Get the Most and Best from Your Brain
- Clear the way for your next big thing (0:30)
- Work on similar activities in chunks (3:45)
- Tackle the big rocks first (5:55)
- Create the structure your brain needs most (7:10)
- Delegate, delegate, delegate (8:05)
Get the Most and Best from Your Brain
Today I’m going to give you a few tips that will help you make sure you’re using your brain power as effectively and efficiently as possible.
CLEAR THE WAY FOR YOUR NEXT BIG THING
Several years ago, I heard a talk by Sara Caputo of Caputo Consulting. Sara’s magic is helping people understand how to best use their time and resources based on how their brain works.
At the time, I was engaged in many clearing-out projects. I’m a firm believer that letting go of things and creating room in my life (and my business) for whatever needs to show up next is the best way to move forward, even when I’m not entirely certain what that next thing is.
I had read and was implementing many aspects of Marie Kondō’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – I’d deleted over 400 obsolete documents from my computer and got my messy desktop down to 4 folders.
And on Sara’s suggestion, I began reading the engaging and easy-to-read book, Your Brain at Work by David Rock.
The end result was a significant increase in my mastery over my workspace and an increase in satisfaction, creativity, and productivity – and I was ready for my next big thing!
The biggest takeaways from Your Brain at Work were two simple truths, both supported by what is known about how the brain functions:
- The brain loves structure.
- The brain’s potential is limitless, but the mind can effectively entertain only 4 unique concepts at once. Trying to hold more than 4 concepts in the forefront of our mind at one time exhausts the brain’s energy supply and thereby reduces effectiveness.
It didn’t take me long to connect this to why coaching is so effective. Our brain desires and needs structure, but ironically, when we are totally overwhelmed is when we are least able to create that structure. Working with a coach helps create the structure and the framework, and it helps us focus on just the important components, particularly when we are feeling overwhelmed or overextended.
Here are some simple steps derived from the sources above that have helped both my clients and me for some time.
WORK ON SIMILAR ACTIVITIES IN CHUNKS
Our mind is at its best when it is holding 4 or fewer unique thoughts or ideas at one time. That is why it’s valuable to categorize – or chunk – similar activities together instead of jumping around from one thing to some other thing.
TIP: A coach can help you break down an overwhelming hurdle into chunks.
To do it yourself, take a look at all you need to do in a day (or a week, or even in the lead-up to completion of a big project), and put like tasks and activities into categories.
This is how it works for me: I schedule all my creative writing for first thing in the morning, before my brain uses up all the glucose that’s so important to fuel it. So, all my creative writing tasks are grouped into one chunk in the morning, and when I’m done, that’s it for the day for that type of activity. Responding to email is another chunk, client meetings and coaching sessions are another chunk, and so on.
In her book, Marie Kondō also talks about chunking similar things into categories. Our natural inclination is to tidy up room by room, but Kondō says to attack tidying by category, such as All Clothing, then move to All Electronics, then to All Photos, then All The Papers, regardless of which room or drawer or closet they are in. I tried this, and it was absolutely a much more efficient and effective way to go.
So, where in your workflow can you create chunks of similar tasks instead of hopping from this to that?
TACKLE THE BIG ROCKS FIRST
Big Rocks are those tasks that require more brain resources than others, so it is important to do those first, while your brain still has plenty of energy. Or if you prefer, you might schedule those tasks right after physical exercise, when your brain is most ready to grow and expand.
Ideally, your first tasks each day are those that might feel a little uncomfortable. Either you don’t know how to start them, they require critical-thinking skills, or they’re new to you. Unfamiliar activities take the most energy to complete because the needed brain pathways have not yet been created and reinforced. Familiar activities use the least energy because the pathways already exist.
For me, an example of this is responding to emails. The majority of them are easy to answer or respond to, but messages that require a new proposal or training plan get moved to my chunk of creative writing time that’s first in the morning. It is much more efficient than tackling them when my energy is low. This is effective prioritization!
CREATE THE STRUCTURE YOUR BRAIN NEEDS MOST
Remember that the brain needs structure. An easy way to begin creating structure for yourself is to start with what Sara Caputo calls EOW or End of Work time. This is a period of about 20 minutes reserved at the end of your workday when you stop working on tasks to clean up your desk and get yourself organized for whatever you’re going to work on first the following day.
The idea is that when you arrive at your desk the next day, you’re ready to go! There’s no nagging, leftover mess from the previous day (or week or month) to muddle through, and no decision-making about where you’re going to start. This way, you don’t deplete your available brain energy before you even start tackling your Big Rocks.
DELEGATE, DELEGATE, DELEGATE
The last one, and maybe the most important, is delegation.
The simple truth is we can’t do everything well. Therefore, we should focus on what we are passionate about and can do well, and then delegate as much of the other stuff as possible.
There is a great deal of new information – and more coming daily – about the brain, how it works, and what it needs to increase our creativity, energy, clarity, and happiness.
If you desire to bring about these outcomes but don’t share my passion for learning about the brain, or just don’t have the time, here’s a great chance for you to delegate…
When I work with individuals and teams, I bring all my learning about brain-based research with me to our sessions. I’ll take care of that learning, and you can move forward with effective implementation of what I’ve learned.
If you want to learn more about how the brain works and how it can support us to reduce drama, create ease, and limit the amount of chaos in our work and in our lives, I invite you to check out Navigating Challenging Dialogue. I offer two types of workshops:
- A 2-day Navigating Challenging Dialogue Skills Training workshop, and
- A 4-day Trainer Certification workshop for people who want to incorporate Navigating Challenging Dialogue (NCD) into their workplace and become a mentor for others.
You can find the details for both of these workshops at NavigatingChallengingDialogue.com.
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“There were several aha moments, such as identifying my own issue behind 'the problem' with a coworker. I could have done this on an intellectual level, but the training led me there rather than just 'telling me' about it. As an HR pro, I appreciate that the training offers guidance to attendees on what to do if the open heart & trigger discussions don’t go anywhere.” -Betsey Nash