If we think of our tasks and goals as mountains to climb, we often keep going (and going) to try to get to the top of the mountain, thinking we will rest when we get there. The issue is that at the top of that mountain, we try to get to somewhere else. We therefore never actually give our brain a proper break, and we never recover our creativity.
Not only do we not get a proper “brain break” we don’t consistently work on only one thing at a time. We are interrupted, on average, once every 5 minutes, and it can take up to 23 minutes for us to get back to where that idea resonated.
So, in an age of constant digital input, where we feel the need to be “doing” all of the time, how do we work efficiently and get to the end of our daily task list?
1. Learn when your “deep thinking time” is
Your “deep thinking” or peak performance time is the time or times of day when you do your best thinking and when your brain is at its most innovative. On average people have a key productivity time of 4 hours in every 24 so you really need to know how to make the most of it and how to extend it. This is the time of day when you want to focus on the tasks that require creativity, problem solving, decision making and emotional intelligence. The things we do outside of this time are still productive, but not as cognitively taxing. So when your brain needs a break or has a dip, it is still able to do tasks such as responding to emails, returning calls, low level organisation, checking Facebook etc.
Knowing when your deep thinking time is means that you can schedule the tasks that require more creativity, innovation and emotional intelligence and leave the other work for when you aren’t performing at your peak.
2. Protect this time at all costs
Your deep thinking time is absolutely sacred, so make a plan to protect it. This means making sure our brain gets a good dose of energy and oxygen beforehand and it also means minimising distractions.
So, go for a walk, have a cup of coffee and then turn off the alerts, shut down your email and maximise your time.
It’s also important to know when the rest of your team do their key thinking and how you communicate with one another so you can all really thrive in that time. Talk with your colleagues about when your deep thinking time is and what this means to you. Come up with a way you can all have uninterrupted time, whether that is a sign on the back of your chair, a rubber ducky on your computer or headphones in your ears.
3. Schedule breaks
Once you’ve worked out your peak performance time, and protected it, you need to give yourself regular breaks. These need to be approximately every 90 minutes but with mini “brain breaks”, these periods can be extended. To run properly, your brain requires oxygen and blood, so a yawn or a stretch? – this is actually your brain calling out for a break.
When it is time for a break there are plenty of things you can try. Get up and take a walk, take a few deep breaths or walk and talk for important 1:1 meetings. All of these things will help you extend your deep thinking time.
4. Know your obstacles
To put all of this into effect you need to learn what stops you from using your deep thinking time to its fullest. Do you have pop ups on your computer that distract you? Are you forgetting to eat regularly and tummy rumbles get in the way? Does Max from accounting always call just as you are getting into your groove?
When you know the risks to your peak performance time, treat them as you would risks at an event – get a risk management plan together and plan what to do when distractions arise. Our brain is more likely to stay in its deep thinking time when it is happy or in a “reward state”. So an email pop up with the subject “urgent issue” is a sure fire way to have your brain switching to panic mode and losing valuable time.
5. Make it sustainable
At times having scheduled breaks and fewer interruptions isn’t achievable. In most industries there are deadlines and occasionally we need to go for a few days (or weeks) running on adrenaline and keeping our brain at its full functioning capacity. And that’s okay.
However, the longer the gap before we give our brain some proper downtime, the more we crash once we get it. Downtime is vital as this is where we connect different parts of the brain and where we process information. So to stay creative and innovative, ensure you have a rest when the deadline has passed.
To become better – to learn from what we have done before and to be the best we can be – we need to give our brain regular breaks and increase our oxygen to help us to extend our productivity and energy throughout our busy day.