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Can behavioural science give us all a better day?

“It’s a myth that women are better at multi-tasking than men,” emphasised Webb. Picture: Supplied

“It’s a myth that women are better at multi-tasking than men,” emphasised Webb. Picture: Supplied

Published Nov 2, 2018


How can we shift our perception to create a better reality? Caroline Webb, renowned leadership coach and economist, shared critical views on getting the most out of the human brain to have a better, more productive day, every day. 

Webb was one of the speakers at the 2018 Discovery Leadership Summit, held on Thursday in Sandton, Johannesburg. 

Ensure you ‘edit your reality’ to serve your aims

The brain practices selective attention. “It’s a very elegant solution to filtering the onslaught of information and data that come at us every day,” says Webb. “Ours is a complex world. But, our aims, attitudes and assumptions are, in fact, what tell our brain what to focus on and what to filter out. The wrong aims, attitude and assumptions might lead us to miss relevant or critical information.” 

Only by reviewing all these and asking ‘Are my assumptions serving my real aims?’, adjusting as needed, can we ensure that we see the world in a way that allows us to rise to our greatest potential.

Get more productive - ditch multi-tasking

“It’s a myth that women are better at multi-tasking than men,” emphasised Webb. “Regardless of gender, the mind can only consciously focus on one thing at a time and it’s designed for single-tasking. When we think we’re multi-tasking we’re in fact switching the brain between tasks, and these tiny switches, all day long, use up and waste significant mental energy. We end up exhausted and less productive.” 

People take 30 percent longer and make two to four times as many errors when doing two tasks at once, than one by one. “Multi-tasking makes people less creative, more stressed, and results in poorer decision-making.” 

She suggests going offline for a predetermined time every day to focus entirely on one’s most important work. Web encourages leaders to allow their staff this way of working, to boost their productivity.

Assume the following: ‘Good person, bad circumstances’

“We all suffer from Fundamental Attribution Error,” says Webb. “If I turn up at work and I am cranky and slow for any reason, I attribute my own bad behaviour to that day’s poor circumstances. But, we are quick to attribute the same in others to them having a bad character. Is that fair?” asks Webb. 

She warns against bias that blinds us to the best in others, particularly at work adding, “My go-to story when a colleague is being difficult is, ‘Maybe their cat vomited on them this morning’ and that changes my demeanour.”

The above insights are some of the top productivity processes in Webb’s leadership coaching arsenal. Her recent book How To Have A Good Day, lays out more on setting deliberate, daily intentions.

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