A performance thinking expert tells us how to avoid brain drain
We arrive at work all bright eyed and bushy tailed, with a latte in one hand we’re ready for anything the day throws at us. By the time 3pm rolls around though, not only have we lost our spark but also our productivity has basically flat lined. It’s not just that we’re tired, it’s that our brain is drained.
Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner who specialises in brain health and performance thinking and she’s an expert on staying focused all day long. “We have two peak periods in any given 24 hours when our urge to sleep is at its highest, one is between 2am and 4am and the other is, yes you guessed it, mid-afternoon,” says Dr Brockis. Waking up your brain and avoiding that drained feeling can be achieved by doing some simple things throughout the day and you won’t believe how much better you feel.
Fuel up intelligently
“Skipping meals means our brain cells are running on empty. Worse still we are then more susceptible to grabbing fast or sugary foods. These have been associated with poorer verbal memory and lower mood, which doesn’t help us to work at our best,” explains Dr Brockis.
Try adding some nutrient dense extras to your day like leafy green vegetables (think spinach, kale, swiss chard), carrots, sweet potato, chopped nuts, yoghurt, honey, oily fish and sauerkraut. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water throughout the day too, aim for 500ml every hour.
Block your day.
“We are designed to pay focused attention in relatively short chunks of time, between 60-90 minutes. This is our ultradian rhythm, peaks and troughs of energy that pulse across our day,” says Dr Brockis. Her advice is to chunk your work into focused blocks interspersed by regular 10-15 minute brain breaks. This enables us to get more done, to a higher level and with fewer mistakes. So chunk, focus and break.
“Prolonged sitting is a health hazard – it’s even been called the new smoking. For every hour we stay sitting at our desks we are decreasing cerebral blood flow and denying our brain the oxygen and nutrients it needs to think well,” says Dr Brockis. After long periods spent seated we’re prone to feeling more lethargic and our speed of processing slows down resulting in loss of concentration.
“The solution is easy – get up and move every hour for a couple of minutes. Try standing while on the phone, call a standing (or walking) meeting or perhaps try out working at a standing or variable height desk,” Dr Brockis suggests.
Puff a bit
“In addition to moving throughout the day, aim for thirty minutes of huffy puffy exercise before work to prime your brain for best performance,” says Dr Brockis. We know that an AM sesh doesn’t suit everybody’s schedule so if you can’t tear yourself away from the covers first thing then getting in a session at the gym, swimming, walking, running or cycling can be done at any time of the day.
Get enough shuteye.
While a nap is a great emergency energy booster, nothing beats a good night’s quality, uninterrupted sleep. “We all need between 7-8 hours for best cognition. Many of us are sleep deprived and become used to being chronically tired. Sleep is the time we lay down those long-term memories, deepen our understanding, take out the brain’s trash and regulate emotion,” Dr Brockis explains.
We’ve all been a little cranky when we’re tired but fatigue also makes it harder to keep things in perspective, manage stress and make good decisions.
Book your thinking space.
Being so busy, means finding the time to think can be tricky. “Our thinking space is that quiet reflective place when we check in that we’re on the right track, that things are going as expected and what else we need to prioritise or do,” says Dr Brockis. Where you find this space doesn’t matter, it could be behind a closed door, in the park, while listening to some music, meditating or exercising. Fifteen minutes is all it takes to set you up to be ready to do your best work.
Dr. Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner, speaker and author who specialises in brain health and high performance thinking. Her new book Future Brain: The 12 Keys To Create A High Performance Brain (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.