12 May 2021
10 proven techniques to help leaders boost their productivity
As a leader, you’ve no doubt contemplated how best to boost your productivity. But are you taking advantage of the way your brain operates? We delve into neuroscience to identify 10 proven techniques that help you work smarter – and not harder.
Why our memory matters
Understanding some of the neuroscience that underpins our productivity allows you to identify the optimal structure to the way you work. For simplicity’s sake, let’s focus on our two different types of memory:
- Working memory – driven by our pre-frontal cortex, this is where we engage in higher-level thinking, learning and problem-solving.
- Long-term memory – this is where we automatically engage our prior knowledge, experiences and habitual ways of thinking (such as typing on a computer).
Working memory is very energy intensive, requiring large amounts of glucose and oxygen to function. This is why we tire more easily when we’re concentrating intensively.
Why leaders should avoid multi-tasking
The capacity of our working memory is tiny when compared to our long-term memory. Wherever possible, our brain tries to switch from that energy-intensive state to engage our less-involved long-term memory.
In order for leaders to make full use of their capacity to engage in higher-level thinking, the neuroscience suggests that you resist the urge to multi-task. While we know it may be tempting to switch between tasks, it can take up to 15 minutes to re-focus again on the project you were originally working on. That misplaced time quickly adds up!
10 productivity tips from Mantle leadership experts
By working with your brain’s biology (as much as practicable), leaders can operate more effectively and productively. Here are 10 simple neuroscience-based strategies to implement.
Tip 1 – Focus on vision and planning
Reflect on the purpose of what you are doing and what you are trying to achieve over the mid to long term. Note these intentions down and glance at them every day. Incorporate them into your daily goals to keep you moving forward, rather than just getting stuck in the day-to-day
Tip 2 – Daily goals
Without a clear focus, it’s too easy to succumb to distractions. Set targets for each day in advance. Decide what you’ll do – and then do it.
Tip 3 – Recognise when you focus best
Identify your peak cycles of productivity. Schedule your most important thinking tasks for these periods. Work on minor tasks during your non-peak times.
Consider how to best arrange your week. As a quick suggestion, neuroscience suggests that:
- Monday morning and mornings in general (working memory is at its peak after sleep) – this is the best time for complex tasks like strategic thinking.
- Friday afternoon (working memory is diminished over the week) – schedule in easier tasks that use your long-term memory, such as following-up on emails or catching-up on industry reading.
Because our working memory has a limited capacity, aim to focus on those more complex tasks earlier on in your week.
Tip 4 – Reduce disruptions
Identify your top 10 time wasters and note them down. Remind yourself of them each morning in order to avoid being distracted.
Tip 5 – Block-out zone
Allocate uninterruptible blocks of time where you must concentrate on more challenging projects. Schedule light, interruptible tasks for times when you are available to everyone.
Tip 6 – Make your meetings accountable
Provide clear written agendas to meeting participants in advance. This greatly improves the focus and efficiency of the meetings you must attend. Try using this technique for phone calls, too.
Tip 7 – Write it down
Don’t engage your brain’s pre-frontal cortex resource unnecessarily. Write things down to avoid having to remember it. You could use external visual cues and reference systems to trigger a reminder.
Tip 8 – Timeboxing
Give yourself a fixed time period (such as 30 minutes) to make a dent in a task. Don’t worry about how far you get. Just put in the time!
Tip 9 – Set mini-milestones
When you begin a task, identify a realistic target that you must reach before you can move onto another priority. Hit your target no matter what (even if the quality of your output begins to dwindle).
Tip 10 – Batching
Schedule similar tasks (like phone calls or admin-related jobs) into one block of time. Complete them in a single session.
Shaping your schedule to work with your brain biology
As a leader, developing a schedule that works with your brain’s biology (rather than against it) allows you to naturally become more effective, efficient and productive. If you’re seeking other proven, evidence-based techniques to help you achieve your leadership potential, our experts at Mantle are here to help.