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

The SAGA of Managing Your Thinking in a Chaotic World

Today’s biggest cognitive challenge—especially at work—is managing the sheer volume of information and noise in the environment. No matter how skilled you think you are at multi-tasking, what you’re really asking your brain to do is task switch, and there’s plenty of research that shows the brain just isn’t very good at it.

So how do you get clarity and results when your attention is fragmented?

You have to consciously choose to manage your thinking. And that’s where filters come into play.

Clarity requires metacognition—thinking about your thinking: what you notice, where your mental energy goes, what you overlook. These are your mental filters.

Mental filters take the infinite streams of data that are available to you and separate what you notice from what you tend not to notice. The problem is your filters are not freely chosen. Instead, they’re put in place by unconscious forces. They work at a level below your conscious awareness.

Once you realize you have a set of filters in place, however, you can make them conscious. You can shine the light of awareness on them, bring them out in the open, examine them and evaluate them.

At that point you’re free to change filters. If your current set of filters is creating more complexity than clarity, then choose new filters. The key is to manage your filters instead of letting them manage you. When you do, they’ll help you:

  • Focus attention by pointing at what’s most important for you to notice right now and what you do not need to pay attention to.
  • Make meaning by consciously choosing how to interpret the events you notice.
  • Move into action based on your interpretations with an understanding of the mental demands required.

The way you habitually think on a daily basis—your default filters—can create blind spots that prevent you, your team and your organization from getting what you want.

You can use the Whole Brain® Model to recognize these default filters without judging yourself (level 1 meta cognition). With this baseline knowledge, you can intentionally put new mental filters in place to shift your mindset, discover your options and take action to get results you want (level 2 meta cognition).

There are many filters, and none of them are “right” for all people at all times. As I’ve worked in the field of Whole Brain® Thinking over the past 30 years, I’ve sorted through hundreds of options. But I’ve found that the following four filters apply to the challenges most of us are or will be facing. You can remember them by the acronym SAGA:

  •  Solving—Question your assumptions, shift your mindset and create breakthrough solutions.
  •  Aligning—Collaborate, leverage disagreement and get to closure even in the midst of conflict.
  •  Growing—Change at a deeper level when internal motivation or external challenges move you toward significant, long-term learning.
  •  Adapting—Flex your thinking and change your behavior in response to challenges that don’t require deep learning.

I’ll be exploring this topic more over the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, think about this: Which filter can you leverage right now for maximum benefit?


Leadership in an Age of Information Overload

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

In an 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 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, simply log in to access the webinar. If you are not a member, you will need to sign up for a free 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 webinar, Getting Buy-in for Your HR Initiatives: Applying C-Level Thinking for Faster and 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? 

Is Information Overload Hindering Today’s Thinkers?

conference room

In today’s always-connected world, it seems as if we’re all constantly being bombarded with information. It’s one of the reasons clients have been telling us that their leaders need to build their nimble thinking skills. Living in an age of smartphones, social media and overflowing email inboxes means that having the ability to manage our thinking so we can focus with intention, even if only for a few minutes at a time, is critical.

We know that more and more of us are engaging in “hyper-thinking.” And we know that multi-tasking doesn’t work. New research and discussions pop up every day (naturally!) showing how our brains are being affected by this data deluge.

A recent article by Tim Harford of the Financial Times makes a compelling point that this proliferation of knowledge is getting in the way of our thinking to such a degree that we may never see another Leonardo da Vinci. According to Harford, today’s thinkers have the brainpower but not the bandwidth to process so much information and see the big picture.

As this post on the MarketingProfs website explains:

With so much knowledge available, and more produced every day, Harford questions whether there will ever be another person with the ability to learn, understand, and then forge the necessary connections to produce new insights. In short, he claims there will never be another Leonardo, not because the individuals alive today are sans the requisite brainpower, but instead because there just aren’t enough hours in the day to acquire the knowledge necessary to make significant—i.e. non-incremental—contributions.

What’s your take? Is Harford overreacting? Can we take steps to refocus our thinking to avoid this?

And how is information overload affecting you? Are you using the Whole Brain® Model to help manage the data deluge? Share your comments below.

In the meantime, here are some Whole Brain® Tips for helping your brain become more time literate and a few suggestions for taking control of your thinking.

If social networking is taking too much of your attention, check out the post Managing Your Attention Makes Social Networking More Manageable for a free downloadable article that discusses how you can put what we know about the brain and thinking styles to work to better manage your attention.