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Would You Like To Maximise Your Brain? Try Emptying It First

Would You Like To Maximise Your Brain? Try Emptying It First

Keeping track of everything that you ought to remember and everything that you need to do can be overwhelming. Does it ever seem like your mind is completely overloaded? There’s always something that needs your attention.

Keeping all those tidbits of information in your head is mind-boggling, and it keeps you from being able to relax. Externalising your tasks by writing them down is a simple way to free up your metal space and get organised.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, a “brain dump” is the perfect way to reduce stress, focus, and get motivated.

There’s nothing wrong with externalising

Some people deny the value of externalising or feel that it’s a sign of weakness. They may feel that a need to write things down means that you don’t have a good memory or the mental capacity to keep up. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

We come by this aversion to writing things down honestly. Socrates felt that writing destroyed our memory and weakened our minds. He even argued that it was “inhuman” to write things down.

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Sometimes pulling out the pen and notepad seems like a step we could skip. For example, you could go to the supermarket without making a grocery list, or pack your suitcase without a packing list. Just because you could, doesn’t mean you should.

Without a list, you’ll end up going over-budget at the grocery store, or you’ll forget to buy something. Without making a packing list, the likelihood that you forget an essential item like your phone charger or travel adapter increases dramatically.

    Your brain isn’t meant to juggle so many things at once

    Our brains are powerful, but research shows that we don’t multi-task very well.[1] When you multi-task, your brain splits your attention. You may think that you are doing two tasks at once effectively, but your mind is just flipping back and forth between them.

    You can only hang on to a few ideas at a time, and you can only truly focus on one task. Your brain also doesn’t prioritize very well. Your emails, your to-do list, that thing you have to remember, an item you’re waiting on, and the task you’re trying to complete are all competing for your attention.

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      Our brains are made to solve problems and make connections. They aren’t so great at holding onto tidbits of information that we could easily externalize.

      Here are ways that you can (and should) externalise

      1. Make a to-do list. When you write down what you need to do, the thought of those tasks won’t clog your short-term memory.
      2. Use a calendar. Adding your appointments and meetings to your calendar keeps you from having to worry about them. Those items come into your mental space only when you need to focus on them, which keeps you from worrying about whether you’re forgetting something all the time.
      3. Make shopping lists. There’s nothing more frustrating than coming home from the store only to realise that you’ve forgotten what you went there for in the first place. A shopping list will save you time, and it will help you stick to a budget.

      Imagine what you could do with more mental bandwidth

      Freeing up mental space occupied by trivial items gives your brain the chance to do what it’s built for: coming up with new ideas and making connections.

      Your mind has such an incredible capacity for innovation, but it’s the wrong place to store everything you need to get done. It’s not made to house your to-do lists and appointment calendar. The more you can get rid of these things that are taking up your mental space, the more clearly you’ll think.

      In the late 1920s, the Zeigarnik Effect was discovered. This psychological concept explains that our brains hold on to incomplete or interrupted tasks more readily than they hold onto completed ones.[2] The things you haven’t finished take up more bandwidth than things you’ve already done.

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      Put theory into practice

      When I emptied my mind of all the things weighing on it, I realised how the Zeigarnik Effect influenced my life. After I cleared my mind by externalising everything that I could, I had so much more mental clarity, and I was more relaxed than I had been for a long time.

      I also learned that it’s important to capture tasks as they come up in order to maintain clarity. Getting unresolved commitments out of my head and onto task lists was great, but new things were constantly coming up. I had develop a system to keep those low-return tasks from taking over.

      Find a system for externalising that works for you

      Some of the most productive people I know rely on good old-fashioned pen and paper to keep their commitments in order. This is a great system, but it’s not the only way to approach externalisation.

      I’ve settled into a system that integrates seamlessly with my life. You have to find something that seems completely natural to you. It should make it easy for you to see, manage, and prioritise everything that needs your attention. Choosing the right system makes things come together almost effortlessly.

      The ‘Waiting For’ list is a powerful tool to add to your productivity arsenal.[3] It adds a new dimension to your to-do list. Instead of just tracking what you need to complete, you also note things that you are waiting on to complete those tasks.

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      For example, imagine you’re planning an event, but you need a formal request document signed by a superior to order supplies. Your ‘Waiting For’ list would include something like “Receive signed formal request from the boss.”

      Having such a list can help you understand what parts of your projects are within your control and what needs the input of others. Tracking this can let you know whom to follow up with if you don’t have everything you need.

      This system is simple to integrate. Of course, you can write your list by hand, but you can also develop a system for handling emails. After you send emails that need responses, drag those messages into a ‘Waiting For’ folder. You’ll be able to see what you need to be tracking, and it will help you catch important messages that might end up in your spam folder.

      Free your mind

      There’s nothing noble about trying to make your brain do things that it doesn’t do very well. Develop a system to externalise what you need to do. You’ll feel less stressed, and you’ll be so much more effective when you’re free to focus.

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      Leon Ho

      Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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      Last Updated on January 13, 2020

      7 Simple Brain Training Habits to Boost Your Brain Power

      7 Simple Brain Training Habits to Boost Your Brain Power

      Throughout the ages, there have been many beliefs in various tricks to boosting brain power, yet when held up to scientific scrutiny, most of these beliefs don’t add up.

      When I was a child, for example, my mother told me if I ate fish it would make me more intelligent. Of course, there’s no scientific proof this is true.

      Today, there is a myriad of games you can download to your phone that claims to improve your brain’s cognitive skills. While we are still waiting for a conclusive scientific verdict on these, recent studies by neuroscientists at Western University in Ontario[1] and researchers from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia appear to contradict these claims.[2]

      So, how can we really boost our brain power? Well, it turns out there are a number of simple things you can do that will improve the function of your brain. Here are seven to get you started.

      1. Do Your Most Difficult Tasks in the Morning

      Our brains work at their best when they are fresh and energized after a good night’s sleep.

      If you have a task to do that requires a lot of thought and focus, the best time to do that task would be first thing in the morning when your brain is at its freshest.

      This is one of the reasons why checking email first thing the morning is not a good idea. You are wasting your brain’s best hours on a simple task that can be done when your brain is not at its freshest

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      Throughout the day, you will find the amount of time you can focus for will fall. Your decision-making abilities will also begin to weaken as the day progresses. This is called “decision fatigue” and that means the decisions you make later in the day will not be as good as the decisions you make earlier in the day.

      It’s far better to do your most difficult, creative tasks early taking advantage of your brain’s higher energy levels.

      Try to avoid meetings first thing in the morning and schedule work that needs higher creative energy and concentration.

      2. Get Enough Breaks

      Our brains are not very good at maintaining concentration and focus for much more than an hour. Once you go beyond a certain amount of time, doing focused work, you will find yourself making more and more mistakes. This is a sign your brain is tired and needs a break.

      Taking the right kind of break is important. Switching from working on a complex spreadsheet to checking your social media feeds is not going to give your brain the right kind of break. Instead, get up from your desk and head outside. If that is not possible, go to the nearest window and look outside.

      Your brain needs a break from the screen, not just the spreadsheet, so leave your phone behind so you are not tempted to look at it and just savour the view.

      3. Read Books, not Social Media Feeds

      There are no shortcuts to improved knowledge and you are certainly not going to improve your general knowledge about anything useful by reading social media feeds. Instead, make reading books a regular habit.

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      When you read good quality books, you increase your ability to use the knowledge you learn to solve problems as your brain will apply the knowledge you learned to existing situations.

      Learn about economic theory, history and psychology. All these topics have real practical applications for us all today.

      4. Exercise Regularly

      Humans did not evolve to be stationary animals. You need to move.

      Had our ancestors spent their days sat around, they would not have survived very long. To survive and find food, our ancestors had to keep moving. Our brains have evolved to function at their best when we are exercised.

      In his book, Brain Rules, Prof.John Medina explains when we exercise, we increase the amount of oxygen in our brains and this helps to sharpen our brain’s functions.

      In studies, when a previously sedentary group of people began a light exercise programme, their cognitive skills improve as well as reaction times and quantitive skills.

      This is why you are more likely to find the solution to a problem when you are walking somewhere or exercising rather than when you are sat at a desk in front of a screen.

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      5. Get Enough of the Right Food

      You probably have experienced the afternoon slump at some point in your life. This is when you feel tired and fatigued in the mid-afternoon. This is a result of the carbohydrates you ate at lunchtime, stimulating your body to produce insulin which then causes a drop in your blood sugar levels.

      When you go into an afternoon slump, concentrating for long periods become almost impossible and you just want to curl up and go to sleep.

      To prevent the afternoon slump, try to eat a protein-rich lunch such as a tuna or chicken salad without pasta, rice or bread. Keep some healthy snacks such as mixed nuts and dried bananas around your workspace and when you feel a little peckish, eat a few of these.

      Not only will you avoid the afternoon slump, but you will also improve your overall general health and feel a lot more energetic.

      6. Drink Enough Water

      Your brain is made up of about 70% water, so without enough water, your brain will not function at its best.

      When you are not drinking enough water, you will find your ability to concentrate, make decisions and stay alert will reduce. You will feel sleepy and lack energy. Your brain functions at its best when it is properly hydrated.

      The solution is to keep a large bottle of water at your work station and sip regularly from it throughout the day. This will increase the number of trips you need to make to the bathroom which is a good thing. It will keep you moving and taking regular breaks from your screen.

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      7. Don’t Deprive Yourself of Sleep

      You probably don’t need a long scientific study to convince you that if you are not getting enough sleep, you are not going to function at your best.

      You just need to go a couple of days without getting enough sleep and you feel your abilities reduce. Your decision-making skills become erratic, your energy levels drop and your ability to stay focused on your work diminishes.

      If you want to improve your brain’s ability to function, then start with getting enough sleep. The number of hours you need will depend on your own circadian rhythms, so find what works best for you.

      Six to eight hours is usually enough for most people so make sure you are hitting that number of hours per night as a minimum.

      The Bottom Line

      Improving our brain power is not difficult. All we need to do is develop a few simple habits such as exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and eating the right foods.

      These seven tips will go a long way to helping you to become more alert, able to focus longer and make decisions. All simple common sense tricks anyone can use.

      More to Boost Your Brain Power

      Featured photo credit: Nicole Wolf via unsplash.com

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