You probably know the work of Matt Richtel, though his name may not be familiar to you. Richtel won the Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting for the New York Times for his series titled “Driven to Distraction.” The series, where he addressed the impact of multitasking, texting, and phoning while driving, and how work requirements are sneaking into leisure time, received more comments than any other article in the newspaper that year (2009). In fact, his work is credited with the enactment of hundreds of laws, throughout the country, regarding the use of technology while driving. Webster’s named “distracted driving” its 2009 “Word of the Year” (though it’s really two words, isn’t it?).

Seems Mr. Richtel needed to take some of his observations to the experts in a very practical and personal way. Five neuroscientists went into the wilderness naked of technology. The group consisted of what the journalist calls “believers” (those who believe technology can have a negative impact on the brain) and the skeptics—who are, well, skeptical.

Before I continue, I must confess to a great appreciation for what technology has done for my business and me. It has saved the lives of people I love, allowed me to become an entrepreneur with low startup costs, amused me in the theater, made it easier to stay in contact with friends, colleagues, and family, and much, much more. I also know the price I pay; can’t always sleep after I’ve been at a monitor an hour before bed. Will never accept that many adults don’t get enough fun and stimulation from their children, dinner companions, or pets, that they have to text or talk on the phone while supposedly taking a stroll or being with the ones they love. It’s this almost addictive quality of use that concerns me.

Into the wilderness went the group. As contact became not only unacceptable but also impossible, it was initially uncomfortable, different. What the team did notice is that they began to talk slower and enjoy longer periods of silence. The time of day became less relevant, pressing issues lost significance, and nature was more intriguing.

Any one of the scientists could have told you that recent experiments with rats have shown when animals are taught a new task they retain it better when they take time immediately after to process it rather than going onto the next “meeting.” The team members also could have shared that research has shown time in nature vs. in a more urban environment aids memory more effectively.

These were points I had already read but the most interesting, and relevant, piece was again proven while they rafted down the San Juan River. It is the importance of three days. Yes, three days away from the demands, the distractions, and maybe even the professional you. Did you ever wonder why a three-day weekend seems sooo much longer than the regular two? Is it because there are less of them? I don’t think so because I take three-day weekends all summer and admit they are much more restorative than the two days I have the rest of the year. Never really thought my brain needed the extra day; however, I do find I have my most creative thoughts on the third day. I’m also less likely to be in a “do something” mode after a few days. Think about it, have you had the same experience? How could you have more?

So why don’t we take more three-day holidays? Why travel to a two-day conference in an urban environment, so you can text the person across the room while supposedly listening to every word of the speaker you flew 3,000 miles to hear? Is our need “just to check e-mail one more time” an anticipation of the new that probably won’t be met, a false sense of connectedness that we are afraid of losing, or like any addiction, where the more you use the more you need? Does the why really matter if it’s harmful?

When executive coaching clients come to me complaining about the lack of think time, I first ask them how and where they do their thinking. I get some very bizarre faces. Then it dawns on them—they really don’t have a time, place, or posture for thinking. No matter what the challenge, they are in front of their monitor(s ) with immediate updates available from numerous sources. Three days? They don’t have three minutes!

At the end of their journey, the scientists were able to agree that down time was probably more important to the brain than we had imagined. How and why this is so they were not sure but as any good scientist would say, they are “curious.”

Are you curious, eager, maybe even desperate to get that brain of yours functioning on all cylinders as well as retaining more? Desire to feel less stress and more control? Willing to try an experiment?

  1. Try doing one thing at a time.
  2. Detach from technology more than usual, especially over this long weekend.
  3. Attempt to find a bit of solitude, preferably closer to nature.
  4. Keep track of your thoughts, ideas, and actions.
  5. Note the changes in your attitude, behavior, and language.Embrace a bit of discomfort.

Enjoy the time off.

Need a bit of support or guidance? That’s one of the roles an executive coach plays.

Why don’t you have a coach?

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.