We all want to be more productive. To get more accomplished in the day. To be more successful in our lives. Unfortunately, some of the strategies we use to try and save time actually make our thinking less efficient and can reduce our productivity! Here are five things that zap brain resources, make your thinking less efficient, and reduce productivity followed by some tips to improve your performance.
1. Multitasking - Our brains aren’t actually able to multitask. What we do instead is switch really quickly back and forth between two competing tasks. As a result, it makes sense that when we try to do two things at once we end up being less efficient at both tasks. For example have you ever been talking to a friend while you walked in the mall and gone right past the store you are looking for? Try this instead
Focus on one task at a time - Work on one task until it’s done then move on to the next task. This includes avoiding things like talking on the phone while driving. Even if you’re using a hands-free device your brain is still trying to divide attention between the conversation and your driving skills.
2. Distractions - Any distractions in your surroundings will reduce your brain’s efficiency. Say you’re trying to read a book and the TV’s on. Your brain is having to ignore the TV to stay focused on the book. This is using more brain resources and making your thinking less efficient. Try this instead;
Eliminate noise distractions - Turn off the TV or the radio when you’re working on tasks, work in a quiet room, and put your phone on silent. All of these things will make you more efficient and more productive.
Eliminate visual distractions - A messy work space is a distraction for your brain. If you have papers piled all over your desk or you have clutter around your house this will pull your brain’s focus away from your task. Try cleaning the clutter off your desk before you start work for the day and see if your thinking feels clearer!
3. Stress - Our brain only has so many resources to help us cope with our daily tasks. If I have stresses and worries on the back of my mind that means my brain has fewer resources to focus on what I’m doing. This means I’m more easily distracted and less productive. Try this instead;
Take breaks - If you’re starting to get distracted take a break. Get up and walk around or do something else for a few minutes and come back when your brain is refreshed.
Try a few minutes of meditation – Even 10 minutes of meditation can improve thinking efficiency and make you more productive.
4. Not enough physical activity - Regular physical activity improves our brain’s efficiency and thinking speed. Try this instead;
Even 20 to 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity (something like a brisk walk) daily can have benefits for both our physical health and our cognitive health.
5. Lack of sleep - Again it’s a matter of brain resources. If our brains are tired it’s harder to focus on tasks and our productivity goes down. In the short term maybe it’s helpful to stay up late finishing a project, but over the long term you will be less productive. Lack of sleep does drains brain resources, negatively impacts our physical health, and increases our stress levels. Try this instead;
Take a nap - A short nap, even 15 minutes, can be enough to improve focus and productivity. Taking a brief nap after you study can even help you remember the information you studied! Sleep helps our brain form new memories.
Have a regular sleep schedule - Our brains really like routine. Routine makes our brains more efficient. Going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time will increase the quality of our sleep, and help improve our thinking efficiency.
There are many factors that can impact our productivity and how efficient our thinking is day-to-day. What I like about these five factors is that they are within our control. Small changes in any of these areas can result in sharper thinking, increased productivity, and happier and healthier lives. Pick one to try for the next week and see if your thinking improves or if you get more accomplished!