The business world keeps evolving at breakneck speed as we enter into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. To stay competitive, it's critical that you keep learning new skills and adapting to new technology.
Your biggest challenge? Keeping the pace by staying productive (which is different than staying "busy") without sacrificing your health and well-being. If you can't take care of yourself first, how do you expect to thrive in your work or life?
More specifically, taking care of that most important organ in your body that controls all of you -- your brain.
The brain's ability to function and think at a high level determines your overall success. Seriously. It's an awesome thing when you're in that state of flow, and anyone can train his or her brain to improve a cognitive function that leads to results.
Want to think better and clearer, experience more insight, have creative breakthroughs? Lets look at a few things you can put into practice starting today for a more productive, and imaginative brain.
1. Seek out locations you have no experience with.
Take a cue from Jonah Lehrer's research on the topic of insight and creativity. He says a part of the brain called the anterior superior temporal gyrus will have a sudden "aha moment" of the type linked to key breakthroughs when placed in unfamiliar settings.
Neuroscientist Gregory Berns, author of Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently, expands further on this concept. He says,
Only when the brain is confronted with stimuli that it has not encountered before does it start to reorganize perception. The surest way to provoke the imagination, then, is to seek out environments you have no experience with
Driving the point home for most of us familiar with the uninspiring corporate setting, Berns tells Fast Company:
Most corporate off-sites, for example, are ineffective idea generators, because they're scheduled rather than organic; the brain has time to predict the future, which means the potential novelty will be diminished. Transplanting the same mix of people to a different location, even an exotic one, then dropping them into a conference room much like the one back home doesn't create an environment that leads to new insights. No, new insights come from new people and new environments -- any circumstance in which the brain has a hard time predicting what will happen next.
So find yourself in a totally different environment, get out of the office, and be fully present in it if you want to be more creative in your work.
2. Stop focusing so much.
Lehrer's book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, explores where innovative thoughts originate and teaches us to access right-brained thinking for more creative breakthroughs.
He posits that when we're able to let go of intense focus (a left brain activity, which can trigger stress and hamper your imagination) and allow for abstract ideas to take shape (right brain activity), we'll experience more a-ha moments.
Lehrer proposes relaxation techniques like "productive daydreaming" to increase right-brain thinking. Think how many times you've come up with something brilliant out-of-the-blue while taking a hot shower or bath.
3. Give people control of their own intentions.
In a 2012 interview with NPR, Lehrer said scientists have determined that employees who are given time during the work day to do whatever they want--whether it's a side project or simply tinkering with something new or a hobby--are far more likely to develop innovative or creative thoughts.
Lehrer uses 3M as an example: "They have an incredible track record of [innovation] -- they've got almost 1 to 1 employee/product ratios ... And I think one of the things they discovered early on is giving people control of their own intention," says Lehrer.
He continues, "It doesn't have to be directly relevant, they don't have to justify it to their boss -- all they have to do is promise to share it with their colleagues. This sends an important message early on: we've hired you, we think you're smart, we trust you, we trust you to find solutions, you manage your time in your own way," says Lehrer.
4. Have more fun
Psychologist David Abramis at Cal State Long Beach found that people who have fun on the job are more creative and productive, make better decisions, and get along better with colleagues.
They also are much less likely to call in sick or show up late to work than people who aren't having fun.
Another study, by Adam Anderson at the University of Toronto, says that to unlock your creative potential, "go out and play" to lift your mood, and then come back to the problem.
Studies say that a culture of fun can improve work quality and mental health five different ways:
- Fun breaks up boredom and fatigue
- Fun fulfills human social needs
- Fun increases creativity and willingness to help
- Fun improves communication
- Fun breaks up conflict and tension
5. Stop multi-tasking.
You think multitasking is still a good strategy to get more done? Research says this is a myth and can in fact be damaging to our brains. You end up splitting your focus over many tasks, losing focus, lowering the quality of your work, and taking longer to hit your goals.
Then there's the risk of losing focus from those constant interruptions from co-workers and fires that flare up that you've been called to put out. If I've just described your scenario, you're in good company. One study by McKinsey found that unnecessary workplace interruptions are costly, with "high-skill knowledge workers spending 28 percent of their workweek managing email."
Another study by University of California, Irvine, found that office workers are interrupted roughly every three minutes and once interrupted--ready for this?--it can take 23 minutes for the worker to return to the original task.
If any of this resonates, you need a boost of mental focus to keep you on task. It's been found that mentally focused people are smart enough to work on what's in front of them, knocking down small chunks to complete a big goal. But they do it by completing one thing at a time, then moving on to the next task.