AB Thinks  →  24th November 2021

Brain care: Mastering your mind

AB Thinks

In Episode 54 of The Internal Comms Podcast, host Katie Macaulay discussed the importance of taking care of your brain with psychotherapist, coach and facilitator Phil Dobson.

Phil is the author of The Brain Book: How to Think and Work Smarter, and founder of BrainWorkshops. He turns insights from neuroscience and psychological research into practical skills and techniques to help individuals and teams transform their productivity, enhance their creative thinking, and improve their wellbeing.

After studying psychology and hypnotherapy, Phil realised how little most people are taught about their brains – and how to take care of them – and since then he has sought to share his toolkit for a healthier, happier mind.

This lively episode is packed with tips on how to prioritise your most valuable tasks, become less distracted and introduce simple practices into your professional and personal routines to take better care of your brain.

Here are some key takeaways and suggestions from a fascinating conversation:

#1 Turn your notifications off
One thing we can all do to improve our productivity and wellbeing is to try to reclaim our attention. The price of distraction is significant: every time you’re distracted, as we often are by relentless notifications from our phones and computers, it can take about 20 minutes to get back into a state of flow. As an individual, reduce distractions by minimising the number of notifications you have switched on.

An organisation can help staff retain focus by being more mindful about the use of digital communication channels. If at points your company does need employees to respond immediately, be very clear when that is and how you will communicate that need. This could entail having a Slack channel that sets alarm bells off, while everything else goes through alternative channels which only need to be checked every hour or few hours.

#2 Harness biorhythms to make the best of your time
Make the most of your mornings. For the majority, our brain is at its best in the morning, thanks to what circadian rhythms research calls the ‘cortisol awakening response’. It means that generally from the hours of 9 to 12, your brain is ‘hot’, but only for those three hours. That time needs to be protected for our most valuable work.

If you can influence your schedule, avoid checking your phone first thing, spending your morning getting to inbox zero or having catch-up meetings. Instead, try to spend the first 60 minutes of your working day in a nonreactive state, focusing on your most valuable tasks.

#3 Identify your Most Valuable Tasks (MVTs)
Generally, 20% of the work you do generates 80% of your results and impact. So, it’s important to understand that not all tasks are equal, and people can benefit from doing their own 80:20 analysis to identify which tasks contribute the greatest value. That shifts the mindset from working through an ever-growing to-do list towards being more outcome oriented. These 20% tasks are your MVTs and might be more intangible goals, like building relationships, improving systems, learning and development or strategic thinking.

These tasks are opportunities for us to use our brain at its best, through critical thinking and problem-solving, and can be inherently enjoyable. But the challenge is that these tasks often lack urgency and environmental pressures, so people tend to have a bias towards prioritising the less valuable 80% of tasks that appear more completable. Leaders can help employees prioritise MVTs by modelling this behaviour and by bringing 80:20 analysis into ongoing performance conversations.

#4 Strive for mental clarity
People need clarity to prioritise their work and avoid perpetual busyness, burnout, a lack of balance and an inability to switch off. Working smarter, being more effective, and managing workloads must begin with goal orientation: clarity on what will define success. For Phil, one of the biggest improvements people can make is having ongoing clarity on their three goals for each quarter.

You can also use tools to declutter your mind, through mindfulness, meditation, and exercises. For example, every Friday, pick up a pen and paper and write down all the tasks – personal as well as professional – that are taking up mental space. Writing them down lifts a burden from your mind, provides clarity on your goals, and makes them more achievable.

#5 Distinguish between hedonic and eudaemonic happiness
For individuals, teams, and organisations, learning about the difference between hedonic and eudaemonic happiness can lead to a more meaningful experience in life and at work.

Hedonic happiness is moment-to-moment happiness, avoiding instances of pain and seeking out day-to-day joy. Eudaemonic happiness, however, is the positive feeling that comes from striving for self-actualisation – becoming the best version of ourselves. Having a sense of purpose, striving for something that you find meaningful, and having an impact on others all contribute positively to our wellbeing.

While lots of businesses have wellbeing initiatives to support their employees’ hedonic wellbeing, few are catering to eudaemonic wellbeing as well. By enabling employees to invest in and improve both kinds, you can have a more sustainable strategy for building workplace wellbeing.