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Are you focused or stressed? The hidden costs killing productivity in Australian workplaces

In today’s Australian workplace, employers are increasingly asking workers to do more, with less. This increased demand is ubiquitous and is readily accepted as the norm, so it may be surprising to many business leaders, and their employees, that the pressure to overachieve is creating an epidemic of poor work performance.

Across Australian businesses, the minds of our workers are being pressured to juggle ever-increasing demands – to overachieve – and they are being asked to do so without being given the requisite tools. This environment creates a perfect storm of high beta, high stress, and declining performance. Stimulants such as coffee and energy drinks – often consumed as a way to mask fatigue – only exacerbate the problem by artificially stimulating beta brainwaves and pushing workers and managers further into a stress response.

This low-performance mind state not only leads to reduced productivity, but also has a correlation to an increased number of errors and a barrier to generating the innovative and creative thinking that’s essential in modern business.

We now live in the Age of Distraction; it has become an attention economy and being able to master your attention is your greatest asset. Focus is power. No focus, no flow. However, most Australians are unaware of the difference between being stressed, and being focused.

Most people say they focus well; however, when my company profiles organisations , we find this isn’t the case. Under stress, it’s easy to mistake our physiological signals for focus, as we are in a heightened state of alertness for danger. The brainwave frequency of stress overwhelms and our brain goes into ‘high beta’ brainwaves. Our senses become heightened. We develop tunnel-vision and become near-focused. Our mind gets very busy and starts to overthink. Adrenaline is pumping, the stress hormone cortisol is released, leading to impaired decision-making ability, lower emotional regulation and the inability to get the mind into a creative brain frequency, essential for innovative thinking.

A state of focus, however, is a relaxed yet highly-alert state of readiness, where the mind is quiet. Our attention is focused fully in the moment, and we aren’t distracted by over-thinking or stress-based survival responses. Our vision is clear, our decision-making is expansive, our mind is creative, and our physiology is in a state of readiness rather than reactivity.

It is this creative brain frequency – your creative mind – that is your competitive advantage and the key to innovative thinking. There are several steps you can take to get out of high-beta, ensure increased focus, and access the mind state needed for creativity and innovation to occur:

1. Make single-tasking a priority: Researchers at the University of California discovered that a single interruption can disrupt your focus and productivity for an average of 23 minutes. The human mind does not multitask, it just switches between tasks rapidly. If interrupted frequently, you may eventually spend more time switching than actually working. Therefore, it’s wise to write ‘single tasking’ into every position description, and master the art of focusing on one thing at a time, completing it and then moving on to the next.

2. Don’t make it a double: Coffee that is. Or other drinks that stimulate a stress response, rather than a calm state of focus. Caffeine artificially stimulates beta brainwaves, inhibits your fatigue receptors, and pushes you into a stress response. In a stress response, you think less clearly and can tend to over- focus, have reduced emotional regulation, become overly self-orientated, and lose empathy and connection with those in your team.

3. Appreciate the importance of sleep: Through collated data, we have established that most Australians are not getting enough deep-recovery sleep. Our eyes are closed, but we aren’t recovering and we are waking up in a state of fatigue. Unfortunately, for most Australians, starting the work day in fatigue is the norm and this problem is exacerbated by the use of stimulants, as per above.

4. Friend your fatigue: To perform at your best, you must master the fatigue challenge. A US defence research project into the impact of fatigue revealed that, in terms of cognitive performance, response times and decision making, a 20% level of fatigue is equivalent to 0.05% blood alcohol, and a 30% level of fatigue equates to 0.08% blood alcohol. Working longer, juggling more, or having another stimulant is only going to send you further into fatigue. Instead, we must train our minds to recover properly.

The bottom line

Throughout Australian workplaces, there is a widespread practice of overachievement, lack of recovery and use of stimulants. All of these factors combined are masking a widespread baseline level of fatigue in the workforce, and a low-performance mind state is killing productivity and innovation in our economy.

Implementing the notions represented above are key steps in unlocking the high performance and innovative thinking that business environments demand, now and in the future.

About the author

Amon Woulfe is a performance expert and specialises in lifting performance through the mind in elite teams. Woulfe has a wealth of experience creating cultures that are high-performing and change-resilient and is passionate about unlocking collective flow states, the highest state of team performance. In 2013, Woulfe founded Collective Mind to unlock peak performance in teams. In 2017, mind performance expert Derek Leddie joined Collective Mind, bringing a wealth of experience training elite teams. The upgraded program commenced training with the Adelaide Crows at the start of the 2017 season with the sole purpose of getting The Crows to the Grand Final and laying the foundations to sustained success. The same program helped break the Rabbitohs NRL premiership drought in 2014.

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Amon Woulfe

Amon Woulfe

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