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5 simple ways to get more from your brain!

trainyourbrain-4I was at a luncheon last week where Sara Caputo of Radiant Consulting in Santa Barbara was the speaker. Sara has an extensive background and credibility in organizing – which seems to be a current theme in my life these days. 

In the past month I’ve: 1.    Read and implemented many aspects of Marie Kondo’s “The Life Changing Art of Tidying Up”. And shared the impact in a recent blog post, 130 Shirts, 20 Pairs of Pants and a Problem Solving Activity.  

2.    Signed up for an on-line Mac training with Ruth Davis, www.mac2school.com and deleted over 400 obsolete documents off my computer and filing the 10,208 emails in my inbox.  

3.    Began consciously implementing my key learnings from Sara Caputo’s one-hour talk (see below).  

4.    Read the engaging and easy to read book, “The Brain at Work” by David Rock.  

I am feeling far more effective, efficient, and clearer with greater mastery over my time, my space and my workflow. The end result has been a significant increase in satisfaction, creativity and productivity.  

The biggest take away for me in all of this has been two simple truths – supported by what we know about how the brain works:   •    The brain likes (maybe even needs) structure. •    The brain’s potential is limitless, but the mind can only effectively entertain 4 unique concepts at once. To try to have more than 4 in the forefront of our mind at one time, exhausts the brain’s energy supply and reduces effectiveness.  

I’m never quite sure how the Universe knows what to have me learn exactly when I need it, but it never fails. As I began learning and implementing learning from all of these sources, clients have begun showing up with needs around prioritization, organization, wanting to be less overwhelmed and better at problem solving.  

It didn’t take me long to realize that the biggest reason coaching works (regardless of if it is executive coaching, leadership coaching or life coaching) is that our brain desires and needs structure. Ironically, when we are totally overwhelmed is when we are least able to create structure. Working with a coach creates that structure.  

How you ask? Well here are some simple steps, derived from all the sources above, that have been helping my clients and me. You can begin using these right away regardless if it is about prioritizing workflow or achieving your dreams.

  Chunking:  Our mind is at its best when it is holding 4 or less unique thoughts or ideas at one time. That is why it is important to chunk or categorize activities instead of jumping around from thing to thing. A coach can help you break down the overwhelming hurdle into like chunks. To do it yourself, take a look at all you need to do to in a day or a week or in the lead up to completion of a big project and put the tasks into like categories.. For me scheduling all my creative writing for first thing in the morning, before my brain uses up all its fuel (glucose) is important. So all creative writing becomes one chunk that I do in the morning and them I’m done for the day. Responding to email is another chunk. Client meetings are another. And so on.  

One of my clients, a new supervisor, is fantastic about setting priorities and managing time – it comes naturally to her.  But she had no idea how to teach those under her to do the same. One of her direct reports was struggling, constantly interrupting to get clarification on priorities and still missing deadlines. What my client didn’t understand is that these weren’t behavior issues but instead were symptoms that her staff person had no idea how to prioritize.The first step we worked through was looking at all the tasks and breaking them into like chunks or categories.  

Marie Kondo also talks about chunking into like categories in her book. Our natural inclination is to tidy by room. But Kondo says to attack tidying category by category such as all clothing, then move to all electronics, then to all photos and papers regardless of what room or drawer or closet they are in. I tried this and it was absolutely a better way to go. When I read “Your Brain at Work” and heard Sara Caputo talk, I had a clearer understanding why.  If we operate more effectively and tire less quickly holding 4 or less unique concepts in our mind, we are best served to deal with all clothing at once (in all rooms) instead of all the categories of things in the bedroom at once (clothes, books, jewelry, shoes, make up, linens, etc.). The same applies to your day and doing all your creative writing at once, all emails at once, all bookkeeping at once and so on.

  Big rocks first: Because some tasks require more brain resources than others, it is important to do those first while your brain still has plenty of energy. Or schedule those tasks for right after exercise when your brain is most ready to grow and expand.  

The tasks you should do first are those that feel overwhelming, that you don’t know how to start, require critical thinking, are new to you or are creative in nature. This is because the activities that take the least amount of energy are those in which pathways have already been created and reinforced. For me an example of this is responding to emails. The majority of them are easy to answer or respond to. The ones that require a new proposal or training plan get moved into the creative writing block. It is much more efficient to avoid tackling them when my energy is low. This is effective prioritization!  

Brains need structure: Engaging with a quality coach brings you the structure your brain requires. To begin developing structure for yourself, use what Sara Caputo has termed EOW or End of Work Time. This is a 20 minute or so period before your day ends where you stop working on tasks, clean up your desk, and organize your day for tomorrow. The idea is that when you arrive the next day, you are good to go. There is no nagging, left over mess to muddle through and deplete your available brain energy before you can set out on the big rocks. Your brain actually gets better rest because it leaves work behind– no dangling tendrils following you through the evening or thoughts of where to begin tomorrow.  

Hardwiring happiness: In “Hardwiring Happiness”  author Rick Hanson discusses how our brains are wired to tap into negativity. This was originally a protection mechanism to keep us safe and alive. How many times have you left work or ended your day only thinking about what you didn’t complete or what you didn’t do well?  Even though you may have only done one thing badly and did 35 things well? This is because our brains want to go to the negative.  

Effective coaches expedite the process of hardwiring happiness by shining a spot light on thinking errors and negative thought patterns.  You can start this process today by creating a written list and consciously reflecting on your accomplishments. I guarantee you will be shocked by how many things you did well and will leave work feeling satisfied and happier!

  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 delegate as much of the other 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 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 to delegate. When I work with individuals and teams,  I incorporate all my research and learning to move you forward as quickly and effectively as possible.