Remote work with encrypted connection, cyber security, cyber awareness month

Article by Anna Collard, SVP Content Strategy & Evangelist KnowBe4 Africa 

In primary school, my best friend Sabine and I spent hours drawing cartoon versions of our teachers, parents and friends. We created long comic book type stories with weird and wonderful characters, some of which we even played out and recorded on our tape recorders. 

I strongly believe that these early creative experiences formed an inspirational seed for what would be my first cartoon-based security awareness storyboard in 2011. The characters and storyboard came to me while I was sitting on the beach on honeymoon in Zanzibar and I drew it when my husband went out sailing. Back home, I showed it to the CISO of one of South Africa’s largest insurance companies. He liked it and motivated me to develop it into a fully fledged product, which ultimately resulted in the content publishing company Popcorn Training, which is now part of KnowBe4. 

Creativity means allowing our minds to connect seemingly unrelated areas. It is something that served me well throughout my career as both a security consultant, product designer, entrepreneur and manager. It meant finding ways to connect storytelling, character development, a sense of humour and principles from fields such as psychology and cybersecurity.

When we are relaxed and in a space of mental stillness, we can be our most creative selves and ideas emerge. That is why we often have our best ideas on holiday, after a walk in nature or in the shower.

This creative frame of mind though seems to elude us more and more, with modern lives pressurising us into multitasking and distractions. We participate in Zoom calls, while working through emails at the same time; attempt to focus on a piece of work while getting disrupted by notifications on our phones. Sometimes these notifications do not even exist, but we end up checking anyway every five minutes, falsely believing we can get things done while also staying on top of our various inboxes.

Multitasking is a myth. When we think we do multiple things at once, our brains just switch between tasks at a cost. Every time we switch, we need to make a decision and decision making costs energy. Even seemingly small decisions like, “do I respond to this WhatsApp message now or later?” use up as much glucose in our brains as large decisions. On top of that, we only have a limited number of decisions available per day. Once we use up our decisions during the day on irrelevant interruptions, we feel wiped out and frazzled in the evenings — this explains why sometimes having to choose what to make for dinner seems like a really difficult task. It also explains why we feel like we have been busy the whole day but did not actually achieve anything. We confuse activity with productivity. The bad news is that there is an addictive element to this behaviour. Dopamine — our built in rewards system – is a curious little hormone and drives us to check our emails obsessively or want to find out what is behind that red notification tick. Once we have responded to that message, we get another dopamine hit, because it feels like we have scratched something off our to-do list. This results in a dopamine addiction feedback loop and is why it is difficult to stop this behaviour, despite knowing that it does not serve us.

The other day, I failed a phishing simulation test and got assigned training which I developed myself a couple of years ago. The reality is that I failed this test not because I do not know how to spot a phishing email. I clicked on it because I was distracted; I was doing what felt like a million things at once. In a study by Tessian in 2020, distractions were behind 47% of people falling for phishing emails. Multitasking is really bad for us and often results in human error, reduces our long term memory and prevents us from being focussed and creative.

Becoming aware of how bad multitasking is, is the first step to change it. By scheduling focus time and limiting emails and other chat and communication apps to a few 20 minute chunks per day, we are able to work through multiple requests at once, rather than being constantly interrupted.

Becoming mindful of our emotional reaction to disruptions without immediately giving into the impulse will make the response more intentional and conscious.

Reducing multitasking, slowing things down and becoming mindful of our own reactions will not only help us focus, become more productive and safer online, but it will also allow those ideas and creative thoughts to come back to the surface again.

The irony is that by focusing on one thing at a time only, we end up getting so much more done.