10 Quick Tips to Boost Productivity During Brain Awareness Week

Here are 10 tips to boost productivity during Brain Awareness Week

When it comes to productivity, your brain is your best ally—but are you ignoring the most important signals it’s sending?

Considering this week is Brain Awareness Week, now’s a good time to start paying attention to your mental energy and learning how to manage it to boost your productivity.

After all, it’s hard to be productive when your mental reserves are tapped, and today’s energy-draining environment is fighting you at every step. The typical response to declining energy and productivity levels is to try time management techniques so that you can catch up and stay on top of your workload. But most of those techniques are destined to fail when your energy level falls through the floor.

Increase productivity for Brain Awareness Week in less than 38 hours a day

Instead of thinking of productivity as a time management challenge, try viewing it as an energy management issue. Because while you can’t recover time—those wasted hours are gone forever—you can recover energy.

And here’s where your brain comes into the equation.

We often let this phenomenon of energy gain and drain happen by accident, but your own mental processes play a huge role in your energy throughout the day—at work, at home and with every person you meet. In fact, your energy levels have a lot more to do with what happens inside your head than what happens outside. Becoming conscious and intentional about this aspect of your life can unlock new levels of productivity. The key is to manage your mental filters, not your time. Read more

3 Strategies for Increasing Mindfulness and Productivity

3 Strategies for Increasing Mindfulness and Productivity

In our always-on/always-connected environment, between work and family, texts and emails, new demands and ongoing change, most of us are feeling like our brains are full.  And yet the constant stream keeps coming. It may seem unrealistic to hit the off switch, but we’re hoping to at least find a pause button.

This is one reason for the growing interest among business, HR and talent leaders in mindfulness and deep thinking, practices that just a few years ago would have seemed completely at odds with what it takes to be successful in business.

But whether you’re responsible for helping others develop and grow, managing people and projects, or just managing yourself, it’s easy to see how the distractions of the modern world are taking a toll, not just on performance, productivity and morale but also on people’s health and well being.

How can our businesses continue to thrive if we aren’t able to put our best thinking to work?

In fact, mindfulness is being aware of what’s going on in your brain. This is far different than being “mind-full”—letting your brain get so full that you feel overwhelmed by information.

Here are three strategies anyone can apply to increase mindfulness and become more productive as a result. Read more

Just Don’t Do It: Fight Distraction with Subtraction

Today’s world generates a lot of cognitive load, where our work and personal lives overlap and create even more complexities. We’re checking e-mails in the evening and on weekends, and making phone calls to resolve personal issues during the day.

We forget how much of the chaos in our lives is self-imposed. We complain about the complexity of our lives, we survey our crowded calendars and cluttered garages, and we wake up to the day already feeling overwhelmed. Yet at some point we agreed (or acquiesced) to taking on all those things. We complain about information overload even when we choose to over-consume information—a habit that we can control.

Here’s an idea: Don’t just do something—stand there!

When faced with a packed schedule and long to-do list, the natural inclination is to get busy and do something—anything. There is another option: Before you dig in, stop to think. Is everything that’s on your plate truly worth doing? You might be able to get the most important things done by filtering out the stuff that doesn’t really matter.

Because most of us are unconsciously allowing more possessions and commitments to stream into our lives. Stuff comes in so fast that we don’t realize how much we’ve accumulated. In contrast, letting go of stuff calls for mindfulness, new ways of thinking, focused action.

If you really want to get things done, you have to get more conscious about what you choose not to do. In other words, fight distraction with subtraction.

Imagine what it would feel like to have to have one more unscheduled hour in your life every day. What would become possible for you with that added space in your schedule? Now visualize a life where your weekends are largely unscheduled and you leave your office by 6 pm at the latest on a workday. It’s harder to let go than to take on, but it can be done. It just takes some practice over time.

Here are some tips to get you started:

1.  Write a three-item to-do list. Keep a master to-do list, then choose the next three things you intend to do and write these down on a Post-it. A three-item list is doable and inviting. In addition, crossing off those three tasks provides a dopamine-driven sense of reward and momentum.

2. Clean out your inbox and unsubscribe to any automatic e-mail list that you do not always read. Purge your subscriptions to magazines, newspapers and newsletters.

3.  Outsource your cognitive load. Draw out a map of your cognitive load:

  •  Take out a blank sheet of paper (or use a Walk-Around Pad), and map your cognitive load against the different thinking preferences as depicted in the four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model:

A Quadrant: Financial, technical issues
B Quadrant: Unfinished projects, plans, organizational issues
C Quadrant: People and interpersonal issues
D Quadrant: Long-term concerns, “big picture” issues

  •  “Unload” by writing down the key areas that represent cognitive load for you, those areas that weigh heaviest in your mind, for both work and personal.
  •  Now look at the list. Is there anything you can outsource or delegate?

4. Stop the madness by creating a no-to-do-list. Attending meetings with no clear agendas or end times, spending large chunks of time on low-value/low-return activities or clients, mindlessly filling out unnecessary reports or other activities “because we’ve always done them,” checking emails throughout the day instead of at scheduled intervals… name your not-to-dos and then stick with it!

5. Get offline. Yes, you can.

You can balance FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out) with TOTO (the Thrill of Throwing Out). Savor the pure pleasure of a calendar with more blank space and a life with less stuff.

What have you chosen not to do? What about your team, colleagues or employees? How can you encourage them to overcome distraction with subtraction?


How Do Your Employees Think? The Answer Might Surprise You


Last week we talked about why you should expect difference when it comes to thinking preferences.

Taking it a step further, one of the things we’ve learned from the data we’ve collected is that not only can you expect difference, you can expect balance: Organizations, ethnic groups and any group of a large enough size will have a balanced distribution across all four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model. That’s why we say the world is a composite Whole Brain®.

In fact, our hard data from around the world demonstrates this finding conclusively: If the sample size is large enough—even just 50 or 100 employees—the composite of individual HBDI® Profiles will represent a highly diverse, but well balanced, distribution across the four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model.

CEOs are always surprised by this. They often think their organizations have a tilt to the left mode or reflect the mental preferences of the leadership team or culture of the company. As a result, they aren’t managing their companies on the basis of the composite Whole Brain® reality of their organizations. Their leadership and communication styles have been either tilted in one direction or too confined for the global nature of the thinking and learning styles of their employees.

Just think about how much it might be costing these businesses, simply because they’re making the wrong assumptions about the true thinking diversity in their organizations. For starters, there is sure to be some degree of misalignment in jobs, training, communication and leadership approaches. But there is also likely an untapped well of perspectives and ideas that could be generating better decisions, solving problems more effectively and stimulating more innovative thinking across the board.

It’s highly likely your company’s workforce is made up of a balanced distribution of thinking preferences. The question to consider is whether this diverse workforce is being managed to take advantage of its potential productivity.

Most businesses today are made up of knowledge workers, and this is true even for those that have a large manufacturing component. In these highly competitive and complex times, production workers need to work smart; therefore, the mental demands of the work are greater than ever. Recognizing, managing and getting the benefit of all of the company’s thinking resources is essential to managing a successful company.

How well is your organization managing its thinking diversity?

Managing Up? Meet Them Where They Think!

A big project deadline is looming. You’ve put specific checks and balances into a plan—reminders and tasks for hitting each milestone in a clear, linear process that leads to the end point—and your manager seems to ignore it all.

Every call and discussion seems to go over. Every meeting runs late. The calendar is a mess.

So while you’ve parceled out plenty of time for the work to be completed well in advance of the deadline, nothing gets done until the last minute. You’re left scrambling, putting out fires, feeling like all that prep work has been wasted.

Not only that, this same scenario plays out over and over and over again. No matter how detailed the plan, how well organized the timelines and priorities, it’s always a last-minute mad dash to the finish line.

Your manager isn’t trying to deliberately sabotage your efforts. More than likely, the problem is that you’re setting up a productivity system that is perfectly designed for the way you prefer to think and get your work done—and one that’s completely misaligned with your manager’s thinking preferences.

Thinking preferences play a big part in how we work best. Some—those with stronger A- and B-quadrant preferences—tend to be most productive when they have a clearly organized routine and a plan with every step in place to keep them on track towards the end goal. Those with C- and D-quadrant preferences often work better by taking a step back, looking at the big picture and connecting with the pulse of the office before putting it down on paper. They know the deadlines they have to meet, but how they will get there isn’t set in stone.

Neither approach is right or wrong; it’s about what works best for the individual.

Carson Tate of Working Simply, who has conducted extensive research on cognitive style and knowledge-worker productivity, points out that managers and their direct reports often have different thinking preferences, and this can lead to miscommunication, frustration and ineffective work flow processes.

The good news is, once you recognize there are differences, you can start to use thinking in a way that works to both of your advantages.

Here’s an example Carson shared with us from her own work:

Jane, has a high preference for C-quadrant thinking, and her assistant, Sue, has a high preference for the B quadrant. Sue used to block time on Jane’s calendar for her to complete work, but Jane would instead walk around the office connecting with folks or call a client. Jane was always late to meetings and was consistently missing deadlines—all things that drove Sue crazy.

As we coached Jane and Sue, they began to see how their cognitive styles were impacting their daily work and how each of their preferences, when leveraged, could enhance their overall productivity.

Today, Sue acts as a liaison for Jane and coordinates all of her meetings with colleagues, leaving ample buffer time for the meetings to run long. She color-codes all of Jane’s incoming email messages so it’s easy for Jane to focus on the top priority items. Jane sits down with Sue once a week to review and plan the upcoming week and diligently carries her receipt folder on every business trip.

Whether you’re managing up, down or across the organization, everyone is ultimately trying to get to the same place. If you meet each other where you think, you can get there with a lot less frustration and confusion.

Have you noticed how thinking preferences affect your work processes or those of your manager? What are some of the ways you’ve adapted your processes to increase your collective productivity?

Research Reveals Keys to Increasing Team Productivity

How do you increase the efficiency of a group of people? How do you get more output from your existing human resources?

Those were the questions Charles G. DeRidder and Mark A. Wilcox examined as part of a six-year research study they conducted with the USDA Forest Service.

The premise of their study was that a diversity of thinking would help teams reach new performance benchmarks. Using the Whole Brain® Model as the foundation for their work, along with thinking style data from Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI®) assessments, they documented significant improvements in efficiency and effectiveness when teams were designed to include a balance of thinking preferences.

Among their findings and lessons learned:

  • Teams that are balanced in terms of thinking preferences are more effective; they consider more options and make better decisions.
  • Whole Brained teams were 66% more efficient than homogenous teams.
  • 70% or more of the teams were “successful” when Whole Brained vs. 30% or less when not.
  • Size matters: 7 members is the ideal team size.

As DeRidder and Wilcox observed, if you want to break through to the next level of production and increase team productivity/efficiency, “The answer is clear: Organize mentally balanced teams that match the task.”

Download the full research report to read more about the study, methodology and outcomes: Improving Group Productivity: Whole Brain® Teams Set New Benchmarks

Watch: In this video, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi shares tips for improving team performance.

Engaging Employees: Pay Attention to What Really Matters

Engaging Employees: Pay Attention to What Really Matters

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From business magazines to HR publications to health and wellness websites, employee engagement is one of the hot topics of the moment.

The Googles and Zappos.com’s of the world are often name-dropped as examples of companies that are doing it right, keeping their employees happy and, well, keeping their employees.

But what makes them happy? Is it the perks like free food and dry cleaning? The financial incentives? The social activities?

Before you install that coffee bar, take a look at what employees say really matters to them.

While Google offers many perks, the research shows that these aren’t actually the primary drivers of job satisfaction. Referring to the results of his study of more than 1,400 US-based companies, Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ, put it bluntly about what motivates employees:

“What they really need is a workplace that isn’t going to irritate them.”

What actually makes Google so successful, he adds, “is the competition of ideas, the pure meritocracy, whoever has the best idea wins.”

Blessing White’s Employee Engagement Report echoes these findings. In their survey of more than 11,000 people around the globe, they found that “employees worldwide view opportunities to apply their talents, career development and training as top drivers of job satisfaction.”

And managers, they point out, aren’t necessarily focusing on the things that matter most to their employees.

No wonder employees are irritated. And no wonder the high potentials at those organizations are looking for other opportunities.

What motivates one person won’t necessarily motivate another, but applying what we know about the brain makes it easier for leaders to understand how different employees prefer to think and approach their work and what they pay attention to. Because thinking drives behavior, it gives leaders the clues and framework to focus on what will really engage, motivate and retain their employees.

If you’re an HBDI® Certified Practitioner, be sure to register for the January 25th THINC™ Webinar, Don’t Lose Your Top Talent! Engaging Employees With Whole Brain® Leadership, for specific tips and takeaways on how to help your managers take action to engage their employees in a meaningful way.

Leadership in an Age of Information Overload

What does it take to be an effective leader in an age of information overload?

In an HR.com webinar last month, Ann Herrmann-Nehdi showed participants how to develop their leaders’ “mind management skills” so they can successfully navigate in an increasingly noisy and demanding environment. If you missed the session, or if you want to view it again and download the slides, the recording is now available on the HR.com website.

In this webinar, you’ll learn how to align leadership competencies with the type of nimble thinking skills that are critical in an age of smartphones, overflowing email inboxes and continual change. Ann gives you an easy-to-apply approach for helping your leaders get more strategic while getting more done.

Access the recording and handouts here:

From Mind-Full to Mindful: Developing Strategic Leaders in an Age of Information Overload

NOTE: If you are already a member of HR.com, simply log in to access the webinar. If you are not a member, you will need to sign up for a free HR.com membership, which will take only a moment.

Once you have confirmation of your membership, you will be able to access recordings and register for other educational opportunities, including Ann’s upcoming HR.com webinar, Getting Buy-in for Your HR Initiatives: Applying C-Level Thinking for Faster and Better Results.

Q & A on Whole Brain® Thinking

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The Whole Brain® Model (shown above), based on 30 years of research, is a validated metaphor for how we think, providing a useful framework to diagnose and describe the different types of thinking involved in any organization. It divides thinking into four quadrants, two on the “left brain” side and two on the “right brain” side. All four of the different thinking modes are in use and available to all of us, but we tend to prefer certain types over others.

 In what kinds of situations can Whole Brain® Thinking be used?

 Any situation that requires thinking that goes beyond a given quadrant’s specialized mode can benefit from Whole Brain® Thinking. To insure that each quadrant has been explored in a given process, an approach called a Walk-Around™ is used. (The Walk-Around™ pad is a great tool for facilitating this.)

Here are four examples of frequently used applications of Whole Brain® Thinking:

Decision Making

Most decisions benefit from a thought process that includes the review of multiple options and perspectives. A typical example is the purchase of a car. Quadrant A thinkers look at information on the actual performance of the vehicle. Quadrant B thinkers read a consumer report to gather research on the reliability and practical features (trunk size, safety records, etc.) of the vehicle. Quadrant C thinkers test drive the car to see if it “feels” right. And Quadrant D focuses on the aesthetics, color, styling and innovations of each model.

Using Whole Brain® Thinking—the thinking of all quadrants—contributes to a better choice and avoids unpleasant surprises. Overlooking even one quadrant can result in a less than ideal outcome.

Problem Solving

Every problem situation can benefit from a Quadrant A review of the data and facts, as well as an analysis of the real problem at hand; the Quadrant D “big-picture” context and possible creative ideas; Quadrant C viewpoint of the “customer” of the problem and how the problem affects others; and Quadrant B step-by-step process to solve the problem and implement the solution.

Improving team interactions and performance

Most teams are formed to make the most of the differences among team members. But very often those differences stand in the way of the team living up to its potential. Whole Brain® Thinking can help a team to acknowledge the differences among team members and then use those differences to make the most of the ideas of each team member. In addition, once a team knows its preferences it can use that knowledge to enhance its communication with other teams and work groups which may have thinking preferences that are quite different.


The objective of most communication is to convey an idea, transfer information or persuade someone. How many times have you experienced the frustration of delivering a message only to realize that the other person “just didn’t get it.” In order to communicate effectively, it’s important to understand the “language” and mindset of the person(s) you are communicating with. A diagnosis of the thinking preferences of the audience can provide the critical planning information you need to tailor your language and presentation to the audience. When the audience’s preferences are in doubt, taking a Whole Brain® approach to communication ensures that you’ve covered all the “languages.” This reduces the possibility of miscommunication and improves the chance that your message will be successfully received by the audience.

This guest post was contributed by Herrmann International Asia.

In addition to the thinking preferences of people, we can also use the Whole Brain® Model to diagnose processes, organizational cultures, vision and value statements, and a host of other systems we engage with on a daily basis. How are you applying Whole Brain® Thinking to get better results?

Outsourcing your Cognitive Overload

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Like many others, I recently took off on vacation for a week. In the process I validated something learned earlier this year, that the most productive day of the year is universally the same day across the world: The day before you leave on vacation. 

In order for me to mentally disconnect, I found myself in a very focused way, reviewing all of the short- and long-term projects and goals I have on my plate.

We are all carrying around a much greater “cognitive load” these days, and vacation time, even if it is just a long weekend, provides an opportunity to give ourselves a necessary breather. Our brains need the break to function optimally.

Most people consider their cognitive load in a traditional and linear format—like a to-do list. The challenge is this format does not lend itself to the complex and interdependent work we live in today.

Today’s world creates a lot of cognitive load, where our work and personal lives overlap and create even more complexities. We’re checking e-mails in the evening and on weekends, and making phone calls to resolve personal issues during the day.

One colleague from IBM said it this way: The issue is no longer work-life balance; effective work-life integration is the challenge!

So how can you lighten your load? One solution is to draw out a map of your cognitive load.

1. Take out a blank sheet of paper (or use a Walk-Around Pad), and map your cognitive load against the different thinking styles as depicted in th four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model:

A Quadrant: Financial, technical issues

B Quadrant: Unfinished projects, plans, organizational issues

C Quadrant: People and interpersonal issues

D Quadrant: Long-term concerns, “big picture” issues

 2. “Unload” by writing down the key areas that represent cognitive load for you, those areas that weigh heaviest in your mind, for both work and personal.

 3. Now look at the list. Is there anything you can outsource or delegate?

Leaving for a business trip or vacation is the perfect time to do this review since we will be doing it anyway. I went through this process and realized that in some areas, I was holding on to items I could easily outsource to others. Some call this delegation. I do plenty of that, too. However, the concept of outsourcing clearly implies the ownership is actually with the other entity.

On my list I had several items that I could just drop or defer to later in the year. Those were unloaded from the list.

In addition, I had “worrying about the stock market and our position in it” in the A quadrant. We are all struggling with the volatility of the market, overload of information and the worries that can create. My husband usually manages our stocks in our household, yet I was still hanging onto the “worrying.” I realized that by officially outsourcing this to him, I could let go of the worry with it.

What cognitive overload could you drop, outsource or delegate?