Sunday, August 17, 2014

Five ways to boost productivity

When you're trying to process a lot of information, your brain can get overloaded. Here's how to maximise your brain's potential.
Five ways to boost productivity
Many people "think for a living" these days, which means they are being paid to get the best out of their brain. While it's true that your brain is the most complex thing in the known universe, it turns out to be surprisingly limited as well. When you are trying to process a lot of information, or you're dealing with change and uncertainty, it's easy for your brain to go into overload. Understanding your brain's limitations is a useful way to work around them and become more productive.
Here are some of the tips that are emerging out of brain research about how you can maximise your own productivity.

Maximise your peaks

Identify the time of the day you're most productive and use this time for projects that need deep thinking. We all have a time when we are able to get a lot done, and it generally only lasts one to two hours. A survey of 6000 employees found most people did their best work in the mornings. This time is often the only window in which we can get tough projects done, such as writing a proposal. Use this time well - don't waste it on emailing or meetings.


With only a few hours of really productive time a day, it helps to accept that you'll only ever finish a fraction of all the work there is to do. So it's important to work out the most useful things to focus on by prioritising. Instead of just doing whatever is in front of you, decide on the work that's most useful to your goals, and do these things first.

Tune in

Switch off distractions when you need to do thinking work. To ignore a text message, email or instant message takes more energy than looking at it. So we need to learn to fully switch off when doing thinking tasks. One study found that office distractions eat an average of 2.1 hours a day. Another study found that employees spent an average of 11 minutes on a project before being distracted. After an interruption, it took them 25 minutes to return to the original task, if they did at all. Learn to switch everything off when you need to think and over time your productivity will soar.


Use your brain to process rather than store information. The amount of information you can hold at once is surprisingly limited. When you are trying to understand a new idea or make a decision, get other distractions out of your head. Use visuals, simplify ideas, get things onto a screen or on paper. The less information you have to hold in your mind, the more "space" you have to see the connections and patterns between information.

Take breaks

Treat your brain like a muscle - work it, then give it breaks. If you have a lot of work to do, focus intensely for 60 to 90 minutes, then have a 10-minute break. Do something fun, watch a funny video, connect with friends, do something that is interesting. Being interested helps raise your dopamine levels back up, which is important for focusing.

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