Most of us have had one of those days at work where our concentration falters, cloudiness sets in and suddenly we’re not getting as much done as we’d like. However, rather than our brains holding us back, it may well be the other way around: it’s likely we’re not doing as much as we could to help our brains work for us.
By gaining a better understanding of how your brain works, you can leverage neuroscience to improve your performance and get more out of your day.
It partly comes down to mastering the part of your brain that’s responsible for cognitive and executive functions like analysis and decision making – important tools for your working day, but according to the NeuroLeadership Group’s Paul McGinniss, a workplace consultant with over 25 years experience, it’s just as important to acknowledge that your brain has its limitations.
The first thing to understand is that your brain is energy-hungry: “It could be using 20% of your body’s resources, even though it only accounts for 5% of the body,” says McGinniss.
So while we might think that it’s only physical hard work that tires us out, mental heavy lifting like analysis or decision-making can drain your energy too, leaving you feeling tired or irritable. (Find out how more about how to fuel you brain for work.)
Second, the brain can’t cope with too many different things at once, so multitasking is out. “The brain is like a small stage, and it can only fit so many actors. It has a serial, linear nature” says McGinniss.
Tackling several things at the same time might make you feel like you’re getting a lot done, but in reality switching between different things isn’t an efficient way of working and probably won’t do you any favours.
Third, your brain is fussy. McGinniss compares it to Goldilocks, because your neurochemistry has to be “just right” for your brain to perform at its best.
This means finding the right levels of alertness and threat. (You see optimum performance when you’re not under too much or too little pressure.)
So how can you apply this in your daily life and make neuroscience work for you?
McGinniss’s advice is:
“Look at how you currently approach your day and try to come up with different ways to become more powerful. The idea is to create habitual behaviour changes and come up with strategies for working with the brain more effectively.”
Try designing your day around what you know about how your brain works. For example:
- Think about when you eat – don’t schedule the kind of complex tasks that tax the brain for a time when your blood sugar might be low.
- Try to stick to one thing at a time – make different ‘queues’ for home and work to conserve mental energy.
- Set yourself targets and deadlines – make sure you have goals to work to and the level of pressure that best keeps you motivated.
Do any of these ideas ring true to you? What could you change in your daily routine to work with your brain, rather than against it?