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For Business
August 20, 2014

5 brain hacks for a better working life

Psychology and neuroscience can peer into our brains and see which parts attract oxygen-rich blood flow, and are therefore the most active, when we do certain things. They’re constantly testing us, putting us in new situations and finding out how we behave. The surge in technology and the number of experiments means we’re quickly learning lots about ourselves.

But ‘we’ can mean a select group of scientists – or it can mean all of us, if we take that research and work out smart ways to apply it to our daily lives. So here are 5 ‘brain hacks’ – taking things we know about the way our brains work, and turning that science into useful lessons for our working day.

 1. Walk or cycle to work

Your commute – is it stressing you out? It probably is, as researchers have found that it’s the daily activity probably “most injurious to happiness.” And we don’t give it enough weight when we choose where we live. [1]

Cycling or walking is the best way to get to work if you want to arrive less stressed and happier. The simple activity distracts the brain and helps us think. The exercise has positive physiological effects. And it avoids traffic – a cause of frustration which is unpredictable, so our brains never get used to it. [2]

2. Find somewhere quiet to concentrate – but not too quiet.

Open plan offices don’t work for all of us – they can reduce productivity by 66%! It’s great for groups of people all working together – but when you’ve got a report or a sensitive email ahead, a quiet environment is better. [3]

Noise-cancelling headphones are helpful, but most music or radio isn’t. Music stops you being bored at work, but makes the work take longer to complete. You’re better off listening to relaxing soundscapes or music without lyrics.

If you’re nipping out for lunch or a quick walk to relax, it’s worth noticing the soundscape too – a park will relax your brain much more than a busy station.

3. Look at pictures of kittens

It works – researchers who showed their subjects pictures of cute baby animals found that they were more productive when it came to tasks that required dexterity and care. (Think of the game ‘Operation’). [4]

It turns out that our bodies respond to images dramatically. For example, researchers found that if their subjects looked at images of sick people, their immune systems kicked into action and produced white blood cells.

Of course, looking at kittens can be a way to take a break if you can’t get outside – and if kittens make you smile, then that will produce positive reactions in your body that reduce toxic stress. Be careful that you don’t slip into procrastination though – read our article to find out more.

4. Warm up your screen

It may be relaxing to wind-down with a novel before bed – and healthier too -, but sometimes your blinking phone beckons.

Unfortunately, that eerie blue light which our gadgets emit can actually delay us getting a good sleep. When it hits your eyes, it activates special receptors that tell our brain it’s the middle of the day.

But you can change your gadgets to emit a warmer light at night, which will help you relax and get better sleep. You can change the colour temperature in the settings of your Nokia Lumia to make it warmer. For your computer, download f.lux, which adjusts your screen’s tint according to the time of day. [5]

5. Get a plant

Listening to natural sounds can reduce stress, but the visual effect of nature can be just as powerful. Just looking at nature, natural colours and textures can promote healthy brain activity, and having plants in your office can help you concentrate for longer. [6] So while that cityscape might inspire you, a natural vista will have better long term health effects. It’s also likely to cheer up your colleagues when you bring it in!

Have you tried any of these or found smart changes to your working day which are bringing you success? Share your brain hacks with us below, or try some of our more involved productivity hacks.

Image credit: stephenphampshire