The GetFive Blog

How to Get the Most Out of Your Finite Daily Brain Power

December 4, 2018
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Business team on paper airplanes. Businessman with spyglass and his team flying on paper airplanes searching for new opportunity.

If you're a typical professional in America, you probably work eight or more hours a day. The word in question here is, arguably, work. Even the smartest, most productive people cannot work for an entire eight-hour period. The brain simply doesn't function that way; it's fundamentally contrary to human nature.

Think about any standard day you spend at work. Yes, you work on projects, but you also spend time socializing, eating, taking breaks, walking around, reading the news, checking social media and more. In many cases, you may spend more time on tasks not related to work than you do actually working, according to a new study.

In fact, the average employee works for about three hours, according to a My Domaine. We're probably not that much better here in the United States. The brain can only focus for so long, so it's natural for people to get distracted — or even need a distraction in order to regain work productivity.

According to the Harvard Business Review article Your Brain Can Only Take So Much Focus, "The brain operates optimally when it toggles between focus and unfocus, allowing you to develop resilience, enhance creativity, and make better decisions too. When you unfocus, you engage a brain circuit called the 'default mode network.' Abbreviated as the DMN, we used to think of this circuit as the Do Mostly Nothing circuit because it only came on when you stopped focusing effortfully. Yet, when 'at rest', this circuit uses 20 percent of the body’s energy."

So what can you do to get the most out of your finite daily brain power? Here are five tips to help you succeed.

Prioritize Breaks: 

While the specific length of time the brain can focus is up for debate, generally speaking for every 45 minutes of work, you need 10 to 15 minutes of rest. Try getting up and away from your desk to help your brain rest and refocus. Also, a nice long lunch helps you refresh, too!

Embrace Your Einstein Window:

Are you a morning person or do you really hit your stride in the afternoon? Flex your schedule around your Einstein window — that two- to four-hour period when you typically work your best. It makes a big difference in your productivity.

Adjust Your Week:

Amazon is now testing shorter days and weeks and other companies may follow suit. If you have an open-minded supervisor and HR manager, you may want to propose working six-hour days or a four-day, 32-hour week. You may be required to take a pay cut, but if you can prove you are as productive in that time as when working 40-plus hours a week, maybe you can make a case for maintaining full benefits.

Learn Mindfulness Exercises:

Mindfulness is being fully present in the moment. Taking breaks to meditate or do light yoga can help enhance mindfulness and allow the brain to recharge. Check out apps like Calm or Headspace to get started.

Set the Signs:

When you need to focus or are entering your Einstein window, it may be essential to communicate this to co-workers. Do so easily by setting your phone to do not disturb, placing IM status on busy, and putting in headphones. Some offices even encourage placing a "busy" sign on the outside of your cube or using a "red, yellow, green" code to communicate when you're busy focusing or are more free.

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