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Work hard but smart – practical brain wellbeing tips from Heltti’s occupational psychologist Jaakko Sahimaa

We asked health care company Heltti’s occupational psychologist Jaakko Sahimaa how to keep your expert brain happy.

Don’t drain your brain. As an expert your brain is the greatest asset you have. Sometimes we all need a brain break for mental wellbeing. Without well functioning brains, we cannot work properly and solve complex challenges in a quickly changing environment. Experts need to treat brains like any other muscle – or even better.

Solved asked occupational psychologist Jaakko Sahimaa how to boost our brains. He works at Heltti, a Finnish occupational health care company founded in 2013. Heltti is an ambitious company because it is disrupting the occupational health care business. Jaakko says that he is trying to understand what motivates us and what makes work meaningful to us. He wants to help people find healthier and more efficient ways to do their work.

“By far the biggest problems in knowledge-intensive work are problems with our mind and brains. Our brains are not used to handle as big amounts of knowledge – coming from multiple sources – as our work and working life in general forces us to do. That makes the workload too heavy for our brain. And too heavy cognitive workload for our brain make us feel fatigued and more easily stressed, anxious and nervous at work and at home.”

Jaakko explains that too heavy workload affects on our memory system, especially in “working memory”, that is responsible for temporarily holding information available for processing. Our working memory gets jammed when we have too many things to do and too many things to remember. Cognitive workload also affects on our sleep. Too heavy cognitive workload makes people go into constant overdrive and it is hard to detach from work even at night.

“That’s why it is so important to talk about cognitive ergonomy at knowledge intensive work and to find best practices and optimal ways for organizations and individuals to decrease cognitive workload and to create and support individuals wellbeing.”

Multitasking is an essential skill in the era of digital work. However, multitasking can be harmful. Some even say that multitasking makes us stupid.

“Multitasking makes us work less efficiently and it is consumptive for our brain. Of course we have to multitask at work sometimes, but it is important to have those moments during your working hours that you can focus on one task at a time and block all the distractions. And then you should have also time for completing those not-so-important tasks. Multitasking isn’t so bad thing at all while completing those tasks. All in all, I wouldn’t recommend multitasking.”

So, less multitasking, more focus.

Experts also need a good work-non-work-balance. Jaakko says that we have to take care of our mental resources and energy resources. It is crucial for us to make sure we have a balance in our life with those things that drain and refresh us. One of the best ways to detach from work and to reduce stress is to have motivating and meaningful leisure activities.

“Concerning stress management it is important to find the root causes for stress and fix the problems, but it is also important to find the right tools to cope with the stress. In stressful situation The Four A’s model might help: Some situations and things you should Avoid, some things you can Alter, in some cases you have to Adapt, and in some cases you have to Accept the situation.”

Here are some practical tips from Jaakko. This is how you help your brain to stay sharp:

  1. Try to decrease cognitive workload

  2. Try to optimize your work routines

  3. Remember to have enough time for recovery

And one more thing: when was the last time when you asked yourself what motivates you? Motivation is one of the most basic elements of human behavior – also in work-life.

“It is important to reflect what motivates you and what makes your work meaningful. Highly motivated employees work more efficiently and also find better solutions for problems they are facing. So reflect yourself and try to find inspiring, motivating and meaningful things in your work! It helps you to work more efficiently with passion!”

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