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Understanding Your Brain Will Change The Way You Work

by Emma Sue Prince 18th June 2019

We often take our brains for granted. But understanding how they work, and when they're at their most effective, can help us be more productive at work.

Ask anyone writing a report to a deadline or think about the last time you had to do that. The temptation will always be to work long hours until it is done even if that means working late into the night. Yet if you know and understand that your brain's energy gets, quite literally, used up much faster this way with a diminished result at the end of it you may well decide to work in a different way.

Do you find yourself creative, focused and speeding ahead in the mornings and then by late afternoon perhaps feel sluggish and flitting from one thing to the next? It could be your brain has simply run out of working capacity too quickly. For example, if you spend the first part of your day checking emails (which most of us do) and other messages this is in fact using up valuable energy when it might be better to use this time for tasks that need the best part of your brain for thinking and creativity. I’m absolutely useless at working in the evenings yet for others this can be their most creative time.

Brain Processing Power

The conscious, thinking, analytical part of your brain sits immediately behind your forehead and we all totally over-estimate the capacity of this part of the brain to concentrate and work for an extended amount of time. The processing power of this part of our brain is something like 2,000 pieces of information per second; this in itself is amazing, but its capacity is quite limited in terms of the amount of time it can effectively do that for. So if you are spending the first part of your day checking email and messages this is actually using up valuable energy that you might need to conserve for tasks where you really do need the best bits of your brain and your thinking. Yet most of us will instead check our emails and messages at the beginning of the day and genuinely feel this is important and a worthwhile use of time. One helpful habit to adopt may be to not do this at all until you have worked for at least two hours and see what happens!

Work rhythmically – Switching between focus and down-time throughout the day, between effort and renewal, has been found to be one of the most effective ways to work smart and be more productive. Expert performers work hard but also take planned rest periods. Or try working in 90-minute spurts on one task at a time followed by a 5 minute rest and change of focus. Try this for a day or morning and you'll be amazed at how much you get done.

The Brain and Food

Did you know that you can feed your brain by eating the right foods? There are plenty of foods, like blueberries, to ensure you get lots of B-vitamins that will boost your brainpower. Try to not resort to chocolate biscuits at that mid-afternoon slump as it will only make you ultimately feel more sluggish and you'll be less productive.
Image credit: Photo by Joanna Kosinska. Available on Unsplash via Unsplash license.
Your brain uses glucose as a kind of ‘fuel’. Our brain needs a steady supply of energy, but it can only get this from a type of sugar called glucose. Glucose keeps our brains awake and alert. So at all times, we have a certain glucose level in our blood. The most important part here is that we are actually in full control of how we release glucose to our blood and our brains.

Not surprisingly glucose is linked to what we eat. You can feed your brain and knowing how to do this and what foods to eat can make an immediate impact. The glucose your brain needs comes from the carbohydrates you eat, but only certain kinds. These include wholemeal bread, pasta, porridge and pulses, which take time for your body to break down and so release their glucose slowly and steadily. Chocolate, biscuits and other sugary snacks are, sadly, not so good for your brain. They release their sugar so quickly that your brain will peak but then quickly crash afterwards leaving you feeling less energised than before. So, part of working smarter has to be about looking after our brains, knowing what foods benefit the brain and understanding better how to use that energy.

The Magic First 30 Minutes

The first 30 minutes of your day/work day/study session should be spent doing work. If you need to check email or your social news sites, do it once you’ve established a good work flow and you’ll find it much easier to shut it off. Or better yet, block distractions out completely until you’ve finished.

It is not so much about achieving more in less time but about working smartly to ensure that what you are producing is the very best that you can give. Working smartly will also have an immediate impact on stress levels as well as free up time to create more balance in your life. This balance can mean having time for meeting with friends, leisure activities and even sleep – the very things that perhaps you will tell yourself you do not have time for if you are working to a deadline. It is easy to let these things go, even activities that are essential to our wellbeing like eating nutritional foods that boost our brain. In fact, if anything, if we are working very hard we are likely to skip healthy meals, telling ourselves that we do not have time to cook, and we may even justify rewarding ourselves with junk food.

This is the second of the 'Working Smarter' series by Emma Sue Prince. The rest can be found below:

  1. 3 tips for working smarter
  2. Understanding your brain will change the way you work (the one you're reading now!)
  3. Coming soon!
  4. Coming soon!
  5. Coming soon!
  6. Coming soon!
  7. Coming soon!
  8. Coming soon!
  9. Coming soon!
  10. Coming soon!
Feautured image credit: Photo by Paweł Czerwiński. Available on Unsplash via the Unsplash license.