I’m returning here to everybody’s hot topic; personal productivity. I have written to you before about actions you can take to work smarter, and David Rock’s ‘Your Brain at Work’ has given me a lot more food for thought on being a ‘knowledge worker.’ Of course, this is what we entrepreneurs are; we get paid for our original thinking that takes place at the same time as all our routine thinking. Our success in creating wealth is dependent on our ability to make best use of our brains. The theme of this excellent book is that understanding the physical nature of our brains can empower us to make much more of it’s incredible power.
Here are just five of this book’s top tips and insights, to force-multiply your thinking at work…
1. Thinking time is precious: Deep thinking is like your laptop with the ‘low’ battery warning message permanently on screen. Do the really important stuff first. Rock uses the metaphor of a tiny theater stage, for our working memory. Complete with actors (information from outside), audience participation (memories and experience), and a director (our executive function or consciousness). There are 5 on-stage functions of mind. They are: understanding, deciding, recalling, memorizing, and inhibiting.
2. Prioritize prioritizing: Our working memory is located in our ‘prefrontal cortex’ and is both very limited in physical space (5% of the whole brain) and processing capacity. Peak performance is only possible when we focus on one train of thought at a time. It’s also a total gas-guzzler as thinking burns glucose. Some forms of thinking burn more than others. Deep thought and creativity are exhausting compared to say scanning a spreadsheet or filling in a sudoku puzzle.
Every knowledge worker’s day should begin by understanding again your Vision. Then deciding and previewing the scenes to come. In order from the most important first, to the most routine last. Prioritizing first thing, ensures you have sufficient battery power to do it well. Eliminate distractions, especially online stuff, because recalling and or inhibiting thoughts also burns glucose, without taking you toward your goals.
3. The myth of multitasking: There is brain science in this book that teaches us just what a bad idea multitasking is for knowledge workers. Two groups of people were asked to do the same IQ test. Group 1 ensured no distractions, while group 2 had their smart phones close at hand. Having to inhibit, even the possibility of communication let alone the reality, reduced IQ scores by an average of 10 points. (Interestingly, women averaged a 5 point IQ drop, compared to 15 points for men.)
It seems that one mind function, plus one routine low energy task, is the best we can hope to accomplish satisfactorily. Switching between tasks is also high energy burning. So the top tip is; when accuracy is key, do tasks one at a time and ensure a full battery and no distractions.
4. Doing your email is an ’embedded routine’: Think in terms of brain time for scheduling your tasks. Attempt deep work only when you’re fresh and can ensure no distractions. Routines like emptying your inbox should be accomplished when energy levels are lower and mistakes of less consequence. Embedded routines are far less draining and of course, less value adding.
5. Scare yourself into peak performance: Our brains operate best when we have some – but not too much – of two neurotransmitters called norepinephrine and dopamine. You can consciously raise the level of these, by visualizing mild peril, as the movie censors call it. But it does take practice and there are some easy to do practice mind games described in ‘Your Brain at Work.’
I have only scratched the surface of the valuable information in this very down to earth book. I recommend you get hold of a copy and see for yourself. Oh! And remember too, that your customer’s brains are all unique, but very similar to all of ours, in their limitations. Check out my previous blog: Neuroscience holds many marketing lessons for us.
And then there are even more practical personal productivity tips here.
Call PBC for a free consultation on any other issues when knowing your brain to grow your business.
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This originally appeared in my October 2016 Newsletter.