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The Biggest Problem With Email? It’s Way Too Convenient

The average business user sent and received 122 business emails per day in 2015. This stat, perhaps more than any other, captures the reality of work in the 21st century—and this is a problem.

It’s increasingly clear that this incessant barrage of workplace messages is making us miserable. For one thing, it expands the scope of our jobs well beyond the standard 9-to-5 day. Now, whether at the dinner table or on vacation, digital communication enforces a constant tether to the office, impatiently demanding our energy and attention. And when we do try to buckle down and produce things that matter, the constant interruptions mute our ability to apply our craft at a high level.

Is this really the heralded future of work? Are we doomed to live out our office lives as human network routers, ceaselessly moving information in and out of our inboxes while vainly hoping this busyness will somehow alchemize into productivity?

It’s hard not to feel fatalistic. The ability to reach anyone quickly and easily is incredibly convenient; we cannot go back.

Or can we?

In order to understand the solution to our current email dilemma, it may be helpful to examine a...

Neuroscientists Say Multitasking Literally Drains the Energy Reserves of Your Brain

Does your morning routine consist of checking emails, browsing Facebook, downing coffee, heading to the train while Googling one last idea, checking notifications, more coffee, and going through your work email? The myriad activities crammed into your morning, and the constant switching between them, is likely making you very tired.

When we attempt to multitask, we don’t actually do more than one activity at once, but quickly switch between them. And this switching is exhausting. It uses up oxygenated glucose in the brain, running down the same fuel that’s needed to focus on a task.

“That switching comes with a biological cost that ends up making us feel tired much more quickly than if we sustain attention on one thing,” says Daniel Levitin, professor of behavioral neuroscience at McGill University. “People eat more, they take more caffeine. Often what you really need in that moment isn’t caffeine, but just a break. If you aren’t taking regular breaks every couple of hours, your brain won’t benefit from that extra cup of coffee.”

Studies have found that people who take 15-minute breaks every couple of hours end up being more productive, says Levitin. But these breaks must...

What Contractors Need to Know About New Sex Discrimination Rules

On June 15, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs published a final rule detailing the obligations of federal contractors to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex, and to take affirmative action to treat all applicants and employees equally without regard to sex.

OFCCP is an agency within the Labor Department that enforces a number of employment-related laws applicable to federal contractors, including Executive Order 11246, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex and race. OFCCP originally published its Sex Discrimination Guidelines in 1970, but had not previously revised them.  This new rule represents the agency’s interpretation of Executive Order 11246 as it relates to discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity in light of 45 years of legal developments. The new rule takes effect Aug. 15.

Sex Discrimination

The stated purpose of the new rule is to set forth federal contractors’ obligations to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex, including pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, gender identity, transgender status, and sex stereotyping. 

For example, contractors are prohibited from denying women with children employment opportunities that are available to men with children. They are also prohibited from denying access to any...

Making the Brain Less Racist

Is there any way to improve race relations? Re-watching the 1993 film The Joy Luck Club might help a bit. In one study, white people who watched the movie while empathizing with its characters—all strong, complex Asian-American women—were less likely to be biased against a group labeled “them” in a computer game, as opposed to “us.”

Or, we could have white people play dodgeball on a teams full of sportsmanlike African Americans—that too, has shown to reduce bias.

These are just a few examples of the myriad ways psychologists are trying to hack the human brain to be less prejudiced.

Most people harbor biases against other races and genders, whether they admit to them or not. And as the events of recent weeks (and frankly, centuries) underscore, societal bias against African Americans is perhaps most pervasive and harmful of all.

African-Americans face discrimination in almost every facet of life. People with black-sounding names are less likely to be invited for interviews by prospective employers or even to stay in apartments by AirBnb hosts.

White people shown images of a black 5-year-old boy, and then a toy, are more likely to miscategorize the toy as a weapon...

When Solid Data Isn’t Enough

I’ll never forget an incident early in my career, working in the Texas legislature, when a pair of academics testified about their statistical analysis for improving the funding distribution for school bus grants to school districts across the state. They used regression analyses to demonstrate a more efficient and fairer way to allocate the aid. But a state legislator was enraged. He asked how he was supposed to explain “this statistical mumbo-jumbo” (actually, his language was more colorful) to parents in his school district when they complained about why their kids couldn’t ride a bus to school.

It’s not just an academic vs. policymaker divide. In looking back, the financial information generated by the 1990 Chief Financial Officers Act and the performance information generated by the 1993 Government Performance and Results Act have had little impact on policy decisions, especially in Congress. The lesson: having technical experts in agencies creating a supply of information is not enough; there needs to be a demand for it, as well.

Up until recently, academics and scientists also felt that creating a supply and improving the quality of studies and research would be enough for policymakers to pay more attention to...

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