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4 Scientifically Proven Ways To Boost Your Brain Productivity

4 Scientifically Proven Ways To Boost Your Brain Productivity
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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.

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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.

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Any threat or fear in our lives invokes our primitive brain structures.This causes us to resort to the flight, fight or freeze response. When our brain operates primarily from the limbic and the reptilian side, we inhibit our reasoning and creative thinking abilities.
For example, when people at work feel threatened– either from the fear of losing their job, losing the promotion, not being recognized, or any other fear, the stress hormone cortisol is released. When people operate with inhibited neocortex functions, they are not able to think and produce creatively and in an innovative manner.
Simon Sinek makes an excellent point in his presentation on work induced stress. Simon illustrates the effect of stress on our work abilities. He goes on to tell us how to combat this by serving others. The best thing that leaders can do is to make others feel safe, thereby increasing their neocortex activity; this, in turn, leads to more productivity.

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:

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?

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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:

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“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

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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