Imagine this, you’re sitting at your desk with the first moment of pause since you got up in the morning. You glance at the clock and realize it’s almost 4:00 pm.
Where has the day gone? You haven’t even begun to get the things done you had optimistically hoped to accomplish, but you’ve been busy working all day!
You’re exhausted but you know the day isn’t over. You start to work on a project for an upcoming deadline, but the it isn’t flowing, so you shift over to answering a few emails before trying to get your mind back to thinking about your project. Eventually, you give up… and just head home with the hope that tomorrow will work out better.
Have you ever asked yourself why some tasks are harder than others? Or why it feels sometimes like something is working against you? Do you ever wonder how can you prioritize your day to be more effective?
Understanding Your Brain
The key to answering these questions lies within your ability to manage your own brain. Your little 3-pound organ is truly a super computer in your head with abilities beyond your full comprehension.
Consider for a moment that as professionals, we spend a tremendous amount of time and resources leveraging skills and talents within our teams and organizations. sometimes getting caught up in constant re-organizing.
I’ve found through years of coaching, however, that most of us rarely take the time to look inside our own inner processes, into our heads and consider the re-organizing needing in our minds that could improve our individual energy levels, strategy, and ultimate success.
If we just stop for a moment and better understand our brain, we can become masters of our lives— and empowered to reach the success we’re working so hard for!
Two Principles For Successfully Managing Your Brain
To accomplish this, we must understand the two main principles governing our brains – resource conservation and resource utilization.
1. Resource Conservation
Studies show that our brain utilizes 30% of all the blood pumped through our bodies and 25% of all the metabolic fuel we consume. It is an energy-sucking machine with intense needs. Anciently, the abundance or scarcity of food was much less predictable. The outside elements were uncertain. Energy conservation was a matter of life or death.
Your brain, ever interested in keeping you alive, worked harder than ever to maintain homeostasis – a way of keeping things steady using a low level of resources.
From a perspective of resource conservation, the brain views change as potentially dangerous because of the extra energy it requires. Thus, avoiding change whenever possible.
This bias to maintain homeostasis continues to be the case today, even though for most of us, the question of resource acquisition is much less of a concern. Your brain defaults to what is typical or easy for you because that requires less energy expenditure. When you engage in novel, creative, strategic activities, there will always be a subconscious pull back to the routine.
It can truly feel like your brain is working against you, and overwhelm or frustration creeps in. We feel helpless as to our ability to get it all done. There is a strategy, however, in winning out over your primal brain.
2. Resource Utilization
Which is easier – preparing adjustments to your current strategic plan, or grazing though your inbox? Planning out your day and adhering to that plan, or simply letting the day unfold? The answer is obvious to most of us, and now we know it is due to resource conservation.
Here’s where strategy comes into play. Studies have shown that our brain begins the day with a full tank of fuel, like a battery. Every time you engage in a mental activity, your fuel availability or battery level is lowered. This leaves you with less energy for the next task, and the next after that. The good news! You can leverage that battery.
How to get the most from your brain:
1. Schedule top priorities for early in the day.
Perform your most critical tasks during a time when you have an abundance of mental fuel. Writing a white paper may not be the best activity at 4:00 in the afternoon.
2. Switch up mental tasks to build in novelty.
Changing tasks is a way to give your brain battery a little boost. I am not condoning intense multi-tasking, but after focusing on a single task for an hour or two, switch tasks. If you’re not done, you can always come back with a new set of eyes. For example, if you’ve been working on outlining a large project plan in a spreadsheet, then plan a face to face customer meeting. These are different cognitive tasks and will keep your brain more fully engaged.
3. Be aware of and prepare for your emotional triggers.
Anxiety or anger provoking tasks are intense drains on your brain, and many leave us stressed out before we have even begun the morning commute. For example, is it best to check email first thing in the morning? What are the negative aspects of your day? If it’s within your power, schedule those emotionally loaded tasks at times so they do not get in the way of your tasks with a higher priority.
4. Strategically plan energizing tasks.
Identify and schedule the activities that lift you up and boost your brain power. These may be a walk outside, having lunch with a friend, or some part of your work that you really enjoy. Use these activities to your advantage.
Now that you understand these two principles of Resource Conservation and Resource Utilization, contemplate for a moment, how you are going to use these key principles in your life and in your work.
By putting these two principles into action you will leverage the super computer in your head to work for your success.
Don’t be surprised if there is a pull-back to routine, be patient with yourself, but be consistent, and you will feel more successful and empowered. You will truly be making your brain work for you!