In my job, I talk to many people who have interesting careers, are raising families, may be taking care of elderly parents and are involved in many other social, political or personal activities. Just thinking about this last sentence has made my heart rate increase. It seems like a lot of challenges and possibly a lot of stress. Earlier this week, our Chief Investment Officer, Charles Verruggio, sent me a link to a Ted Talk. Emergency Room doctor, Darria Long, began the talk by asking the audience about whether they ever used the term “crazy busy” to describe their day, week, or month. She went on to note that one will never hear that term in the ER because when you are in that “crazy” state, you’re much less able to handle the “busy.” She noted that in crazy busy mode, “you’re stress hormones rise and stay there, your executive function in the pre-frontal cortex declines. That means your memory, your judgment, your impulse control deteriorate, and the brain areas of anger and anxiety are activated.” It’s just much harder to make good, informed decisions and actually get things done. In the ER, they avoid crazy mode by being in ready mode. The good news is we all have the power to control how we react to the stress of having lots of items on our to-do list.
Dr. Long said that in the ER, they relentlessly triage, and she encourages all of us to do it too. In crazy busy mode, a person reacts to every challenge with the same response. “Work by Dr. Robert Sapolsky shows that individuals who cannot differentiate threat from non-threat and react to everything with the same response have double the level of stress hormones.” By relentlessly triaging, you prioritize what is important and what is less important. In the ER, “Red – immediately life threatening. Yellow – serious but not immediately life-threatening. Green – minor.” In crazy busy mode, everything is red and that hinders one from addressing the true “red” tasks. In my life, the reds are different than in the ER but they signify what is most important and needs immediate attention. If all tasks and challenges are red, it is easy to get distracted from the true priorities. There’s an old adage that says, “when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.”
She also encouraged us to expect and design for crazy. Prepare and plan so that the priorities are easier to get done. “Science shows us that the more options we have, then the longer each decision takes. And the more decisions we have to make, the more exhausted our brain gets and the less it is capable of making good decisions.” Spend time outlining the plan to get your task done before just jumping into it to limit the number of decisions that need to be made as you are working through that task.
I think Dr. Long’s points will lead to better decisions and less stress and anxiety in those challenging moments. Just as writing about stress and challenges may have increased my heart rate when I began writing, I now feel less stressed and calmer about all of things that are on my list. I’m ready not crazy. The TED Talk is only about 12 minutes and I encourage you all to view it.
This week’s selection is:
Project Hail Mary by Andy WeirRyland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish. Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it. All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company. His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species. And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone.