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

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?

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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.

Can Your Brain Be Time Literate? Only If You Use Your Whole Brain®!

     Karen Leland’s recent article in Chief Learning Office Magazine entitled The Time-Literate Organization is relevant to anyone who touches digital media today. In previous posts I have described how multi-tasking is actually a brain productivity killer. As a serial processing system, the brain is not designed to do two things at once. In the article, Karen cites some important statistics:

  • On average workers spend only 10.5 minutes on a task before being interrupted.
  • It takes an average of 23 minutes to return to the original task – not to mention the time required to mentally re-engage with the task to be effective.
  • We are attempting to manage 15 projects a day (vs. 5 in the past).
  • 50% of us are either handling too many tasks at one time or are frequently interrupted in the workday, or both.
  • The typical executive spends 4.5 hours a week looking for lost papers.

      The demands now placed on all of us are not only increasing the number of things we need to attend to, shortening the time we have available, but also increasing the complexity of the work, as the breadth of task types has exploded often beyond our “normal” scope and preferences. We are indeed living in The Era of And, but I believe we can make our brains more time literate by paying attention to our natural preferences and energy level.

    I have started applying our research on Whole Brain® Thinking to better manage and deal with the never ending onslaught of items that hits my virtual desk. If you apply Archimedes Principle of Displacement, which states that when you choose to do something you are by default choosing to not do something else, you need to make intentional mental choices about where your time and mental energy will go.

     Often we find ourselves doing things that we would rather do as opposed to what we have to do as part of our criteria in prioritization. For example, I know from my HBDI® Profile that I really prefer not to do administrative tasks, and they will often be those tasks that get relegated to the next day, later on or never.

      Using the Whole Brain® Walk-Around, I sort my tasks into the types of mental requirements demanded by them. Next, from my HBDI® data, I know that my energy level is greatest late at night. My experience has shown me that I’m better off doing low-preference tasks (B) in the early morning timeframe and “rewarding myself” with high-preference tasks late in the day. I can use the late-at-night timeframe for those tasks that fall clearly in my strongest preference zones  – more creative (D) and analytical tasks (A), as you can see from my profile.


     What do you do to get through your digital onslaught? Try looking at your preferences and then walking around the brain to prioritize.