Sometimes I come away from an insightful seminar invigorated and motivated…. and then go straight back into my crazy-busy life, without changing a thing! I’m sure you are nodding your head – “yes, me too!” And that wonderful body of information you’ve received can seem overwhelming and just too much to deal with. So you put it aside for the moment… and the next thing you know it has fallen off your desk into the round file (aka bin).
Adjust your brain chemistry for a great day.
The other day I attended a great seminar on Neuroleadership, delivered by Kristen Hansen. It was fascinating to see how our brain chemistry is responsible for so much of our thinking and behavioural patterns, and productivity. It seems to me that with some simple tweaks you can create the conditions for a dynamic – and enjoyable day!
So I decided to work out some practical strategies for optimising my brain functioning, so that I can sail through the day.
First, work out your peak times.
Apparently we’ve only got about 4 hours of peak pre-frontal cortex time per day. The PFC is where all the logical, problem-solving activity takes place. For most people this peak time is in the morning, for others in the late afternoon or night. Some people might have a strong PFC time early in the morning and then another spurt late afternoon. I wonder when your peak PFC time is? The main thing to realise is, you can’t keep going with peak PFC performance all day.
So mix up your day. Use your non peak time for tasks that don't need a sharp brain: doing your invoices, managing emails, returning non-urgent calls, proofing that 20 page report that you’ve left sitting on the desktop for a few days. And let’s face it; most meetings can be done in non-peak time. Save your PFC time for the important planning, thinking through problems and other strategic activities that are really going to keep you on track.
Me, I’m an early riser, and I spend a couple of early hours thinking through my programs, my coaching engagements, and planning my diary commitments. It’s my strategic time, and it makes the rest of the day go smoothly.
Give your brain what it needs.
That PFC needs oxygen and glucose to function. So frequent walks in the fresh air are a good idea. I go for long ocean swims and I’m hoping that counts! Your brain also needs a good lunch, with protein rather than carbs. And no sugar! Forget that mid-afternoon craving for chocolate. Go for the apple and some fresh air.
Personally I think it's a good idea to get away from your desk and allow yourself a solid block of time for eating lunch in a relaxed way, followed by a stroll. Get out of the building; enjoy the sunshine and a chat with a friend.
Take charge in the stress department
We all need a little bit of stress to perform. However many people are getting way too stressed, and it interferes with both our enjoyment of life and our success. According to Hansen, we need to increase happiness hormones such as dopamine and serotonin, and decrease stress hormones such as plasma cortisol.
I meditate every morning when I first wake up. I’ve been doing it for many years. The research tells me that regular meditation increases serotonin levels and decreases plasma cortisol. Problem solved! And meditation has a bonus - it also increases alpha waves: these lovely little brain waves are the ones correlated with insights – those “aha” moments that come when you are relaxed.
Give yourself some downtime
What do you do in your day to ensure that you have some relaxation and downtime? It’s a good idea to make exercise and some social life as part of the solution, and maybe less alcohol in that mix! Some of the things that help are: structuring your day sensibly, taking a break over lunch, and doing a yoga class or whatever makes you feel energised. It's the oxygen mask principle: if you look after yourself you'll be more use to others.
The myth of multi-tasking
Finally one myth that Hansen exploded: the myth of multi-tasking. She said that it increases stress levels by 65% and the time taken to do things by 45%. So there!
Please bear in mind that my comments about daily routine, while commonsense, are general in nature. I’m not a neuroscientist or doctor, and if you have concerns about mental or physical health it’s important to chat to your medico.
What are your strategies for sailing through the day? I’d love to hear your ideas.