Today we’re going to be talking about nine brain hacks that can boost your productivity at work and at home, which are particularly timely as we round the final bend of the year, through November into December- and beyond. These brain hacks are scientifically proven to boost your cognitive performance, memory skills and ensure that you’re performing to the best of your ability- so let’s get started.
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Get Some Sleep
Let’s start with the basics: this article is all about brain hacks that boost your productivity, and if you’re not giving your brain enough time to recover at the end of every day, you’re not going to get any added benefits of any of these hacks. The magic number hasn’t changed, either… Science says that you should still be aiming for as close to eight hours of sleep each night. We realise that it can be difficult to tick this box every night of the week, particularly in stressful times, but try to remember that if you’re sleep deprived- you’re running on a finite amount of energy… and productivity. With a regular sleep routine that gives your brain a fighting chance of recovery each night, you’ll optimise your sleep cycle – the circadian rhythm – which can be one of the most effective ways to improve your brain’s productivity.
No Blue Lights Before Bed
While we’re on the topic of sleep, it’s important to note just how important it is to avoid blue light – most commonly found being emitted by your phone, television and laptop screens – in the hour or so leading up to your bedtime. Why? Blue light – anything between 400-490nanometers – acts to stimulate your brain and breaks up that all-important circadian rhythm we just talked about. Avoiding screens before sleep can make a profound difference in your ability to both fall asleep quickly, as well as regulate the quality of your sleep. Resisting the urge to reach for your phone is also a useful skill in terms of reducing your reliance on a smartphone and can even relieve stress related to phantom notifications that cause people to instinctively reach for their device.
Quick tip: No phones one-hour before bed, or at least use the ‘Night Mode’ setting on your phone.
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Practice Mindfulness to Boost Productivity
While it may seem counterintuitive, the act of slowing your brain down for a short period of time is said to have significant impacts on your brain’s ability to function at a high rate and maintain your productivity for extended periods. What exactly is practicing mindfulness? It’s the simple act of being fully present in the moment, free of distractions and stress, giving the brain an opportunity to recharge its batteries. Once those batteries are charged, research has shown that mindfulness has tangible links to added productivity in both our professional and personal lives.
A report from the Huffington Post cites a study from insurance company, Aetna, who offered mindfulness-based training to their employees. The firm found that for its employees that practiced mindfulness, each employee added around one-hour of extra productivity to their work week; adding around $3,000 of value to each member of the team over the course of a year.
Use the ‘Memory Palace’ Technique
The ‘memory palace’ technique is one of the oldest, yet most effective means of spurring added activity in your brain, enabling you to remember small details with much more accuracy. The ‘Memory Palace’ technique is said to have been used by both the Ancient Greek and Romans, who attached imagery to certain important things to note. Nicole Rust, an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania says that “the memory palace technique takes advantage of this innate type of memory that we are so good at and uses it to form associations. My research looks at why we are so good at remembering images and why we are better at that than other things, for example, we are really good at remembering pictures but not lists of numbers.”
Eat Brain Foods
Similar to ensuring that your brain is running on adequate levels of sleep, it’s imperative that you’re filling your body – and brain – with nutritious foods that it can metabolise and use for those all-important chemical reactions inside your skull. The Omega 3 fats from fish, coffee, blueberries, turmeric, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, nuts, oranges, green tea and eggs are all said to be good sources of nutrition for your brain.
Structure Your Day Around Ultradian Rhythms
The ultradian rhythm is said to be a huge determinant of how much productivity you’ll be able to squeeze out of your brain each day; it’s the cycle your brain moves through while you’re both asleep and awake, otherwise known as the basic rest activity cycle. Modern science has shown that it’s important to work with your ultradian rhythm, rather than constantly push your brain to produce results. The agreed-upon model shows that the brain struggles to maintain peak output for more than 90-minutes, where it then enters a healing response. This essentially means that your brain is designed to work at the highest possible level for 90-minutes at a time, before needing a chance to take a break and reset for the next uphill performance peak.
It’s said that those that are able to structure their day around the ultradian rhythm are able to ‘hack’ their brains for increased productivity and output due to the way in which they work with their cycles, rather than against them.
Brain stimulation in the form of puzzles is another effective way to keep the grey matter in your brain moving around, while giving yourself the opportunity to ‘unwind’ or productively procrastinate before you head back up your next uphill performance peak. Puzzles use both sides of your brain- the analytical and creative sides, and they’ve been proven to improve things like short term memory and reinforcing the connections within our brain. They trigger dopamine releases – which govern your mood, concentration, motivation and memory – as well as lowering your stress levels, which is always beneficial for both brain and overall health.
Read, read, read
Not taking into consideration the invaluable lessons of insight, empathy and wisdom that reading books gives us, the simple act of reading has tangible benefits on the brain’s ability to process information and increase productivity. Reading helps to rewire our brain in a way that creates new connections; these connections can help us visualise ideas or increase our creativity, as well as help us with planning, organisational and decision making skills. The mental stimulation of reading is invaluable in keeping the brain active, and therefore, productive, with the University of California, Berkley saying it also dramatically reduces the chances of developing dementia and alzheimer’s.
Aside from this, a 2009 study from the University of Sussex showed that 30-minutes of reading was more effective than 30-minutes of listening to music when it came to reducing stress levels; up to 68%.
Exercise is the third pillar of brain health that you have an extremely large amount of control over. Controlling how much sleep you get, what food you eat and how much exercise your body receives are some of the most important aspects of nurturing your brain’s health and ability to stay productive. While exercising, your body releases a number of hormones and chemical reactions that are beneficial to your brain, and help mitigate the potential risks of cortisone – the stress hormone – over your body. Ensuring that you’re exercising at least one time every day is essential in hacking your brain for extra productivity.