Overstimulation at work: The silent productivity killer

Between email notifications, instant message pings, back-to-back meetings and chit-chat with colleagues, the modern workplace is a smorgasbord of sensory stimuli. Distractions are always within reach, and doing only one thing at a time has become rare. This constant barrage of activity can quickly lead to overstimulation. People who experience too much sensory input have trouble processing their environment as their brains struggle to function effectively, leading to hampered productivity, concentration and work output.

The Obstacles of Overstimulation

One of the biggest contributors to overstimulation in today’s always-on world is technology. In fact, 80% of American workers report feeling stressed at their jobs, and overstimulation from technology is a significant contributing factor. According to the book The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World by Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen, the average person checks their smartphone over 150 times per day, leading to a constant stream of interruptions disrupting focus and productivity. For example, research cited in the book shows that even brief interruptions (as short as 2.8 seconds) can double the error rate in tasks. In one study outlined in the book, participants were asked to complete a task while receiving intermittent notifications on their smartphones. Despite knowing the notifications were irrelevant to the task, participants still experienced significant disruptions to their performance.

Employees who experience higher levels of overstimulation from digital devices often report having lower job satisfaction and higher burnout rates. Unsatisfied, burnt-out workers can quickly become disengaged from their jobs, and Gallup recently estimated that employee disengagement costs the global economy $8.8 trillion annually.

However, the cost of overstimulation goes beyond just lost revenue. The effects can range from poor focus and restlessness to increased irritability and brain fog, all of which decrease the person’s overall wellbeing and raise stress levels.

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Overcoming Overstimulation

Recent discoveries regarding neuroplasticity are very encouraging, suggesting that cognitive training exercises can improve the quality of our decision-making and well-being, counteracting the negative effects of overstimulation. Coaching is a safe space to live in the first person and practice these cognitive trainings since “mindful presence” and reflective thinking are embedded in each coaching session.

In the majority of cases of clients using coaching for personal and organizational wellbeing, coaching sessions represent a moment for coaches and their clients to enhance the quality of presence (a core competency for coaches, defined by the International Coaching Federation as a state of being “fully conscious” with the client). The combination of presence with active listening, as modeled by the coach, helps the coachee become more mindful, eliminate distraction and focus on being in tune with their feelings, emotions and thoughts.

When being coached through powerful questions, the coachee’s brain starts to pause. Pausing allows the coachee to more easily focus their attention on observing and reflecting on both themselves and the topic discussed from a wider range of perspectives and in a holistic view encompassing body, mind and emotions. This slow-down prevents the “fast thinking” that is very active when we are under the pressure of many stimuli and would rely on auto-pilot or habits. Through this process, managers and executives develop the capability to combat distractions, improve focus, manage stress and lead to greater productivity and job satisfaction.

Workplace overstimulation may be a major productivity killer, but coaching can be one of the key solutions. By providing your employees with coaching opportunities, you can help them develop strategies to manage distractions, prioritize tasks and cultivate a calmer, more focused work environment. Investing in your staff’s well-being through coaching isn’t just about being less distracted at work — it improves every aspect of their lives.

Valeria Cardillo Piccolino
Valeria Cardillo Piccolino is a leadership and talent development advisor at CoachHub.

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