Thursday, February 21, 2013

5 Simple Ways to Rejuvenate Your Brain

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It's been a hectic week and I have plenty of work still waiting for me on my desk. But this morning work was the last thing on my mind- I lounged in my pajamas for as long as possible, caught up on some embarrassingly bad reality tv, and savored every sip of my coffee. That's what I call a rejuvenating Saturday morning. Simple? Yes. Frivolous? Absolutely. But it's Saturdays like this that help me face inevitable Mondays.  Unfortunately, most of us don't have time for this type of luxury during the workweek. But that doesn't mean it's impossible to mentally recharge. Dr. Geil Browning offers these five tips for rejuvenating your brain while at work, and not just on weekends:

1. Relax for 10 minutes, Every 90 minutes
Every 90 minutes, our brains cycle from higher alertness (busy beta waves) to lower alertness (alpha waves).  After an hour and a half or so, we become less able to think as clearly or focus as well. This is right about the time my mind starts wondering- to where I'm going for lunch or, more likely, the latest on PerezHilton. When you stop feeling productive and start feeling distracted, it's time to take a short break. Allowing your brain a chance to rest will reset your alertness and let you face what's left to be done with better focus. 

2. Try Not to Make Too Many Decisions in One Day
I know this can seem like an impossibility. But the truth of the matter is that making choices depletes our "executive function" reserves. These reserves are what we use for abstract thinking, planning, and focusing on one thing instead of another. Guess that means, as much as we try to be superwomen, we only have so much brain power in any given day. While many pride themselves on being great multitaskers, switching back and forth between too many decisions can actually make us less time efficient and more likely to make mistakes.  So, to the extent possible, take the time you need to make important decisions at work.

3. Use All of Your Senses
When you engage all of your senses work is more entertaining, and it follows, more stimulating for your brain.  When we're entertained, we're more alert. Try using colored office supplies- paper clips, highlighters, post its, etc. Play background music. Experiment with peppermint, lemon, or cinnamon aromatherapy. 

4. Work with Your Own Circadian Rhythms
Some of us are early birds and others are night owls. Do you fade every afternoon or is that when you're at your best? Be honest with yourself about your work cycle and, to the extent possible, work with it, not against it. Prioritize what you've got to get done.  Don't waste your peak work time on menial tasks or quick responses to email.  Use your prime time to tackle the heavy stuff. 

5. Experience Nature- Preferably Real, but Fake Will Do
Get outside! Talk a walk around the block.  If you're really lucky- through the park.  If you can't go outside, look out the window or keep a plant or two in your workspace. According to a study titled "The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting With Nature," nature engages our involuntary "effortless attention." And it follows, we can concentrate much better after we have spent some time in a natural environment or, at least, paid some effortless attention to it.

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