Five Ways to Maximize Your Productivity: Findings from brain science (Part 1)

We are most certainly in the Information Age and with that comes a lot of demand on our attention. We are surrounded by media, emails, instant messages, phone calls, and meetings, which in turn means unending lists of projects, tasks, and reports and many of us end up feeling defeated and overwhelmed. As we try to find resources to help us cope, like using time management books, testing the latest productivity apps, and implementing fad systems that are guaranteed to bring our entire lives into perfect order, we often end up even more confused about what will actually work for us. What if you could apply what is known about the brain to significantly increase your productivity? Brain research suggests that there are a number of changes that you can make that will do just that.

1. Establish a routine

Some of us are free spirits who like to “feel motivated” before we take on a particular activity. We go with the flow or invest our time in meaningless, non-strategic tasks that create a false sense of accomplishment. Randomly surfing through emails is one way of doing this. There are times when we are faced with a mountain of work to do and find ourselves paralyzed by “worker’s block” or plagued by distractions - both external and internal. Research is showing that we thrive on routines. A routine is really a series of habits that we establish over time. When we develop habits, our brains are able to run on a kind of auto-pilot. This allows us to bypass emotions and distractions and focus more effectively on the work at hand. Your routine should include:

· A set time for waking up and going to sleep. (Adults typically need 7 - 8 hours of sleep to function optimally).

· A morning ritual that ideally incorporates a centering activity (e.g. meditation or prayer), exercise, and a brief review of plans for the day. (If possible, also include a brief time of learning by reading or studying).

· Clearly delineated times for starting and ending work so that your brain becomes accustomed to concentrated productivity within a set timeframe (This also prevents workaholism which eventually becomes counterproductive).

· Set meal times.

· A period of reflection on the day that is past, including journalling about what went well and what you could have done better. (This orients your mind towards improvement).

2. Organize your day into blocks of activity

Our brains thrive on structure and variety. By organizing your day around different types of activity, you provide both things. Therefore, schedule blocks of time for intensive creative work like writing or designing (when your energy level is high), meetings, returning phone calls, and reading and responding to emails. Make sure that you integrate short breaks as well.

Join us next time for Part 2!