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Managing your brain, part 1

Manage your brain

Brain research provides the missing link to effective management.

Effective management over the years has involved managing people, managing time, managing energy, managing stress and managing technology. I have studied and written books and articles on all of these topics.

But now that we are learning more and more about the workings of our brains from the researchers, neurologists, physicians and surgeons, we realize that to be truly effective at work and life we must also manage our brains. Such behaviors as procrastination, perfectionism, impulsiveness and lack of concentration all originate in our brain. So we must be able to train our brains in order to succeed.

Dr. Theo Tsaousides, in his book, Brain blocks: overcoming the seven barriers to success, claims that how we think and what we do starts and ends in the brain. The brain is the most sophisticated computer in the world, preprogrammed to look after our basic needs automatically – from our body temperature and breathing to digestion and sleeping. But we can also add our own programs – anything from self-discipline and focus to flexibility and persistence.

Dr. Mike Dow, in his book, The brain fog fix, claims that bad dietary and lifestyle habits are disrupting our brain chemistry and increasing the risk of dementia and obesity. The brain also needs adequate sleep, exercise and downtime in order to function efficiently and remain healthy. So brain maintenance is a basic requirement before even attempting to manage it. But manage it we can if we accept the fact that the conscious mind cannot only control how we think and behave, but even instruct our genes to behave in new ways.

If you have doubts, read the books, You are the placebo, by Joe Dispenza, and The brain’s way of healing, by Norman Doidge. There are plenty of examples of people who completely healed themselves without the use of medication and performed other feats using the power of their minds. If you can heal yourself, you certainly are able to increase your focus, resist impulsiveness, ignore distractions and break bad habits.

In future blogs I will offer more specific suggestions on how you might do this. In the meantime, here are a few books I recommend that you read.

Bowden, Mark. Tame the Primitive Brain: 28 Ways in 28 Days to Manage the Most Impulsive Behaviors at Work. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2013. Print.

Dispenza, Joe. You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 2014. Print.

Doidge, Norman. The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity. New York: Viking, 2015. Print.

Dow, Mike. Brain Fog Fix: Reclaim Your Focus, Memory, and Joy in Just 3 Weeks. S.l.: Hay House, 2016. Print.

Tsaousides, Theo. Brainblocks: Overcoming the 7 Hidden Barriers to Success. New York City: Prentice Hall, 2015. Print.





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A solution to shrinking planning times

Priority Pad

What does a day’s work consist of?

A weakness of all planning calendars, whether hard copy or electronic, is that they allow you to schedule and list more work than you can possibly get done in a week. We probably all know that we should not attempt more than a day’s work in any given day; because to do a so causes anxiety and stress and makes us more vulnerable to distractions and inattentiveness. And when you have more to do in a week than you can possibly get done, priorities frequently take a back seat to quantity as you attempt to get as many things done as possible.

One solution to the problem would be to take one day at a time, listing only those priorities and urgent items that could reasonably be done in a day. However it is difficult to know what comprises a day’s work.

When determining a day’s work, take into consideration the length of your working day, the interruptions that you anticipate, and the type of activities you will be involved in – and always allow up to 50% more time that you estimate your activities will take.

The Daily Priority Pad helps you to limit to the essential priorities, important tasks and urgent activities to those that can be done in one day. This one-day-at-a-time approach allows greater focus, facilitates the changing priorities that occur during the week, help us to quickly learn from experience what a day’s work really is, and frees your mind from those items that need only be addressed at a later date.

It can be used either in conjunction with or independent of an annual planner. When used with an annual planner, such as the Taylor Planner or an electronic device with a week at a glance format, each page in the Daily Priority Pad is the day’s action plan distilled from the broader weekly plan outlined in your planner.

When used independently, normally by those individuals unable to realistically schedule activities as far as a week in advance, it replaces the annual planner.

This short range planning tool is needed in today’s working environment where the time between planning and action is becoming shorter each year, and in which the choices available to us are increasing exponentially.

The Daily Priority Pad retains the priority and “to do” sections of the Taylor Planner, while limiting scheduled activities to a few appointments – either with others or yourself, and provides a “Notes” section for a limited amount information  or journaling. The Daily Priority Pads can be viewed and ordered at our website home page,

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Working environment can impact your energy & productivity

Home office

Your office can make you more effective

Your surroundings not only impact your energy level and personal productivity; they can also affect your health, mental attitude and general well-being.

For example, studies have shown that the presence of potted plants improves productivity, creativity, performance and learning ability. And researchers have also found that plants act as vacuum cleaners, removing pollution from the air. Exposure to indoor and outdoor pollutants in both home and offices has been linked to anxiety, depression, irritability, fatigue and short and long-term cognitive decline among other afflictions.

One study involved new computers, which have been shown to give off chemicals into the air. When a batch of new computers were hidden behind a divider, cognitive testing showed it reduced performance and increased errors by those workers closest to the hidden computers. But those most distant from the computers were unaffected. Poor air quality can negatively impact both health and performance.

According to the February, 2010 issue of Scientific American Mind, background noise at home, work or school can not only disrupt a person’s concentration, it could also increases stress levels and conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary disease, peptic ulcers and migraine headaches.

Another study of more than 11,000 office workers revealed that interruptions caused more than two hours of lost productivity per day – that’s 25% of the workday wasted. This seems high, but an independent study by Basex in 2005 estimated that interruptions constituted 28% of the average knowledge worker’s day.

Loud noises cause distractions and interruptions. But according to a peer-reviewed study out of the University of Chicago, “a moderate level of ambient noise is conducive to creative cognition.” Research carried out at the University of Illinois on the effects of background noise on creativity found that the level of noise experienced in a bustling coffee shop enhanced performance and even helped people concentrate.

There’s a website called Coffitivity at that lets you bring the sound of a coffee shop to your computer while you work. Coffitivity recreates the ambient sounds of a cafe to boost your creativity and help you work better.

Background music, especially classical, has been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and even help focus attention – so sound itself is not necessarily a distraction. I sometimes listen to AccuRadio on my laptop as I work. AccuRadio has over 50 genres including classical, blues, contemporary, Christian, country, and dance. You might check it out at

Dull, boring offices and meeting rooms encourage dull, boring ideas. A Milwaukee insurance company claims that productivity jumped 15% after moving to a creatively designed building. Keep this in mind when creating an office area or other work area.

Natural light from the sun is another environmental factor that can affect your health as well as your personal performance. It improves cognitive performance, alertness and mood. A University of Michigan study showed that people with windows facing the outside world are more productive, healthier, and are able to maintain higher levels of concentration. People in windowless offices – such as the common cubicle layout – daydream more.

If you have a home office, working at a kitchen table may not be maximizing your personal productivity. Give more thought to where you locate your principal working area. Is there natural lighting? Ambient noise or music that encourages, rather than blocks, creativity? Adequate air circulation? Relatively free from interruptions? Pleasant, cheerful surroundings that include plants?  How about a comfortable office chair and a stand-up desk as well so you are able to move around?

Your environment is important if you are to maximize both your energy and your personal productivity.

Note: The above article was excerpted from the eBook, Manage your personal energy: Increasing performance while retaining your health by Harold L. Taylor, Bookboon, 2015.




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To be productive, outsmart your brain.

Brain network

Do first things first; but not always priorities.

Conventional wisdom tells us that we should not check email first thing in the morning. Instead we should start working on our priority tasks and ignore distractions as much as possible. I have passed this wisdom onto my clients for decades. The problem is, it hasn’t worked very well. Now, based on more recent brain research, I suggest the exact opposite.

It’s the little things that distract you and prevent you from focusing fully on the important things. For example, according to Daniel Levinson, author of The organized mind, the awareness of an email waiting to be answered can reduce your IQ by 10 points. A part of your brain is constantly alert for something unusual, which it perceives as a threat – so it’s natural that you are susceptible to these distractions.

It makes sense therefore to get rid of those distractions before attempting to concentrate on the priorities of the day. So spend the first 45 minutes or so of the day dealing with your email, voicemail, and text messages etc. – things that would otherwise be preying on your mind throughout the day. Record any requests not answered, promises not delivered or “To do’s” not done.

When you start the first productive part of your day, make sure it remains productive. Ignore email, turn off your cell phone, and jot down ideas that occur to you rather than act on them right away, and work uninterrupted for up to 90 minutes before taking a full break. At the break you can check and if necessary respond quickly to email and other messages before launching your next productive 90 minute period.

The planning or executive centre of your brain likes to work in controllable chunks with well-defined beginnings and endings. Five or 10-minute works sessions amid continuing interruptions are counterproductive and exhausting. It takes less energy to focus then to multitask. Focus more and you will get more done. So organize your day in a way that maximizes your brain’s efficiency.

The more we learn about how our brain operates, the more we realize that in some cases we been approaching our work the wrong way. Those people who believed in getting the trivial things out of the way first so they could focus on the important things were not entirely wrong after all. Things left undone not only cause stress, they also prevent us from working efficiently on the important things as well.

The caveat, however, is to limit this initial daily “clean-up period” to a scheduled 45 minutes or less. Treat it as a necessity, not as a way of procrastinating on the really important stuff.