We often say “I can’t think straight” when we are busy, feeling overwhelmed and stressed. We are saying what neuroscientists are now proving – when we are stressed our decision making, logical thinking and cognitive functioning is not as good. That’s because your brain is in the defensive mode instead of the discovery mode.
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Are you working long hours and then only just finding time to squeeze in family, friends and fitness? What if you could power the same amount of work but save an hour a day? Then you could get out of the office earlier to enjoy an evening and have a bit more time to do what you want.

In this series of blogs and videos I’m looking at how you can focus your attention to achieve more in the same amount of time at work – and then get out of the office an hour earlier.

We often say “I can’t think straight” when we are busy, feeling overwhelmed and stressed. We are saying what neuroscientists are now proving – when we are stressed our decision making, logical thinking and cognitive functioning is not as good. That’s because your brain is in the defensive mode instead of the discovery mode.
We’ve all heard of “fight and flight”, the natural reaction our body has to help us avoid danger to react quickly to avoid danger. For example if we’re crossing the road and suddenly a car horn blasts at us, the stress response helps us jump out of the way of danger. It all happens so fast it seems it is without even thinking. MRI scans conducted by neuroscientists show when under stress our brains are less able to focus because it is busy scanning the environment for any threats. The areas of your brain that invoke fear and anger are in action. In a work setting, being stressed means we can’t focus and are snappy and irritable.

To be productive and smart we need to be using our discovery brain – the pre-frontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that helps us think widely, creatively and freely. When we are in the discovery mode we are absorbed in what we are doing. We think better, coming up with new ideas and can see new possibilities or solutions
Imagine if you have just attended a very difficult and tense meeting, perhaps where you were being questioned about a project being delayed. Your brain will be in the defensive mode– thinking fast, emotionally charged and alert for any danger. After the meeting, until you calm down you won’t able to focus on your work. To be productive again you need to be able to switch on your discovery brain to be positive, energetic and smart.

Here are two tips to bring your brain into discovery mode.

Tip 1: Reframe your thinking

If you go into a meeting or start your day thinking that it will bad then it probably will be. You set up that intention and put your brain into the defensive mode, alert to seeing the danger. For example if you go into a meeting with your boss saying “my boss makes me so angry, she is always criticising everything I do” then you will probably find you will get upset because you are interpreting things she says (or her tone of voice) as a criticism. Instead if you go into the meeting thinking “My boss can be quite critical, not just with me but everyone, but she is trying to improve things”. The first thought pattern are likely to stress you, the second though pattern you have a chance of coming up with constructive solutions. In this video we look at how to change stress inducing thoughts (SIT’s) into stress alleviating thoughts (SAT’s).

Tip 2: Life Hack – Use 1 of the 3M’s to calm your mind

The 3 M’s of Meditation, Mindfulness or Music – can change our mental state from defensive to discovery mode. It is a “life hack” by changing our physical state so we’re not in the flight-and-fight mode then it will also take our brain out of the defensive mode. Meditation doesn’t need to be a deep zen like trance. Even a short, one minute mini-meditation pause (watch the video here) can help us regain a productive mindset. Mindfulness is proven to increase focus, cognitive flexibility and reduce stress. Music can help you change your mood and regain energy. Simply find some music that reminds you about an energising time, put in your headset and play it when you need regain your energy and focus.

Try one or two of these tips for at least two to three weeks (sorry – it won’t happen overnight) and see if helps you to be more productive.