Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work

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The brain seeks out novelty.  And multitasking feeds that addiction.

How many times today did you check your phone while doing something else? Did you just check it? Did you get some “important” text?

In “The Organized Mind”, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin explains that multitasking is an illusion. When we are multitasking, we are really shifting quickly between tasks. We aren’t doing 5 things at once. We are shifting focus between 5 things. And there is a huge metabolic cost to shifting focus from one thing to another.

Levitin explains that multitasking depletes the brain of neurochemicals, making you more tired. Ultimately putting you in a state of aggression. That is why people who focus on one thing at a time accomplish more and are less tired.

Asking the brain to shift attention from one activity to another causes the prefrontal cortex and striatum to burn up oxygenated glucose, the same fuel [the brain] need[s] to stay on task. And the kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time. We’ve literally depleted the nutrients in our brain… repeated task shifting leads to anxiety, which raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the brain, which in turn can lead to aggressive and impulsive behaviours… staying [on task] uses less energy than multitasking and actually reduces the brain’s need for glucose.

The brain burns glucose the way a car burns gasoline. In an hour of daydreaming, the brain uses 11 calories. (Daydreaming restores the brain’s neurochemicals.) In an hour of reading, the brain burns about 42 calories. In an hour of sitting in class, the brain burns 65 calories.

So why do we love multitasking? The answer is that we are hardwired to love novelty and accomplishment. When we check our phone, we get to see something new. When we send an email, we get to feel a sense of accomplishment. The brain gets a reward of hormones. Levitin explains:

The very brain region we need to rely on for staying on task is easily distracted by shiny new objects. In multitasking, we unknowingly enter an addiction loop as the brain’s novelty centres become rewarded for processing shiny new stimuli to the detriment or our prefrontal cortex, which wants you to stay on task and gain the rewards of sustained effort and attention… The awareness of an unread email sitting in your inbox can effectively reduce your IQ by 10 points, and that multitasking causes information you want to learn to be directed to the wrong part of the brain.

To make matters worst, multitasking requires decision-making, which further depletes the brain’s energy. Do I answer this message now or later? How do I respond to the email? Interestingly, making little decisions can take up just as much energy as making big decisions.

So next time you hear the siren calls of multitasking, don’t be fooled. “Make no mistake: E-mail, Facebook, and Twitter checking constitute a neural addiction.”

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(Views are my own and do NOT represent the views of any organization.)

 

Living with “Option B”: Sheryl Sandberg’s New Book

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With the rise of social media, everyone’s life on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat etc. looks perfect. Everyone appears to be living an “Option A”, idyllic kind of life. But life is never perfect. “We all live in some form of Option B. This book [Option B] is to help us all kick the shit out of it.”

Option B triumphs where Lean In never did. Partly due to Sheryl Sandberg’s writing partner, the great Professor Adam Grant at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Where Lean In encouraged women to pursue their ambitions, and basically promised women that they too could have it all. Option B is a more nuanced and thoughtful book.

Option B has the depth that Lean In never did. A recognition that we are not all handed the same deck of cards, and not everyone can lean in all the time. Sometimes health problems, familial obligations, or deaths prevent us from doing so.

Following the death of Sheryl Sandberg’s husband, she was living through a nightmarish Option B. This was compounded by the fact that people weren’t sure how to react to her. Their discomfort was palpable.  People would greet her with the standard meaningless greeting of “how are you?”. She felt like responding, “My husband just died, how do you think I am?” But held back.

Sandberg and Grant write that “All over the world, there is cultural pressure to conceal negative emotions. In China and Japan, the ideal emotional state is calm and composed. In the United States, we like excitement (OMG!) and enthusiasm (LOL!).” American culture demands that we answer positively. We need to be awesome. “Admitting that you are having a rough time is almost inappropriate.”

To counteract this, they encourage us to practice self-compassion. “Self-compassion comes from recognizing that our imperfections are part of being human.”

In addition to practicing self-compassion, Sandberg and Grant recommend that we count our blessings. And That we count our contributions. And that we count our moments of joy.

For example, after the death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg journaled every night. At first, she was skeptical because she was barely functioning. But she found journalling helpful in managing her grief. Originally she wrote down three things she was grateful for. She later turned to writing down three things she accomplished each day (like getting dressed, focussing in a meeting…). Eventually, she transitioned to writing down three moments of joy, which she continues to do to this very day.

Paying attention to moments of joy takes effort. This is because we are wired to focus on the negatives.

But by focussing on the joyful moments, we can become happier. Happiness is the frequency of small positive moments, and not the intensity.

To bounce back after negative events, we need to avoid three behaviours. (1) personalization – the belief that we are at fault. Sometimes it is not you, it is really them. (2) pervasiveness – the belief that an event will affect all areas of our lives. (3) permanence- the belief that the aftershocks will be forever. Studies have shown that we recover faster when we realize that hardships aren’t entirely our fault, don’t affect every aspect of our lives, and won’t follow us forever.

Resilience comes from deep within us and from support outside. It comes from gratitude for what’s good in our lives and from leaning in to the suck. It comes from analyzing how we process grief and from simply accepting that grief. Sometimes we have less control than we think. Other times we have more.

I learned that when life pulls you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface, and breathe again.

(Views are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization.)

Do a Trial

This week I had the great pleasure of volunteering at the Advocates’ Society “Do a Trial”. Below is a list of helpful tips I learned:

  1. Stop talking like a lawyer. Remove legal jargon.
  2. You don’t want to sound like a lawyer. Members of the public don’t like lawyers.
  3. Outline the issues in the opening that you want the judge to answer. Give a roadmap of the evidence – who, what, where, when, why, and how. Only say facts with certainty if you know you can prove it.
  4. It is important to know what use you can make of a witness.
  5. When questioning a witness, know what points you want to make. Each point should be its own page of questions. Repeat phrases throughout. So it flows from one question to the next.
  6. Questions in direct should address – who, what, where, when, why, and how. Avoid talking about stuff that doesn’t matter.
  7. The direct examination should be a narrative.
  8. “Tell me more”. “I’d like to move towards X” – Can be great transitional statements.
  9. Cross-examination should be short statements put to the witness. Build to the conclusion.
  10. Facts have to be pursued. They have to be elicited through the witness.
  11. Reinforce the story through the witness.
  12. When you say phrases like “You concede”, the witnesses antennas go up. They know to fight you on that point.
  13. In closing, focus on the facts you want the judge to remember. And it should address what you want the judgment to say. Point out what you think the crucial things are. And link them to the issues in the case. Headline the issues. “Put the trial back on its rails”.
  14. When you object, remember to wait for the judge’s ruling.
  15. Don’t read something out loud if it is more than 6 words.

(Views expressed in this blog are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization.)

Smarter, Faster, Better

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In Smarter, Faster, Better Charles Duhigg writes about the secrets of productivity in life and in business. Below are a list of some intriguing insights:

  1. In a study by MIT, the researchers noticed that the most productive workers in firms shared a number of traits. The first was that they tended to work on only 5 projects at a time. This gave them the time to master new skills associated with each project. Second, these workers shared an intellectual and conversational tic. They loved to generate theories on why things worked/failed, why workers were happy/disgruntled, how managerial styles influenced employees and so on. They were obsessed with trying to explain the world to themselves and to others.
  2. In trying to achieve larger goals, break them down into smaller pieces. And work towards achieving the smaller steps on the way to reaching the larger goal. Give the smaller goals a timeline. For example, if you are trying to run a marathon, break it down into a specific subgoal. (e.g. Run seven miles without stopping). Then ask yourself how you will measure success of the subgoal and if it is achievable.
  3. “You have to be comfortable not knowing exactly where life is going to go. All we can do is learn how to make the best decisions that are in front of us and trust that over time the odds will be in our favour.”
  4. Creativity often comes from borrowing one idea from one field and applying it to another. This generally comes about by people reflecting on their experiences and paying attention to what problems look like. And then looking to see how similar problems have been solved before.
  5. The people who are most successful at learning take the data thrown at them and do something with the information. For example, learning a mathematical formula and practicing applying the math problem allows us to learn it better. Reading a book and taking notes on it helps us sort and retain the information better.
  6. To make better decisions, envision multiple futures. By imagining various possibilities, you’re better equipped to make wise decisions.

Candid Conversations with Supreme Court of Canada Judges

On February 6, I had the honour to attend the program “Candid Conversations on the Challenges and Seizing Opportunities in the Practice of Law Today”, held by the Ontario Bar Association. It was an honour to hear from Justice Moldaver, Justice Cote, and Justice Wagner of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Program participants were divided into three groups, and the judges rotated through each group. A multitude of topics were discussed, including career insights and the role of the judiciary. Below are a few interesting comments I heard:

  1. Think outside the box when arguing for a change in the law. Judgments have a shelf life.
  2. Be resilient.
  3. Preparation is key. You can never be too prepared when arguing a case.
  4. To attract business, it is important to be seen in the business community.
  5. Don’t feel stuck in a practice area or firm. There is flexibility. The path of life is filled with the improbable. When one door closes another one opens. It just might be an unexpected door.
  6. There is no certainty in the courtroom.
  7. There are no small cases. Only small lawyers. (reference to the quote – no small parts, only small actors). Every case is important.
  8. You don’t have to have your name in lights to help people get through the morass of laws.
  9. To keep the public’s faith in the judicial system, we have to explain to the public what the courts do, who the judges are, where they come from, and why we do things a certain way. The court needs to communicate with the public. Courts need to be transparent.
  10. The essential ingredient in the judicial system is faith. Without faith in the judicial system, there will be anarchy.
  11. People take news from social media now. We have to update the judicial system’s communication with the public to reflect that.
  12. Lawyers need to be more creative with their fee structures. We are starting see self-represented litigants trickle up to the appellate levels at higher rates.

 

 

(The views expressed in this blog are my personal views and do not reflect the views of any organization)

The Pursuit of Mastery

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With a new year comes new resolutions. 2017 is no different. But what really motivates us? Is it money, status, fame, or something deeper?
 In the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink writes that deeper motivation comes from the pursuit of mastery, autonomy, and purpose. “The most successful people are not directly pursuing conventional notions of success. They’re working hard and persisting through difficulties because of their internal desires to control their lives and learn about the world and accomplish something that endures.”
Unfortunately, the path to mastery (becoming better at something that you care about) is not lined with daisies and rainbows. As explained by Daniel Pink “Mastery hurts”. It is the product of persistent practice over many years.
But mastery attracts precisely because it eludes. “Greatness and nearsightedness are incompatible. Meaningful achievement depends on lifting one’s sights and pushing toward the horizon.”

Lessons from the Advocates’ Society Fall Forum

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This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Advocates’ Society Fall Forum in Collingwood, Ontario. Below are a few of my favourite quotes and lessons from the conference:

  1. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This was my favourite piece of wisdom from the weekend. It’s so true and all too easy to fall victim to. We are all guilty players in the game of upward comparisons, at one point or another.
  2. Relationships are the key to building a practice. Your relationships with colleagues, your relationships with friends, your relationships with other junior lawyers in other firms are all sources of potential clients.
  3. Excellence requires that you spend time outside of your caseload learning the law.
  4. There’s no shortcut to mastery. You have to put in the time and work to learn the fundamentals.
  5. Be a joiner. All great lawyers are involved in ventures beyond their job. They are a part of the broader community. For example, join the OBA, the Advocates’ Society, local lawyers association, the PTA,  a charity, etc.
  6. Learn from experience by reflecting on it. Do post-mortems after discoveries and court appearances. Ask yourself what went well and what went poorly and why that is so.
  7. Train your client about what time you will answer emails and calls.
  8. Protect your vacation time.
  9. Offer judges electronic materials, including expert reports, closing arguments, and charts that provide a list of the witnesses (e.g. a cast of characters).
  10. In oral argument, address first what you want and then explain why you want it. It is not simply a time to regurgitate your factum. It’s an opportunity to address questions that the judge may have about the facts or the law.
  11. Be genuine; be kind; be curious.

The Sleep Revolution

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In the Sleep Revolution Arianna Huffington encourages people to sleep their way to the top. Literally sleep their way to the top.

In her new book, she explains that sleep deprivation has taken a toll on our mental abilities and has reduced our capacity to perform both at work and socially. She cites a study that revealed that the performance of someone who gets 6 hours of sleep per night for two weeks straight is equal to the performance of someone that has gone twenty-four hours without sleep.

So then why are we all so tired and sleep deprived?

Huffington points to the Industrial Revolution as the origin of pervasive sleep deprivation. “Artificial light allowed the night to be colonized, [and] mechanization allowed for it to be monetized, and capitalism had no use for sleep.” As was the case with factory workers, sleep became devalued and scorned. After all another hour sleeping was another hour not working. And another hour not working was another hour not making money. And another hour not making money is an hour wasted.

In order to indoctrinate people with this capitalistic view towards sleep, going without sleep was framed as a sign of masculinity and strength. And to this day, this mentality towards sleep remains. In her new book, she encourages as to shuffle off this mentality, take pause, and perchance to dream.

 

 

Sheryl Sandberg’s Perfect Commencement Speech

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Sheryl Sandberg’s commencement speech to the graduating class of Berkeley is powerful. In her speech, she describes the lessons learnt from the death of her husband, stating that: “It is the hard days—the times that challenge you to your very core—that will determine who you are. You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive.”

Life is filled with peaks and valleys: a moment of failure here, a period of success there, followed by a time of stagnation. But, it is in those moments of failure that professional longevity can be found. Studies have shown that the greatest predictor of success is not grades, not money, not looks, but resilience. So it is in Sandberg’s call to building resilience within ourselves that makes her commencement speech so perfect.

Everyone who has made it through Cal has already experienced some disappointment. You wanted an A but you got a B…

She was the love of your life… but then she swiped left.

Game of Thrones the show has diverged way too much from the books—and you bothered to read all 4,352 pages.

You will almost certainly face more and deeper adversity. There’s loss of opportunity: the job that doesn’t work out, the illness or accident that changes everything in an instant. There’s loss of dignity: the sharp sting of prejudice when it happens. There’s loss of love: the broken relationships that can’t be fixed. And sometimes there’s loss of life itself…

And when the challenges come, I hope you remember that anchored deep within you is the ability to learn and grow. You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are—and you just might become the very best version of yourself.

 

Less is More: Oral Argument

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Last week I had the good fortune of listening to former Supreme Court of Canada judge the Honourable Justice Ian Binnie. He shared many words of advice. First of them being was to ignore all advice.

Despite his caution, one comment stayed with me. He said that all good oral arguments can be relayed in 8 minutes. If you need a full hour to explain your position, then you don’t really know what you’re talking about.

I agree. In a time where most people view more words as better work. It is refreshing to hear that even judges want you to edit, edit, edit!

The 8 minute rule makes sense. It’s been said that all good arguments can be explained to a 6 year old. And how many 6 year olds do you know that can listen for more than 8 minutes?