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Want To Improve Your Memory? Have A Busy Schedule!

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Want To Improve Your Memory? Have A Busy Schedule!

Our lives are overfilled with things to do. And the more driven, ambitious, and connected we are, the busier we stay.

We are bombarded with messages to “unplug,” get away, take a break, slow down, and engage in “me” time. While these things are absolutely necessary and essential to our mental wellbeing, busyness does have its benefits.

Researchers have found that staying busy improves mental processing and reasoning skills, helps improve memory — both long and short term — and improves overall mental functioning.

Busy people have sharper minds and better memories, plain and simple.

In a study conducted by researchers in Texas and Alabama, 330 healthy men and women ranging from age 50 to 80 were quizzed about their daily schedules and put through a battery of mental tests.

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The results showed that no matter how old they were or how well educated, a busy lifestyle was linked to a healthy brain.

In this particular study, researchers began with the hypothesis “that a busy schedule would be a proxy for an engaged lifestyle and would facilitate cognition.” They were able to determine that greater busyness was associated with better processing speed, working memory, episodic memory, reasoning, and crystallized knowledge.

busy schedule

    How does staying busy improve memory?

    The brain, like any other muscle, needs exercise. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities is mental exercise. Scientists believe that the amount and types of stimulation directly affects cognitive processes — especially in the area of memory improvement.

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    Some of the mental processes involved in having a hectic schedule are:

    • Multi-tasking
    • Problem solving
    • Reasoning
    • Analyzing
    • Interruption and re-engagement of thought
    • Planning
    • Strategizing
    • Linear thinking
    • Global thinking
    • Computation

    Researcher Dr. Sarah Festini of the University of Texas at Dallas said, “We show that people who report greater levels of daily busyness tend to have better cognition, especially with regard to memory for recently learned information.”

    Busyness improves episodic memory — the ability to recall specific events and working memory — which is the part of short-term memory concerned with immediate conscious perceptual and linguistic processing.

    The study reported a surprising correlation: the busier the individual, the higher he or she seemed to score on the cognitive tests. It’s possible, the researchers hypothesized, that the daily workout of completing task after task is building our brains up and improving mental skills.

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    The performance gap between the busy and the free was even more pronounced among older participants.

    Before you run out and overfill your schedule with random activities, consider this:

    The results of this study are one-sided, and therefore not entirely conclusive.

    Keep in mind the study only examined how mental engagement works to improve memory and mental cognition. It did not study the negative effects of a harried and mentally taxing lifestyle. Having a crammed mind does not automatically equal a sharper one.

    “In our fast-paced, wired world, many of us live our lives in chronic stress,” says Gary Small, MD, director of the UCLA Longevity Center and author of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program. That means our brains are being perpetually bathed in stress hormones like cortisol.

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    The result?

    Studies done in mice show that chronically elevated stress hormone levels shrink the hippocampus, so while your memory may be improving, you’re less likely to form new memories.

    Even though the research does prove that staying busy helps keep the brain honed, a hurried life could carry less positive consequences for our hearts and metabolisms.

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    Busyness responsibly

      Using busyness responsibly:

      For those who may have some additional mental bandwidth and room in their schedules for another activity, try to engage in tasks that will improve memory and your overall brain function, such as:

      • Take a class — nothing too stressful but be sure it is something that genuinely interests you.
      • DIY projects — these are fun and challenge your brain in different ways.
      • Learn a new skill — any activities where your brain is engaged in the learning process will stimulate and improve all cognitive processes.
      • Try something new and different — such as resturants, recipes, activities, routes home, or grocery stores.
      • Plan an event from start to finish.
      • Work out — physical exercise is scientfically proven to be just as beneficial as mental exercise.
      • Volunteer — spend your time engaging in an activity that you connect with. This will improve your mind, body, and soul.

      Featured photo credit: Mickey970 via pixabay.com

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      Published on September 21, 2021

      How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

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      How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

      The internet is flooded with articles about remote work and its benefits or drawbacks. But in reality, the remote work experience is so subjective that it’s impossible to draw general conclusions and issue one-size-fits-all advice about it. However, one thing that’s universal and rock-solid is data. Data-backed findings and research about remote work productivity give us a clear picture of how our workdays have changed and how work from home affects us—because data doesn’t lie.

      In this article, we’ll look at three decisive findings from a recent data study and two survey reports concerning remote work productivity and worker well-being.

      1. We Take Less Frequent Breaks

      Your home can be a peaceful or a distracting place depending on your living and family conditions. While some of us might find it hard to focus amidst the sounds of our everyday life, other people will tell you that the peace and quiet while working from home (WFH) is a major productivity booster. Then there are those who find it hard to take proper breaks at home and switch off at the end of the workday.

      But what does data say about remote work productivity? Do we work more or less in a remote setting?

      Let’s take a step back to pre-pandemic times (2014, to be exact) when a time tracking application called DeskTime discovered that 10% of most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes.

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      Recently, the same time tracking app repeated that study to reveal working and breaking patterns during the pandemic. They found that remote work has caused an increase in time worked, with the most productive people now working for 112 minutes and breaking for 26 minutes.[1]

      Now, this may seem rather innocent at first—so what if we work for extended periods of time as long as we also take longer breaks? But let’s take a closer look at this proportion.

      While breaks have become only nine minutes longer, work sprints have more than doubled. That’s nearly two hours of work, meaning that the most hard-working people only take three to four breaks per 8-hour workday. This discovery makes us question if working from home (WFH) really is as good a thing for our well-being as we thought it was. In addition, in the WFH format, breaks are no longer a treat but rather a time to squeeze in a chore or help children with schoolwork.

      Online meetings are among the main reasons for less frequent breaks. Pre-pandemic meetings meant going to another room, stretching your legs, and giving your eyes a rest from the computer. In a remote setting, all meetings happen on screen, sometimes back-to-back, which could be one of the main factors explaining the longer work hours recorded.

      2. We Face a Higher Risk of Burnout

      At first, many were optimistic about remote work’s benefits in terms of work-life balance as we save time on commuting and have more time to spend with family—at least in theory. But for many people, this was quickly counterbalanced by a struggle to separate their work and personal lives. Buffer’s 2021 survey for the State of Remote Work report found that the biggest struggle of remote workers is not being able to unplug, with collaboration difficulties and loneliness sharing second place.[2]

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      Buffer’s respondents were also asked if they are working more or less since their shift to remote work, and 45 percent admitted to working more. Forty-two percent said they are working the same amount, while 13 percent responded that they are working less.

      Longer work hours and fewer quality breaks can dramatically affect our health, as long-term sitting and computer use can cause eye strain, mental fatigue, and other issues. These, in turn, can lead to more severe consequences, such as burnout and heart disease.

      Let’s have a closer look at the connection between burnout and remote work.

      McKinsey’s report about the Future of work states that 49% of people say they’re feeling some symptoms of burnout.[3] And that may be an understatement since employees experiencing burnout are less likely to respond to survey requests and may have even left the workforce.

      From the viewpoint of the employer, remote workers may seem like they are more productive and working longer hours. However, managers must be aware of the risks associated with increased employee anxiety. Otherwise, the productivity gains won’t be long-lasting. It’s no secret that prolonged anxiety can reduce job satisfaction, decrease work performance, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues.[4]

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      3. Despite everything, We Love Remote Work

      An overwhelming majority—97 percent—of Buffer report’s survey respondents say they would like to continue working remotely to some extent. The two main benefits mentioned by the respondents are the ability to have a flexible schedule and the flexibility to work from anywhere.

      McKinsey’s report found that more than half of employees would like their workplace to adopt a more flexible hybrid virtual-working model, with some days of work on-premises and some days working remotely. To be more exact, more than half of employees report that they would like at least three work-from-home days a week once the pandemic is over.

      Companies will increasingly be forced to find ways to satisfy these workforce demands while implementing policies to minimize the risks associated with overworking and burnout. Smart companies will embrace this new trend and realize that adopting hybrid models can also be a win for them—for example, for accessing talent in different locations and at a lower cost.

      Remote Work: Blessing or Plight?

      Understandably, workers worldwide are tempted to keep the good work-life aspects that have come out of the pandemic—professional flexibility, fewer commutes, and extra time with family. But with the once strict boundaries between work and life fading, we must remain cautious. We try to squeeze in house chores during breaks. We do online meetings from the kitchen or the same couch we watch TV shows from, and many of us report difficulties switching off after work.

      So, how do we keep our private and professional lives from hopelessly blending together?

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      The answer is that we try to replicate the physical and virtual boundaries that come naturally in an office setting. This doesn’t only mean having a dedicated workspace but also tracking your work time and stopping when your working hours are finished. In addition, it means working breaks into your schedule because watercooler chats don’t just naturally happen at home.

      If necessary, we need to introduce new rituals that resemble a normal office day—for example, going for a walk around the block in the morning to simulate “arriving at work.” Remote work is here to stay. If we want to enjoy the advantages it offers, then we need to learn how to cope with the personal challenges that come with it.

      Learn how to stay productive while working remotely with these tips: How to Work From Home: 10 Tips to Stay Productive

      Featured photo credit: Jenny Ueberberg via unsplash.com

      Reference

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