they are determined to have a good relationship with their daughters. The intent and pledge to do so is so strong, that when there seems to be the least threat to that relationship, that sacred alliance, the mother lashes out at whomever or whatever poses the threat. Often that may be the daughter herself who at a certain and normal age of her development wishes to assert herself as independent of her mother.

Fiction is Fact

Anyone who was a member of the cult following of the Gilmore Girls (2000-2007) remembers the enviable relationship between Lorelai and Rory. The only times there were ever disruption to their harmony was when there was a male in Rory’s life that posed a threat to not only the mother-daughter relationship, but also to the brilliant future Lorelai saw for her daughter; the one she herself did not have, because of a boy that ultimately led to teen motherhood.  Rory and Boys

The juxtaposition of their relationship is that Lorelai would not take anything for her daughter. However, her cognitive mind recognizes that had she not become a mother at sixteen her life would have been easier, if not better. This sort of cognitive dissonance is the stuff for which mother-daughter relationships are made of[4]. Mothers love their children, mothers love their daughters, but they wish so much more than motherhood for them.

Mother daughter symbolIf It Is Not Hate, It Must Be Love

When a mother and daughter come to an impasse in their relationship it is painful to them both, it may seem that they hate one another. The daughter may feel that no matter what she does, her mother hates her. The truth is that rarely do a mother and daughter actually hate one another, they simply find themselves at odds in the relationship. The daughter needs independence, and the mother is afraid to let go and allow her daughter to make mistakes[5]; mistakes that could possibly be fatal, or at least heartbreaking.

Recommendations

 There are no easy answers for any mother or daughter. However, open communication is a must. Even when it is painful. Even when there may be raised emotions and voices involved. No matter the issues, the words: I love you should be expressed often in the conversation. Even if these words are prefaced with: I am angry or I am disappointed, or especially, I am afraid. No psychologically healthy mother ever hates her daughter. She simply does not like the power that child has over her to drive her back to when she could have changed her course, and did not.

Daughters: Be Kind to Your Mothers. They Love You No Matter What You Do. Mothers, Be Kind to Your Daughters. They Love You No Matter What They Do.

 

[1] Missy Molloy, “Mother-Daughter Ambivalence According to Sigmund Freud and Chantal Akerman,” PSYART; Gainesville, 2014, N_A.

[2] Paul M Usita and Barbara C Du Bois, “Conflict Sources and Responses in Mother-Daughter Relationships: Perspectives of Adult Daughters of Aging Immigrant Women,” Journal Of Women & Aging 17, no. 1–2 (2005): 151–65.

[3] Susan J. T. Branje, “Conflict Management in Mother-Daughter Interactions in Early Adolescence,” Behaviour 145, no. 11 (2008): 1627–51.

[4] Molloy, “Mother-Daughter Ambivalence According to Sigmund Freud and Chantal Akerman.”

[5] N A Gonzales, A M Cauce, and C A Mason, “Interobserver Agreement in the Assessment of Parental Behavior and Parent-Adolescent Conflict: African American Mothers, Daughters, and Independent Observers,” Child Development 67, no. 4 (August 1996): 1483–98.

References

Branje, Susan J. T. “Conflict Management in Mother-Daughter Interactions in Early Adolescence.” Behaviour 145, no. 11 (2008): 1627–51.

Gonzales, N A, A M Cauce, and C A Mason. “Interobserver Agreement in the Assessment of Parental Behavior and Parent-Adolescent Conflict: African American Mothers, Daughters, and Independent Observers.” Child Development 67, no. 4 (August 1996): 1483–98.

Molloy, Missy. “Mother-Daughter Ambivalence According to Sigmund Freud and Chantal Akerman.” PSYART; Gainesville, 2014, N_A.

Usita, Paul M, and Barbara C Du Bois. “Conflict Sources and Responses in Mother-Daughter Relationships: Perspectives of Adult Daughters of Aging Immigrant Women.” Journal Of Women & Aging 17, no. 1–2 (2005): 151–65.

 

Resume of a Former Teacher

As the end of yet another school year approaches some teachers are taking the initiative to create their class syllabi for the upcoming school year, some are looking for other teaching opportunities, and a growing number are contemplating leaving the profession altogether. A word from the wise, the initial excitement of a career change can soon lead to disappointment and disillusionment. I found a few things out the hard way, and as a result have at least five versions of my resume that showcase the skills and experiences I have acquired as a teacher in a way that best fits the job for which I am applying.

Interview

One of the most shocking revelations for me as I began preparing myself for a career   change was that most employers – whether in corporate America or non-profit -tend to infantize teachers and minimalize what we do. I have received many proverbial pats on the head at the end of an interview. These have toughened me up and taught me a great deal. Most of us have become accustomed to this type of treatment from our administrators, but to find this is how many “on the outside” also view us was a bit troubling. Even when I have been told by people in my social circle that they admire me for being a teacher, that teachers do not make nearly enough, it is because they see us as having the most stressful baby-sitting job in America.

If you are one of the many teachers thinking of leaving the Smart Board, faculty meetings, and chronic UTIs behind, let’s take a critical look at what you really know how to do.

Management/Supervisory: Teachers manage up to 30 or more people at least three times a day, depending upon whether they teach a block or traditional schedule. That can = totals of 100+ “employees”. Teachers conduct an equal number of performance evaluations every four to six weeks, with a final performance evaluation give to each “employee” at the end of the year.

Project Management: Teachers plan and oversee large and small-scale projects designed for both group and individual deployment.

Strategic Planning: Teachers must plan strategically in order to meet overall objectives for optimum ROI (Return on Investment). Teachers recognize that if they are unsuccessful in the onboarding process of their planned initiatives, that high turn-over and loss of revenue could result.

Conflict Management: Teachers must have and exercise strong conflict management and resolution skills for not only their students, but also in regard to parents and colleagues.

Data Collection and Analysis: Teachers have the ability to collect and assess data efficiently and often at a glance using both formal and informal measurements.

Communication Skills: Teachers communicate on average with over 100 people per day using various mediums from face to face, email, text messages, and even video conferencing.

Fiduciary/Budgeting: Teachers must plan budgetary expenses to ensure the work day needs of 100 or more individuals are met for 180 days of the year.

Research and Development: Teachers must research various topics and develop appropriate vehicles for conveyance and dissemination of information.

Public Relations: Teachers recognize that they are emissaries of their institutions and that their conduct is reflective upon their industry and the institutions with which they are employed. Teachers communicate with various stake-holders and community members in order to keep all parties apprised of goals and objectives.

Diversity and Inclusion: Teachers must create workspace that is inclusive for all individuals regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, gender/gender identity, or political affiliations.

These are just a few of the skills and knowledge teachers possess that can be translated into employment or even business ownership outside of education. Be prepared to pitch these skills and demonstrate through analogy and example how these are relatable and translatable skills.

As a Navy veteran, I remember leaving the service and joining the civilian workforce. Employers with whom I interviewed were always impressed with my skill set, but most of all they knew that as a U.S. Military veteran, I also had discipline and character.

Teachers have the discipline to get up and go to work 190 days per year whether they or even their children are ill. When they cannot be at work, they manage their classrooms remotely, as they are required to have lessons planned for substitutes.

Teachers have the character to influence and inspire the next generation. Few people can share how a boss has influenced or inspired them, nearly every successful person can name a teacher who has.

 

 

 

 

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