3 Brain Facts That Will Improve Your Productivity

Brain Function with gears and cogs.Have you read much lately on “Mindfulness”? Mindfulness has been around for a long time but often associated with meditation and quiet reflection time. Most people think of it as being “aware” of what is going on within and around you. A more tangible way to think about it is “being present in the moment,” which translates to being focused on one task, thought, person…NOT multitasking!

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed this, but I find that it’s RARE for people at work to not multitask.

The ping from our email or personal electronic device is a constant distraction and we can’t NOT LOOK to check and see if the latest update requires our attention immediately!

OR perhaps we think no one will notice if we respond to emails while on a conference call – drawing away our attention from what’s being said and missing the question that someone has posed to us, forcing everyone to listen to the question again while they repeat it for us.

I wonder how much time (our own and others around us), is wasted due to our lack of being present and handling the work at hand?

I’ve been on a quest to build my mindfulness capability for several years now and while I’m not as highly functioning as I’d like, I’ve made good strides and made several revelations along the way.

One of my favorite researchers & authors is David Rock.  He is the co-founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute and Summit. In reading one of his books, Your Brain At Work, he takes us inside our brains in the work setting and explores why the brain functions the way it does and how to: better manage distractions, discover insights, keep calm, collaborate with others, provide feedback and influence other’s behaviors.

One thing is clear to me – being present in the moment, paying attention to what is going on in my brain and then making adjustments in how to respond in that moment has a positive impact on my productivity during the day!

Here are a few nuggets of brain-knowledge gold relative to making the most of your day:

  • Some mental processes, like prioritizing & creative thinking, take more energy than other processes so plan to take on those more taxing processes when you’re at your best each day. For many people, it’s in the morning after the conscious brain has been resting.
    • Application: On those days when you have to make progress on an attention-rich task, don’t even open your email in the morning before spending an hour or so on that project.
  • If you can think about your brain as a stage, consider that there is limited space on that stage. New concepts take up more space than familiar ideas.
    • Application: Because processing and understanding new ideas is harder, we may default to the status quo vs. being open to something new and different. When it comes to decision-making, try to narrow down the options in order to compare two ideas, which is the optimal number for our brains to process.
  • Our brains are wired to focus on one conscious task at a time and while we can physically do multiple conscious tasks at a time, there is a big drop-off in accuracy or performance. Also, switching between tasks uses a lot of energy and the more you do it, the more mistakes will be made.
    • Application: If accuracy is important, which it usually is, do one thing at a time. Focus on it and avoid distractions – turning off the sound notifications on electronic devices is a big help! Time-block your calendar for email review and don’t mix responding to emails/instant messages when you are in the midst of working on something else. It’s a big brain-drain and you will spend more time trying to complete any task you take on and perhaps make more mistakes along the way.

The more we know about how our brains function, the better we can manage and respond to what’s going on up there!

The next time your gut tells you to stop emailing and think through details of a complex problem, or notice that you need to focus on what another person in the meeting is describing because it could impact your team…you’re being mindful. It’s the ability to notice these signals and understanding what your brain is doing that will enable you to be more effective at work. So tune in and beef up your productivity!

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults. Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect via email at mduesterhoft@people-results.com.