8 Ways to Supercharge Your Brainpower

You can work more efficiently and think more critically — but you need to take a break.

January 15, 2015

Here are some findings on how to apply elements of the Center for Brain Health’s Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training program, as well as additional research on improving your brain’s performance.

Maximize Your Brain’s Prime Time

Many people are wired to jump into multitasking mode, but it likely won’t save you time — it may even cost you more time. On average, workers can expect to dedicate three minutes of uninterrupted time on any task before being interrupted. Once interrupted, it takes an average of 20 minutes to refocus on the original task. Fragmenting work flow in this way decreases productivity by about 25 percent and requires more time to complete a task than if the worker had done it in isolation, according to “The Cost of Not Paying Attention: How Interruptions Impact Knowledge and Worker Productivity” by Basex Inc.

Rewire your brain to learn to focus. Jennifer Zientz, head of clinical services at the University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for Brain Health, suggests the following action plan on how to do it:

  • The brainpower of two: Identify the two most critical tasks on your to-do list by determining which are the most urgent and will push your business forward. These two critical tasks likely will require a higher level of thinking. You’ll be more apt to boost your productivity by committing to these two tasks before moving on to the less significant ones. “A key is learning to block and filter information in order to lead to greater focus,” Zientz says. “You’re not able to focus unless you block other things out.
  • The brainpower of one: Do not leap into both tasks at once. Work on one at a time and give it your full attention. “You can only have optimal workflow and deep-level thinking when you’re uninterrupted and you’re doing one thing at a time,” Zientz says. “Even if the rest of your day takes you in five different directions, prioritize and use your brain’s ‘prime time’ to tackle those two priority items.” For most people, their brain’s prime time is first thing in the morning; for others, it’s late at night. Identify the time when you feel the most alert. Then, silence your phone and turn off your e-mail alerts. Allow no disruption.
  • The brainpower of none: Take time to recharge your brain. Giving your mind quiet time can improve your problem-solving skills and productivity. Use the five-by-five principle: Step away and disengage for five minutes at least five times a day to reboot your mind. Do nothing that requires deep focus during these breaks. Take a walk, stretch, and even silence the radio as you drive in your car. “This is the time to reset and recharge your brain so you have greater focus and endurance for the day,” Zientz says.

Set Yourself Up for Success Tomorrow

Identify the one or two most pivotal tasks and responsibilities you’ll face the next day. Sleep on these priorities. “Our brain is always working for us, especially during sleep when our rhythms slow down,” according to a Center for Brain Health white paper, “Train Your Brain to Thrive from Nine to Five.” “Your brain consolidates your previous ideas into flashes of new insights that can jump-start your big goals for the day.” By doing this, you’ll be priming your brain to tackle the big responsibilities immediately on your next work day.

Go Deeper Into the Information

“We often take in information and then just throw it back out,” Zientz says. “We don’t often take the time to process it much.” But look for ways to go deeper on the big ideas for your business. How can you apply these ideas in different contexts? What did you learn from that experience with that customer or through that negotiation? “If we think about it and process our experiences, we can gain greater understanding and look to apply our experiences to the next time,” Zientz says. “When we encode the information better, we learn to use it better to strengthen our performance.”

When you solely rely on your own memory, the strength of your cognitive performance will be your sole judge. As long as your memory is in good shape, you’ll look sharp. “But we’re so much more than our memories,” Zientz says. “When we look for the broadest and highest abstract ideas, we get take-home messages from what we’ve heard, seen, current events, and our experiences. When we process information at higher levels, we find so many more applications.”

Here are two exercises to try: When taking in large amounts of information, try to condense it and explain it in a few sentences. Also, ponder a more thought-provoking subject line for your e-mail message.

Be More Innovative

Another one of your brain’s worst enemies is routine. It can lead to brain burnout. “We tend to fall into the same routines and do the same things over and over again,” Zientz says. “But we need to consider: Is there a better way to do this? Just because it’s been working doesn’t mean it’s innovative. … Our brains get excited by change. It gets tired of the same tried and true status quo. We can pump it up by doing something different.”

Explore a new hobby – which may also be great for prospecting – or join a business networking group to meet new people. Change your workflow to keep you motivated.

Make Lifestyle Changes

Your physical wellness can go a long way to helping keep your brain sharp.

  • Get moving: Exercise for at least one hour a day, three times per week. Research shows that aerobic exercise stimulates positive brain change and can improve your memory, too. It can elevate your heart rate and increase your blood flow to key memory centers in your brain, thereby improving fact retention, according to the National Institutes of Health. Even a brief walk can help you better focus on a task later, research shows.
  • Sleep: Get seven to eight hours of sleep per night. Sleep removes toxins in your brain and lets it process information and emotions from the day. Your brain can make neural connections as you sleep that may even help your productivity the next day.
  • Eat right: A proper diet is also good for your brain. The Mediterranean diet — high in olive oil, vegetables, fruit, and fish — is the best one for brain performance and health, according to a 2013 review published in the Journal of Epidemiology. The review looked at 12 studies that found the Mediterranean diet was associated with higher cognitive function and less decline in brain activity.

Use Technology Wisely

To give you more time to focus on high-priority tasks, take advantage of technology tools that help you keep in touch through automation but still offer high-touch opportunities. Several tools can help you get more done. Systems like Better Voice allow you to customize voicemail greetings based on caller ID information, area code, a call group you’ve designated, or first-time callers. You can have a prerecorded message that plays for first-time callers and another message that plays for contact groups you specify. Other contact relationship systems can automatically add a new caller to your CRM and put them in your automated marketing list. To learn about more technology tools to improve your relationships — and save you time — check out REALTOR® Magazine’s product guide on relationship management tools.

Organize Your Environment

Clean your desk. An organized work area can lead to improved productivity and better focus. What you have on your desk can make a difference, too. Research has repeatedly shown that simply having plants on your desk can increase your productivity. Employees with desks that have flowers and plants showed greater improvement on attention tasks than those sitting at empty desks. Attention spans were also found to be longer for those employees who sat at offices with window views to nature, according to a 2011 study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. There might be even more reason to fight for the office with a view!

Draw From the Power of Relationships

Your relationships can keep your brain healthy. Make sure you have a strong support system. Find mentors and networks that build on your interests and encourage you to discover new things, all of which can also move your brain forward, Zientz says. Researchers have found that people with the most active social lives had the slowest rate of memory loss, according to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health. But make sure you have friends and colleagues who have different interests and opinions from you, which can challenge you and break you out of routine thinking.

“In real estate, you have to wear lots of different hats and be constantly on the go and maintain a busy business,” Zientz says. “But keep your brain’s health front and center. Many people do for their physical health, but remember that there are things you can do for your brain health, too.”