07 Jan 2017
7 January, 2017

Who runs your work life?

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Focus yourself with 7 easy brain hacks! 

Are you easily distracted?
Do you struggle with information overload?
Is your email box running your day?
Login to Facebook often so you don’t miss out?
Is it difficult to focus on important tasks?
Do you work on weekends?

If you encounter one or more of these situations, then read on and hack your own brain to accomplish more. You can start by reading one of the brain hacks and start executing. My advice would be to implement the hacks one after another.

1. Do you know how to use your brain?

In the western world the educational system has a strong focus on developing left brain hemisphere skills such as details, logic, words, language, order and analysis. The right brain hemisphere is used for a holistic view, synthesis, spatial recognition, symbols and imagery. Daniel Pink stated in his book A Whole New Mind why the western way of working and thinking should focus more on the right brain, which is more in favor in Asia.

For the past 7 years I have trained many professionals in smarter working, personal development, mind mapping and digital marketing. It is interesting to see that people and companies do not really invest in accomplishing more with employees’ brains.

If you learn to understand how your brain works, you can accomplish much more!
When you buy any type of electronic product it comes with a manual. Babies are born and are raised and taught by parents, family and teachers. They never had a class about how to work their brain! Did you receive a manual on how to operate your brain? Neither our parents nor teachers told you how to operate your brain. Recently humankind has learned more about how the brain works (a lot of research is being conducted, even as we speak).

“Your brain is the most complex machine you will ever work with in your life!”
A lot of interesting books are written on how the brain functions:

We can accomplish so much more without working harder or longer hours!

2. Visualize

The majority of us are visual thinkers. It is interesting to see how often we use written text and voice to convey our message.

Confucius already knew it centuries ago:

“Tell me and I will forget
Show me and I may remember
Involve me and I will understand”

Another way to communicate with images is making a mind map. Tony Buzan, the originator of mind mapping, developed a note taking, memory and reading technique based on how the brain functions. If you expand this definition into the digital age, one can add storage and organization of information as well. The mind map (on paper or digital) presents an overview and a summary of knowledge using words and images by stimulating both sides of the brain (creativity and logic).

Start by a central topic and branch out main topics and subtopics. Draw lines from thick to thin (outer side) and give each branch its own color. Add keywords to branches and images and icons. In another article I have written how easy it is to actually make images and draw digitally.

Name a topic and it is probably possible to make a mind map about it. For inspiration one can think of:

  • a meeting
  • a phone call
  • attending a presentation
  • preparing a presentation
  • writing an article
  • creating a content calendar
  • mapping important stakeholders
  • creating and tracking a project
  • preparing a research report
  • planning a business trip or vacation
  • buying a new car or machine
  • making an informed decision (pro’s and cons)
  • Think of it and you can map it!

There are many mind mapping software applications available. Most allow you to try out for 30 days. Be sure to try a few before you invest in the software. The software should really work for you. Some of them have tablet/ smartphone apps as well and have an option to collaboratively work on a mind map in the cloud.

XMind has a free version and has a lot of functions that paid tools also have such as cloud, different visualization types and so on. OpenGenius iMindMap has a few different modes, including capturing, organizing, mind mapping (organic and business) and numerous exporting modes as well as cloud, project and task management. MindMeister is a dedicated cloud tool that works seamlessly on mobile (phone & tablet) iOS and Android platforms as wel as in the browser; it has created a dedicated task solution and app as well. Mindjet MindManager is a business visualization suite with MS Office integration and has dedicated project management options with task management and cloud.

You know the basics to make a mind map. What topic do you choose to make your mind map about?

3. Know your limits!

It is often believed that women are better at multitasking then men. Unfortunately women, this is a myth! Neither men nor women can multitask. Women might be a bit better at switch tasking and they seem to do more at the same time than men.

Due to feminization of the world, men and women are becoming more alike, event though the brain of men and women are wired differently. This is why: Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps. Read this book to understand more on your own and opposite genders brain wiring. These insights definitely will help in professional and personal life — trust me on this one!

We do not like to be told no! It is important to learn to say no. If you learn to say no, you can eventually start saying yes again without causing unnecessary stress on yourself. The Eisenhower matrix can help you say no since implementing it offers an overview of your day.

To whom are you going to say no, just now?

4. Breaking down in small blocks

Do you find it difficult to concentrate? Every brain has a spam-filter (Thalamus) which blocks out certain stimuli. Unfortunately this spam-filter has flaws. You can improve your filter by eliminating certain distractions by focusing on just one task. But how do you focus on just one task? In the book Focus by Daniel Goleman he explains how to focus more. Below are some easy to implement focus hacks:

Create focus by closing down all other tabs in your browser. Use the Chrome extension OneTab, it closes all tabs and saves them as an overview in one tab; as a bonus you’ll save a lot of memory as well! Block all notifications of Outlook or your browser. On a Mac you can block all notifications at once in the notification center. Why is this important? When you see a notification your brain starts thinking and associating with that message. This distracts you from the task you were doing. If you were really focused and get distracted it can take up to 15 minutes to reach the same level of focus again. There are even distraction free writing tools available. A free Chrome extension is calmly writer. It prevents your brain from wandering off easily!

Of course no one can be focused all the time or for 8 consecutive hours. The Pomodoro technique helps to manage your time. You’ll break up large task in chunks of 25 minutes and take 5-minute breaks afterwards. Why 25 minutes? On average it is the amount of time one can do one task distraction free.

During these 25 minutes:

  • close the door
  • you won’t be available for colleagues
  • close your mail and browser
  • silence your phone and turn the phone so you do not see the screen
  • put on relaxing music via headphones and then focus on the task; see also brain hack 6

There are dedicated Pomodoro apps for desktop and mobile. An app that helps focusing on a computer is Focus Booster since it prevents all digital distractions.

What is the first project you will be breaking down in small blocks?

5. Watch your eyes!

The way you sit and work influences your effectiveness in processing information. When using a laptop, do you use a laptop stand or a separate screen, keyboard and mouse? It is important to do so; otherwise you will overstretch your neck since you’ll be looking at a downward angle all the time.

Often we work with software that contains a lot of white: Word, Excel, intranet, websites, CRM, project management tools, the list goes on. This white light contains a lot of blue light causing eye fatigue. You can buy special filter glasses or use the free F.lux app (Mac 7 Windows). Instead of cold blue light it makes a warmer red-like light that easier on the eyes.Based on actual time it alters the level of redness: in the evenings more red and closer to noon less red. This is the same idea behind the iPhones’ nightshift mode — be sure to use that as well.

Be aware, since you the screen is less blue, it is still healthy to have a short break away from the screen every 30 minutes.

6. The power of sound

Depending on how well your brain’s spam filter is working, sounds and music can cause distraction. Research shows that music can be a real stimulus as well. Writing a report in a busy office with people talking, phones ringing and so on won’t work well for most people. Work for two hours on a report in a silent room and you have a high chance that you have been productive.

If there is no silent room use a good (in-ear) headphone to cancel all sounds and put on focus boosting music and write the report. Apple music and Spotify both feature ‘study’ music. On Spotify select ‘genre & moods’ and then ‘focus’ these playlist really help you the get in the flow and focus. A few of my favorite playlists are: deep focus, brain food and to do list. Search on Apple music for ‘study’. These are good playlists in Singapore (find alike lists in your own country): study vibes, soothing study tracks and Re:Works.

Grab your headset put it on, plug them in and start focussing!

7. Feed your brain

What you eat directly affects you brain and the level of focus you have. Since your body consists of 70% water it is important to drink water during the day especially when you drink tea and coffee since that distracts water. Two litters a day should be fine, add some fresh fruits to it and you can skip those sugar rushes from sodas. A moderate amount of caffeine helps in boosting our concentration. I would suggest 2 or 3 espresso’s (without sugar) a day is a good amount; add on some dark chocolate for focus. You can clear your mind with a cup of green tea. Green tea has l-theanine which is an amino acid that shows an increase in concentration and productivity.

Salmon is high in omega3 acids which stimulates your memory; also available as an omega 3 vitamin. Blueberries boast antioxidants that prevent free radicals and therefore help digest information. Avocado is known to stimulate blood circulation and therefore gets more energy to your brain; which is the top energy consumer of your body. Add some avocado in your lunch salad and you will prevent the ‘after-lunch-dip’. If you are already eating avocado add some green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach or arugula that are packed with B vitamins that improve quicker and more precise thinking.

You know you are able to focus by eating smarter. What will you take to work tomorrow?

Executing these brain hacks

These are 7 brain hacks to boost your productivity and focus. Although they seem easy to implement, the proof is in the pudding as the British say. Remember; if you implement a brain hack try to do it for at least 1 month. After a month it will become a natural habit. Do not implement all these 7 hacks at once; it is better to do it one at a time. These 7 brain hacks are a short overview of concepts I have gathered over the last 7 years of training and coaching students and professionals. I did not elaborate on all hacks to its fullest but provided you with some links to other sites to read into the concepts.

What are your thoughts about this?

Would you like some help or more information on these hacks and concepts? Let me know and I can help you to become more productive and focused.

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