Using your brain effectively

24 Jun

Another post from an airplane 🙂

I received a promotional email which intrigued me, and followed the link to download the Synaptic Potential ( paper titled “How to use your Brain to be more Efficient, Effective and Productive”, I was a bit skeptical (thinking I know this stuff, after all I teach all about it) but discovered the author (Amy Brann) does actually have some very valuable content to share, based on solid neuroscience and brain research.

She presents a three-component model to help understand mental processes and address the questions of “how quick, how good and how much” do we use our brain capacity?

The paper gives a useful discussion of the underlying neuroscience and introduces the prefrontal cortex and Neural Darwinism, then goes on to address the three components of her model. Amy provide concrete tips and ideas on how to change your behavior for each aspect of their model.

1. How Quick?
There are three factors that improve how quickly we think – Monotasking, Minimizing Distractions and Maps.

Monotasking is about focusing on one thing and doing it well. She cites studies and investigations that show how bad multitasking is in terms of actually achieving effective results (“one study showed that visual input dropped by 29% and listening ability dropped by 53%”); this impacts on stress levels and creates “constant and intense mental exhaustion”.
Minimizing Distractions Builds on monotasking and looks at the impact of interruptions on productivity – every interruption takes at least 15 minutes of productivity away from the task you are working on. Even the smallest interruption (noticing the text message that arrived, even if you don’t stop to read it) has a concentration impact. Minimizing distractions requires active management of your personal environment and space.
Maps are the mental models that help to form pathways in the brain and enable us to do things by rote, deep learning. She recommends identifying the cognitive tasks that you need to do regularly and build maps for them.

2. How Good?
She presents three ways to be more effective in your thinking – Flow, Unstuck and Sleep.

Flow is the mental state when we “feel at one with what we’re doing, immersed, focused, fully consumed and involved”. She explains the chemical balance the brain needs to achieve flow and gives advice on achieving this balance.
Getting Unstuck requires changing the frame – raise above the details and look at the big picture, go for a walk, do something non-stressful and different to allow your mind to jump out of the rut it gets into.
Sleep is vital to effective thinking – she talks about how important it is to get sufficient sleep on a regular basis, and discusses the value of the power-nap, a 20-40 minute sleep during the working day can result in a 40% increase in cognitive function!

3. How much?
The final threesome are Allostatic Load, Challenges and Expectations.

Allostatic Load is related to levels of stress and stress management. She talks about how stress impacts the ability to think and provides advice about healthy body-healthy mind.
Coping with cognitive Challenges requires acknowledging the emotions you feel when faced with challenge and not succumbing to the negative emotional impact.
The final piece is to set high Expectations – goals based on clearly stated high expectations motivate and encourage us and help us keep working towards those goals.

Overall I found the paper an interesting and useful read. I can certainly recognize the three aspects in my own cognitive working. Over the last two weeks I’ve worked on some tasks that have enabled flow, focus and monotasking and the rate of productivity has astounded me.

Being aware of how you think, and taking ownership and control of your cognitive behavior is a great way to improve productivity and satisfaction, whatever you are doing.

Posted by Shane Hastie


Posted by on June 24, 2011 in Culture


Tags: , , , , ,

4 responses to “Using your brain effectively

  1. Brew k. Benjamin

    June 25, 2011 at 1:15 am

    Post me emails. about the physiology and how to use the brain effectively to attain success.

  2. josh

    June 27, 2011 at 7:35 am

    I think you will like Use it! Don’t abuse it! t-shirt.

    • Shane Hastie

      June 27, 2011 at 8:17 am

      Love the T-shirt design – will probably order one for myself 🙂



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