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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.

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Poor memory or attention problem?



Is it poor memory or simply poor memory skills?

Some of us have poor powers of observation. We may be uninvolved, passive, and inattentive or distracted, day dreaming or preoccupied with other things. We could be short-changed in a store and not even notice it. We could glance at our watch and still not be able to tell someone the time. Some of us wouldn’t be able to direct a person to the nearest service station or tell someone where a coffee shop in our neighborhood was located – even though we had passed these places hundreds of times.

Have you ever been at a party and by the time you’re introduced to the second person, you had forgotten the name of the first person you had already met? Have you ever keyed in a number and before they answer you had forgotten who you were calling? Have you ever waited for a chance to interject something into a conversation and by the time you were able to do so, you have forgotten what you were going to say? These is not necessarily examples of failing memory.

They might be indications of weak working memory skills, but you could also be victim of what memory expert Hermine Hilton calls the Seven-Second Syndrome. When a person fails to “lock in” new information, it can be lost in as little as 7 seconds. A good memory is when you can recall things accurately at will. But don’t expect to recall something you never really paid attention to in the first place. Not being able to recall something may not be a case of bad memory. It may simply not have been transferred to long-term memory. Through faulty listening, preoccupation or distraction it may never have registered in your brain.

Many of us are poor listeners. Some of us have a problem hearing things in the first place. We forget 75% of what we do hear within two months. We forget between a third and a half of what we hear within 8 hours. If someone is not observant, a poor listener, fails to concentrate, and lacks interest in the topic in question, he or she has little chance of remembering much a few weeks later. And this is exacerbated by the digital age of speed where everything seems to be happening at once, and where many people seem to take pride in the self-defeating behavior of multitasking.

Let’s use names as an example. Many people have trouble with names. Not faces. You don’t hear people saying “Your name is familiar but I can’t recall your face”. The most important thing is to listen carefully to the name when you are first introduced. Then immediately say the name aloud. “Glad to meet you John.” Repeating the name aloud right away is very important. In fact you should say the name to yourself several times while you’re with the person. At the end of the conversation, repeat the name aloud. “Hope to see you again, John.” According to the book, You Can have a Near-Perfect Memory, by Mort Herold, researchers have found that people remember names about 30 percent better when they repeat the other person’s name at the time of introduction.

As soon as you’re able to, enter the information in your smartphone or on an index card. The act of writing things down also helps to get them into your long-term memory – as does reviewing them periodically. And above all, be mindful of where you are and what you are doing at the time. Whenever you are talking to someone, make sure your mind stays with you.