The complex machine that resides inside us, the human brain, is responsible for everything in our lives. Our actions and reactions are largely triggered by this super computer in our heads.
In recent times, this super computer along with the body in which it is housed, has, for most people, become overworked and fatigued. Culturally we have also latched on to the word productivity.
This is a word that conjures up visions of getting more things done in less time and doing it efficiently. There are numerous tips and hacks to help us be more productive as well. But how can this productivity be sustained? Getting motivated once in a while and getting a task done is not enough. We want to sustain productivity for long amounts of time.
In order to achieve our desired productivity levels, let us understand how our brain works and how we can subsequently create long, sustained periods of productivity in our lives.
Activate the Neocortex:
Our brain is comprised of three interrelated brains:
1. The Reptilian brain is the oldest brain in terms of evolution.
It is that part of the brain that produces an instinctive, non-thinking reaction. It is the part of the brain that makes a deer look up at the slightest of sounds. It is our natural survival instinct.
2. The Limbic brain is responsible for our emotions and motivations.
As a part of the limbic system called the amygdala, this brain also plays a part in determining what events get stored in our memory.
3. The Neo-cortex is also called the ‘New Brain’.
It is responsible for higher level functions such as sensory perception, spatial reasoning, conscious thought and creative thinking.
Ultradian Rhythms of Productivity:
Scientists believe that alternating work cycles with short breaks leads to a productivity boost. This was discovered by psychophysiologist Peretz Lavie. Mirroring our work cycles with the body’s natural ultradian rhythms of 90 minutes work followed by 20 mins of rest leads to enhanced energy levels. These 90 minute cycles are very similar to our 90 minute sleep cycles; thereby leading to sustained levels of productivity without fatiguing our brains.
4-5 of these cycles a day is ideal. Our bodies’ natural cycles are good indicators for when to take such breaks, as an alternative to setting timers. Psychologist Anders Ericcson, in a noted study of high-performing violinists, found that the top performers practiced every morning for 3 cycles of 90 minutes each followed by a break.
Neuroplasticity is is the ability of the brain to rewire or change itself at any age. For a long time, it was believed that the neural networks in our brain are fixed after a certain age and no rewiring was possible. That is no longer true!
So how can we take advantage of neuroplasticity?
Simply, by exercising our brain and exercising our body.
Exercise creates new synaptical connections. Exercising the mind can be done in numerous ways – learning new things, trying new experiences, even simple things like taking a new route to work, trying a different cuisine or a different food item, or reading different books; these are all simple ways to enhance the rewiring process. This process leads to increased productivity. As managers and leaders, we can urge our peers and subordinates to eat healthy, exercise regularly, take on innovative assignments or new projects to take advantage of the power of neuroplasticity.
Being in the Zone:
Have you ever been ‘in the zone‘?
The zone is where time seems to stand still, or you have no recollection of the passage of time, and the things and the people around you seem to melt away as you are so immersed in an activity. This state is also referred to as flow. The flow experience is when we are engaged in a task to the point that we are immune to our surroundings. Wikipedia defines it as:
“The mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. It is a state of supreme creativity.”
When people work in a state of flow, they are naturally productive. As managers, we must identify people’s interests, strengths and talents and marry these to their work assignments. People will find themselves more frequently in the flow state and thus be naturally productive!
Featured photo credit: Victor Hanacek via picjumbo.com