Productivity and your brain

When it comes to productivity, your brain is your best ally—but are you ignoring the most important signals it’s sending?

Considering this week is Brain Awareness Week, now’s a good time to start paying attention to your mental energy and learning how to manage it to boost your productivity.

After all, it’s hard to be productive when your mental reserves are tapped, and today’s energy-draining environment is fighting you at every step. The typical response to declining energy and productivity levels is to try time management techniques so that you can catch up and stay on top of your workload. But most of those techniques are destined to fail when your energy level falls through the floor.

Instead of thinking of productivity as a time management challenge, try viewing it as an energy management issue. Because while you can’t recover time—those wasted hours are gone forever—you can recover energy.

And here’s where your brain comes into the equation.

We often let this phenomenon of energy gain and drain happen by accident, but your own mental processes play a huge role in your energy throughout the day—at work, at home and with every person you meet. In fact, your energy levels have a lot more to do with what happens inside your head than what happens outside. Becoming conscious and intentional about this aspect of your life can unlock new levels of productivity. The key is to manage your mental filters, not your time.

Here are 10 quick tips for managing your thinking to increase your productivity:

  1. Be mindful of your energy levels throughout the day. Notice the situations and people that are associated with a loss of energy as well as those that leave you “feeling the flow” and full of energy. Look for patterns: Who is involved? What happens? What time of day does it happen? Some signs that you’re experiencing a situation or person as an energy suck:
  • Your mind wanders.
  • You feel tired.
  • You feel irritated.
  • You start interrupting people.
  • You make excuses to avoid certain events and people.
  1. Maximize your productivity by keeping your changing energy levels in mind and planning for them. For example:
  • Schedule demanding tasks for your periods of highest energy.
  • Mentally prepare for people and events that seem to drain your energy.
  • Involve someone else in your interaction with an energy-draining person.
  1. Meet people where they are, energetically speaking. This is not so much about being non-judgmental as it is about developing empathy. Find out about their preferences and circumstances and what’s draining their energy. A tool like the HBDI® Profile is great for opening a conversation.
  2. Hold the context, please. He acts that way because he’s lazy. She’s doing that because she wants my job. Notice your tendency to unconsciously fill in context when interacting with an energy-draining person. Instead, ask people to proactively share their context. The Whole Brain® Model gives you a way to manage a mismatch of energy. While differences in thinking preference might be the source of the problem, we all have access to all four thinking modes.
  3. Tap into your own cognitive diversity as a way to accept diversity in others. You can either resist differences or embrace them. Embracing them allows you to reverse the energy drain that comes with resistance and start having a lot more fun.
  4. Stop multitasking. What you’re really doing is task switching, and the brain simply isn’t good at it. Studies show that multitasking compromises working memory, and the mental blocks created by task switching can eat up as much as 40% of your productivity.
  5. Master your attention. Notice when you disagree with people, and use it as a cue to give them the gift of your full attention. Even if you don’t agree, when you truly understand their perspective, you’ll be able to minimize energy- and productivity-sapping conflict. Give that gift of full attention to yourself, too: Quiet your mind for 5 or 10 minutes and decide what you will focus on.
  6. Match your tasks to your energy level. There’s only so much you can do to control what’s going on around you, but the one thing you have control over is your brain. So plan to check emails, social media and engage in similar activities that don’t require much of a mental stretch during low-energy times.
  7. Keep a “clean machine.” Your energy levels are intimately connected to your overall health. Exercise. Eat well. Get enough sleep. It’s no coincidence that these are also linked to memory, learning and attention—all essential for peak productivity.
  8. Raise your productivity and energy levels by noticing what works. The only way to keep improving and build on your successes is to pay attention so you know what’s making the difference. Make intentional attention a habit.

Energy is the pivot point in your productivity. The best way to get more productive is to get more conscious about how you manage your energy drains and gains.

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