How to train your brain to be more productive

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How many productivity hacks have you tried this year?

Whether it’s a new app, morning workout, green smoothie or an inspiring podcast, there are a myriad of things that have been touted to improve our efficiency each day. But something you may not have considered is taking advantage of neuroscience to boost your productivity.

It’s not a new concept; it’s been used in high-performing roles including by the military and Olympic athletes for years. But now the corporate world is starting to pay attention and looking into how we can rewire our brains to be more productive, specifically with neuroplasticity.

What is neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity was first discovered in the 1940s by Donald Hebb and describes how our brains change in response to repeated experience.

The brain is designed to learn, grow and ‘rewire’ throughout our lives, based on different experiences, and it has various neural pathways connecting different responses. For instance, when you eat a food you love, you respond with happiness, while being stuck in traffic might make you respond with anger. These behaviours are learned over time and science has shown we can rewire our brains to change these automatic responses and regulate our emotions — with some training and practice. By taking advantage of your brain’s neuroplasticity, you can create new habits to help you be more productive.

Learn to better manage stress

Stress can be a huge enemy of efficiency and productivity. Many of us have experienced stress that temporarily inhibits our ability to think clearly, but you may not know just how much it affects your brain. Being in a state of stress forces the blood in the brain to be redirected away from our prefrontal cortex, and then our amygdala and adrenal glands start firing. This effectively puts us into fight or flight mode, dropping our intelligence and increasing our motor skills instead. These days, most stressful situations require us to use our minds rather than our bodies, so being able to change your brain’s response will help you manage stress more effectively.

As a first step you need to be aware of exactly what causes a stress reaction, so you can train yourself to react differently. Once this is clear, you can interrupt or redirect your brain’s response when faced with a trigger and replace it with a positive response. Imagine yourself in the stressful situation and follow it with happiness, laughter or calmness. You will need to repeat this hundreds of times for it to build a new pathway in your brain. But after some practice, you will be able to stop the stress before it affects you negatively, helping you be more productive.

Self-awareness and mindfulness

No matter how hard we try, no one can be 100% productive, 100% of the time. We all have states of being more productive, whether it’s at a certain time of the day, working in a specific location, or listening to music. Learn your own habits and become self-aware about your productivity patterns.

A great way to expand your self-awareness is to try journaling, which creates a process of regular self-reflection. Keeping a journal helps you become more conscious of your strengths and weaknesses. Once you know your own behaviours, you can use it as an opportunity to enhance productivity.

Aside from these broader patterns, it’s important to be aware of your thoughts and emotions when working on a task that requires your focus. Being mindful involves being present in the moment, and tools such as slowing your breathing and focusing on something tangible that you can hold may help.

Mindfulness helps you be aware of yourself without any judgment, so you can notice your thoughts and remove any negative emotions. You can then focus on the task and what needs to be done next, helping you stay productive.

Practise meditation

Meditation is a powerful tool to help you notice and observe your thoughts and behaviours, so you can then choose to change your responses. Meditating has been proven to change brain structure, particularly for those who practise it over a long period of time. This is because meditation increases the level of oxygen and nourishment in different areas of the brain, making it easier to sustain attention and redirect focus, and therefore better manage your emotions and be more productive.

Meditation rewires and trains your brain to be more disciplined and less stressed, with research showing just five minutes each day can make a difference.

Learn a new skill

You might think you don’t have the time to learn something new, but using your brain in a new way improves your cognition, making you more switched on and, in turn, more productive.

It doesn’t need to be work related either, it can be something fun! You can learn a new language, play a new sport or even just read a new book each week. If you want it to be job related, you can organise company training or try an online course. Whatever you choose to do, it will rewire your brain and improve cognitive function. Keeping the brain fit will help you improve your efficiency both at work and at home.

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