As part of Nokia’s Smarter Everyday programme, which aims to inspire you with fresh approaches to productivity, collaboration and technology adoption, we’ve taken a closer look at how neuroscience effects your working day.
Neuroscience isn’t just the domain of hard working biologists in labs: it’s a multi-disciplinary field that embraces philosophy and psychology as well as chemistry and mathematics. What’s more, the scientists’ discoveries have repercussions well beyond laboratories and textbooks. The workplace can also benefit from the revelations of neuroscience. After all, where do we often really put our brains to the test? Why, at work, of course! So we’re fascinated by how neuroscience can be applied to our work-lives to make us better, smarter and more productive.
1. Feed your intellect
Energy isn’t all about physical activity: we also burn carbs when exercising our intellect! Experts reckon our brains use up about 20% of our body’s energy. Most of this energy goes to the prefrontal cortex—the bit of your brain that’s responsible for conscious thought. So when you’re thinking particularly hard and making tough decisions, you’re depleting your limited supply of blood glucose.
The implication for an effective working strategy is clear: you need to keep those glucose levels up! Eating well and having regular and, most important, healthy snacks while you’re working is a good way to do this, and the easiest way to know what does the job? Easy, one of the multitude of food-tastic apps for your smartphone.
We humans love to finish a task: whether that’s reading right to the end of that door-stopper by Tolstoy, getting the final letters in a crossword or wrapping up a huge management project at work. If we leave loose ends, we get a nasty niggling feeling: our minds won’t let it go and we burn more precious energy worrying about it. Close that cognitive loop by finishing the task, though, and not only are we more relaxed, but we’re also free to redirect that energy towards a new project. Happily, for Nokia Lumia owners, there’s checklist tools aplenty at the Windows Phone Store.
3. Your “towards” and “away” head
If you’re feeling gloomy, anxious, and altogether not in the right state of mind to think creatively, consider this: scientists say that the brain has two basic mental states—’toward’ and ‘away’. ‘Toward’ is what they call it when you’re feeling open and engaged, and ‘away’ is what they call the opposite: feeling negative, withdrawn and defensive. If you’re feeling stressed, your ability to think well will be compromised. And sometimes you’ll be stuck in the middle of this slump when your working life really needs you to be in the ‘towards’ state. The solution? Keep track of how you feel on a given day and figure out how what you’re doing is affecting your state of mind. Then apply this knowledge to switch things around when you need to feel better and work smarter.
4. The Goldilocks Brain
There are definite times where you feel on top of the world, productivity-wise: when everything slots into place and you’re metaphorically on fire. Dr David Rock calls it the ‘Goldilocks Brain.’ If you want to trigger this ‘just right’ condition and achieve peak performance, then there are two things you need: a positive state of mind (see ‘towards’, above!) and the stimulation factor of a potential reward or threat. This motivational approach gives you that extra nudge to transform your positivity and openness into action and success. Carrot, anyone…?
5. Problem solving machine
Neuroscience says: don’t over-think! That prefrontal cortex we met earlier only takes up a tiny part of our brains; the bulk of the work is actually whirring along in your subconscious. So coming up with the grand solution that will make that business idea a killer in the marketplace isn’t just a matter of thinking very, very hard: you have to relax, to let it go, and allow the background machinery of your brain to get problem-solving. The parks of your working day that are set aside for breaks and less intellectually taxing tasks are hugely important, because it’s at these times that your brain’s energy levels recover and all the nifty subconscious labour gets done. So, chill out!
6. High on multitasking
Finally, to multitask or not to multitask? Getting busy on several jobs at once might make us look tremendously productive, and we certainly get a little dopamine kick as our brain thanks us for answering yet another email or tweet, but the downside is that we’re not actually getting more done than if we did the tasks sequentially, and, in fact, we’re probably under-performing, as none of these tasks get done as well as they would do if we tackled them one at a time.
Neuroscience tells us that we’re sequential creatures. Multi-tasking? Best copy McKinsey advisor Caroline Webb, and call it what it is: ‘procrastination in disguise’! We’d much prefer to stick to our lists….
If you found this interesting, why not download our latest ebook on designing your day. We’ve also got a useful website, Nokia for Business specifically created to show how our technology help your business work better. And if you’ve got an example on how science has made your more productive, we’d love to hear them in the comments below.