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How to improve your brain performance at work

Jonathan Kemp, Founder - SmartWisdom

“Have you discovered the secret of running a successful business? The key to increasing brain performance is understanding the structural features of the human brain as it applies to day-to-day work/life.

The first is short-term memory

Most people have a short-term capacity limit, of around 7 chunks of information. Once you understand that memory takes up a lot of the brain’s processing power, then one key to extending it is to expand short-term memory by writing things down. This relaxes the brain, freeing it to do what it’s good at such as analysis, questioning or linking. Here’s a couple of examples of where to apply this in a practical way…

1) Preparation for meetings, interviews or coaching sessions – by writing a plan, you’ve had time to think about what’s important so you feel relaxed and in control during meetings. You can then absorb more of what’s being said and bring the meeting back on track.

2) Note-taking in meetings to capture key points – to perform at your optimum in meetings, interviews or presentations, write down any key points, questions, ideas or actions. This frees your brain to be in the moment and listen at a high level without worrying about remembering anything. It also enables you to return to these points at any time, increasing your control of what’s going on and enhancing your credibility. Have at least 3 standard codes which signify whether you’ve written a question, idea or action. This enables you to quickly differentiate between these and key points.

The second is long-term memory

The brain’s long-term memory is designed to forget. After about 48 hours the brain naturally allows about 64% of what you heard or read to fade away. After about a week this will increase further until only a few facts or events can be recalled. So it’s very important to not give ourselves a hard time – the brain is just doing what it’s designed to do which is to forget. To reverse this, write information down and go over what you wish to remember within 24 hours. You can then selectively increase long-term memory by making your notes clear, easy to understand and easy to return to. Here are some examples of where you can do this…

1) Important phone calls, if a call is important, write down notes during or after the call. Even if you write down notes during the call if it’s important to review your notes afterwards. Because when you are listening and recording your brain is trying to do many things and your notes are likely to be incomplete. By checking notes afterwards, you want to fill in extra details, so they make sense and add extra important information. This way they can be returned to months later with a high level of recall.

2) Writing up reports after meetings, presentations, interviews, courses – because long-term memory fades quickly it’s important to write up reports/feedback etc immediately. Even if you made notes at the time, they will always be incomplete and filling in the blanks later will become increasingly difficult. The ideal time to ‘write up’ is within 24 hours after the event.

The third and final key brain feature is understanding the limits of mental multi-tasking

The brain finds it very difficult to multi-task, i.e. remembering something and listening at the same time. In order to allow your brain to operate at its optimum the trick is to focus on one mental activity at a time. If you’re constantly switching between tasks you’re not multi-tasking but ‘task switching’ from one activity to another quickly. The problem here is that it takes one to three seconds for the brain to switch from one activity to another. It’s inefficient and very tiring for the brain over the long-term. Once you understand this you can then apply this knowledge to your daily work and a key example is the use of mobile phones.

When in a meeting, working with others, or doing any work which doesn’t involve your mobile, either mute it or switch it off. If you’re looking at your mobile, it cuts your listening ability. If you then refocus on the conversation or work, it will take your brain 1 to 3 seconds to make this switch. If you’re doing this all day, your productivity suffers as you’ll be doing neither task well, and it’s very tiring for your brain.”

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