FOCUSED OR STRESSED? The Hidden Costs Killing Australian Productivity

Australians are unaware they spend most of their working life in a low- performance mind state, due to an expectation to multi-task and the use of stimulants to hide a hidden baseline level of fatigue. This not only leads to reduced productivity, but also has a correlation to an increased number of errors and a barrier to generating innovative and creative thinking that’s essential in modern business.

Amon Woulfe, Director of Collective Mind, a neuroscience backed mind- training program said the problem was “epidemic” across Australian businesses as the minds of our workers are placed under increased pressure to overachieve, with very few tools on how to do that. “It’s like running IOS 2.0 on an iPhone 8, you have to upgrade your operating system to function effectively in the age of accelerating everything,” says Woulfe.

“Employers are increasingly asking us to do more with less” says Woulfe. “The more you juggle in the age of distraction, creates a perfect storm of high beta, high stress, and declining performance.”

“We now live in an attention economy, and being able to master your attention is your greatest asset. Focus is power. No focus, no flow.”

Woulfe believes Australians have come to mistake being stressed, with being focused. “Most people say they focus well, however we find the ‘Focus’ score in our Mind Performance Profile trends very low when we profile most organisations.”

Multitasking, he says, has become the new normal and stimulants such as coffee and energy drinks only exacerbate the problem by artificially stimulating beta brainwaves and pushing workers and managers further into a stress response.

Under stress, it’s easy to mistake  our  physiological signals for focus, as we are in a heightened state of alertness for danger. The brainwave frequency of stress overwhelms and our brain goes into ‘high beta’ brainwaves. Our senses become heightened. We get tunnel- visioned and near focused. Our mind gets very busy and starts to overthink. Adrenaline is pumping, the stress hormone cortisol is released, leading to impaired decision making ability, lower emotional regulation and the inability to get the mind into a creative brain frequency, essential for innovative thinking.

A state of focus however is a relaxed yet highly alert state of readiness, where the mind is quiet. Our attention is  focused fully in the moment, and we aren’t distracted by over-thinking or stress-based survival responses. Our vision is clear, our decision- making is expansive, our mind is creative, and our physiology is in a state of readiness rather than reactivity.

How do we get the mind back  to a creative brain frequency? According to Woulfe and colleague Derek Leddie, also of Collective Mind, the creative mind is your competitive advantage and the key to innovative thinking. If you can’t focus and get out of high- beta, you simply cannot access the mindstate needed for creativity and innovation to occur.


Write ‘single tasking’ into every position description and master the art of focusing on one thing, completing it and moving on to the next. The human mind does not multitask, it just switches rapidly. Eventually you end up spending more time switching, than actually working.

A three-second distraction leads to double the mistakes. Researchers tested 300 Michigan State students on their ability to persevere through interruptions while taking a computer test. The interruptions came in the form of pop-ups that required the students to enter a code. In one case, the interruption lasted a little more than four seconds. In another, the interruption was 2.8 seconds.

A single interruption to focus, takes us on average 25 minutes to refocus from.

Don’t make it a double – coffee that is. Or other drinks that stimulate a stress response, rather than a calm state of focus. Caffeine artificially stimulates beta brainwaves, inhibits our fatigue receptors, and pushes you into a stress response. In a stress response, you think less clearly and can tend to over focus, have reduced emotional regulation, and can become overly self-orientated and lose empathy and connection with those in your team. It also impacts your ability to sleep, and through collated data, Collective Mind have established that most Australians are not getting enough deep recovery sleep. Our eyes are closed, but we aren’t recovering, and we are waking up in a state of fatigue.


These factors combined are masking a widespread baseline level of fatigue in the workforce. To perform at your best, you must master the fatigue challenge, as everything is built from your ability to be recovered and ready to perform. A $37 million US defence research project into the impact of fatigue on cognitive performance revealed that a 20% level of fatigue is equivalent to 0.05% blood alcohol, and a 30% level of fatigue 0.08% blood alcohol in terms of cognitive performance,  response  times and decision making.

Working longer, juggling more, or having another stimulant is only  going to send you further into fatigue. We need to train our minds to recover properly, but for most Australians, starting the  work day in fatigue is the norm, and it’s killing productivity and innovation in our economy.

Implementing these notions represent the keys to unlocking performance and innovative thinking that the future of business environments demands.

Collective Mind is a neuroscience backed mind-training program.

The program facilitates everyone from individual leaders, to leading corporates, to elite sporting teams in the AFL and NRL to understand and adopt mind-performance tactics for high-pressure situations. BFM


Business First is a peer-to-peer magazine: written by CEOs and other high level executives, with interviews with some of the country’s best leaders.

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