Our workweek comprises of good days and bad days, and to narrow it down a bit more, good hours and bad hours.
So, what makes the difference?
In the corporate world, we mostly work with our brains. So, we all try to perform our very best and that’s a good thing. In order for that to happen, we must understand our brains a little better - what distracts us, what helps us to focus better, how we can best make decisions, etc. Once we have the knowledge about how our brain works, we can manage ourselves more effectively.
Neuroscience keeps on making progress about our brain but since our brain is very complex, there is still much we have yet to discover and learn. That said, we have more control over our brains than we probably realize.
Before getting into the practical points, there are a few key things about our brains that are useful to know.
- Our brains are not designed for the 21st century. Our work has changed hugely, but our brains have NOT. Our brains are not that different from those of our ancestors, out on the Savannah. That said, one part, the prefrontal cortex (PFC), has evolved over the centuries. Hurrah for us humans!
- The PFC is found just behind your forehead and is a very important part of the brain for 21st-century work, as it is where we make considered decisions and manage our emotions. Neuroscience refers to it as the ‘executive center’ of the brain.
But the rest of our brains have not changed that much and our brains are still better adapted to dealing with the challenges of the Savannah than those of the 21st-century workplace.
- Our brains respond to work challenges as they would to being confronted by a tiger or a hostile tribe. FYI - Our brains still go into flight or fight mode (or flock or freeze – there are four types of responses) where blood goes to those parts of our brain that prepares us to run away or to fight, and away from the Prefrontal Cortex.
As you can see, lots of things deplete our mental energy on an hourly, daily basis. We must learn to accept that our brains can’t be great all day long. We have a finite amount of mental energy and this means that although our brains are extraordinary, our brains have their limits as well. Lots of things eat into that ‘tank’ of energy; for example, making important decisions, blocking out distractions (as anyone who has tried to concentrate in a noisy environment will know), reining in our emotions and not telling that idiotic colleague what we really think of him/her, trying to stay focused when we are bored.
Once the brain is fatigued, it functions less well, and our ability to pay attention is reduced. Here are 3 things you can do each day at work to improve your productivity
#1. Prioritize first thing each day -
The most important decision you have to make each day is what you have got to get done and what is your priority. This provides some certainty for the day (and the brain likes certainty).
By writing down what you need to do, it gets the information out of your working memory and onto the page – reducing overload on the brain. It also means that when, during the course of the day, you are asked by colleagues to get involved in something else, you are better placed to make informed decisions about whether, when and how to do so.
That said, the list needs to be realistic and achievable – setting yourself up for failure does not get the best out of your brain.
2. Take a deep breath (preferably, quite a few)
Here’s one thing you can start doing right now as it takes just seconds. There is a strong connection between the mind and body – both send messages to each other about how we are doing. Even taking a few deep breaths sends messages to the brain that helps to calm it down. Try pausing after the out-breath; the out-breath increases the influence of the quieting the “parasympathetic nervous system”.
3. Automate small decisions
Making decisions can take a toll on the brain. If you know you have a particularly demanding day coming up at work, which decisions can you take beforehand to free up thinking space during the day? Some people like to write their ‘to do’ lists the day before work. Barack Obama shared one of his own tips for reducing decision-making during a 2012 interview with Vanity Fair:
"You'll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I'm trying to pare down decisions. I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make."
Similarly, Angela Merkel tends to wear a 'uniform' of trousers and a tunic. She is a busy woman with bigger things to think about. Mark Zuckerberg seems to share this view - he is typically seen in jeans and grey T-shirts.
In closing, the truth is that understanding your brain and how it works, will make you more informed and you will be able to operate at a higher level.
Neuroscience is changing the way we think about human dynamics. As coaches, we can teach our clients basic, practical principles to help them re-imagine their lives, become motivated, and make changes.
For additional information about neuroscience, career coaching, and personal development coaching, and to schedule a consultation, just click onContact Me.