How to Hack Your Brain to Boost Your Productivity
Written by:Tara A. Collison, Ph.D.
You get to work in the morning, a fresh cup of coffee in hand. “Today will be different,” you think. “Today I’m going to get everything done.” No sooner than you sit that a Twitter notification pops up on your phone. You open the app, start scrolling, and the next thing you know, it’s 10 am! How did this happen? Chances are you know exactly how. You allowed yourself to get distracted.
The truth is, there are plenty of distractions standing in the way of our most productive selves. From phones and laptops to that interesting conversation you hear in the kitchen to yet another coffee run. All of these little distractions certainly add up and we can lose hours, if not days, of otherwise productive time.
But here’s the worst part. Sometimes we choose to distract ourselves. Even when we think we’re being super-productive or multitasking, we’re really just distracting ourselves from solving one problem or completing one task correctly. So, how do we combat this self-sabotage?
Choose to Be Productive and Stay in that Headspace
Learning how to eliminate distractions isn’t as complicated as it might seem, but it can be difficult in practice. What you need to adopt is a level of awareness. Recognize when you’re distracted so you can take the steps to change. As the Harvard Business Review puts it, it’s as easy as ABC: Awareness, Breathing, Choice.
The next time you reach for your phone, try to pump the breaks a little. Think about it as you’re doing it. “I’m in the middle of this assignment.” Say it to yourself. Keep the task at hand as your foremost thought. Remind yourself that it’s the most important thing. Take a deep breathe and choose to put down the phone. Twitter can wait. That article can wait. The cookies in the break room can wait (maybe ask your coworker to save you one just in case).
But again, technology isn’t the only distractor. Even the best intentions can ultimately keep you from being your most productive self. Multitasking is its own form of distraction, and instead of one well-done assignment, you’ve split your concentration among several subpar tasks. If you feel yourself drifting from project to project, try the same tactic described above. Ask yourself what’s most important and recenter on that.
Focus on the Good Thoughts
Just like choosing to ignore external distractions, we must choose to ignore internal ones. A lot of the time, this means taming the negative thoughts that impede our productivity. It’s probably not surprising to learn that human brains are pre-wired to focus on these threats. It’s what we call the negativity bias. This instinct may have helped our ancestors survive getting eaten by a saber tooth tiger, but at work, it just makes it hard to stay focused. Thankfully, we have the power to change our brains.
While you can’t banish negativity, you can train your brain to keep it in check. Again, those negative thoughts are human nature and have their place, but when they become our primary focus, we lose our balance. If you find yourself dwelling on a negative thought, try to find two positives that outweigh it.
Technology Can Be Helpful
While relying on awareness and positive thinking are great ways to hack our brains into productivity, it’s ok to use a little outside intervention. Believe it or not, technology can be used for good.
It’s pretty easy to keep a phone from distracting us. We can put it on “do not disturb” or turn it off. Some folks even delete their most distracting apps or leave their phones at home (can you imagine?). Unfortunately, many of us depend on our phones to do our jobs. And computers? Unless your company has a pretty aggressive firewall, the entire internet is constantly at your disposal.
Luckily, there are plenty of apps and sites that block distracting content from seeping into your most productive hours. Think of them as training wheels. You can use site blockers to bar you from social media and other distracting sites until your brain adjusts. Still feeling the urge? Turn them back on whenever you feel susceptible to the powers of distraction.
Harness the Power of Your Brain with Meddlers
Hacking our brains to be productive is largely a matter of purposeful thinking and willpower, two skills you can’t master overnight. You need practice, and hopefully, these tips give you a good place to start. If your business wants to make sustainable changes, start by building more productive and engaged teams. To learn more about Meddlers and our neuroscience-based approach to facilitating change, explore the Meddlers Difference.