By Dr. Mercola
Is your to-do list filled to the brim, leaving important tasks undone at the end of each day? If so, you're not alone. It's an all-too-common problem these days, as distractions of all sorts suck up valuable time.
Making matters worse, many mistakenly believe that multi-tasking is the way to wring maximum efficiency out of every minute, when in fact the converse is true.
Focusing on one task at a time is actually far more efficient than multi-tasking, and the proof of this has even been scientifically established.
In the video above, Dr. Theo Compernolle, a Belgian physician with experience in clinical psychiatry, neuropsychiatry, and neurology discusses how multitasking efficiently is neurologically impossible for your thinking brain, and how understanding the inner workings of your brain can dramatically improve your productivity.
To Get More Done, Quit MultiTasking
Multitasking is the primary enemy if you want to get more done, because it requires your brain to go through a number of different maneuvers that sabotages productivity.
To switch between tasks, your brain must take the complex creative ideas you were thinking about and put them into temporal memory. Then, it must clean out your working memory, and go to long-term memory to retrieve the information you need to address the new task.
When you switch back to the first task you were working on, your brain has to go through the entire sequence again. With each switch, you end up losing time and efficiency.
Multitasking is also a major cause of errors and mistakes — due to the way your brain works — so you can also make great gains in work quality by learning to focus on one thing at a time.
Your Email Habits Can Make or Break Your Efficiency
Keeping vigil over your email inbox is one way to sabotage your productivity and end up with piles of unfinished work at the end of each day. Dr. Compernolle offers a number of excellent recommendations to improve your efficiency regarding emails, including the following:
- Batch process your emails, at most four times per day. In between, do not look at your inbox or messages. Be sure to turn off the sound notification on your email, as each time it pings, you'll get temporarily distracted —even if you don't stop what you're doing to read it
- Avoid CC'ing people, especially in a business environment, as it increases wasted time for multiple people. If a person doesn't need to see the email, don't include them.
You can also set up your email to automatically filter all emails you're CC'd on into a special folder that you don't look at unless you really have extra time
- Understand that you do not have to reply back to all emails received. Realizing this can be an empowering and time-saving insight
- Avoid using "Reply to All." It creates an avalanche of unnecessary emails when everyone on the mailing list starts replying to everyone. Companies can gain a lot of productivity simply by eliminating the group function from their email system
- Don't use email for making appointments, or when giving someone negative news or negative feedback. Both of these are most effectively handled over the phone. Also avoid using email when communicating an emotional issue, especially if you're angry
Laying the Groundwork for Optimal Brain Function
When it comes to productivity, it's great to have tools and guidelines such as those above. But optimizing your general brain health should not be overlooked.
After all, if your brain doesn't work properly to begin with, or is "sluggish" from lack of nutrition and sleep, no amount of productivity tricks is going to save the day.
Normalizing your blood sugar and insulin level is one important factor. Alzheimer's disease is sometimes referred to as "type 3 diabetes" or "brain diabetes," highlighting the link between insulin resistance and declining brain function.
Insulin is actually a "master multitasker" that helps with neuron glucose-uptake, and the regulation of neurotransmitters, like acetylcholine, which are crucial for memory and learning.
Research shows that a Mediterranean diet, rich in fish and olive oil — both sources of healthy fats — helps protect brain function. In one recent study,1 participants who consumed several tablespoons of olive oil each day did better on tests evaluating thinking speed.
Exercise and Sleep Help Your Brain Work More Efficiently
Exercise is another critical component that can have a significant impact on your concentration and mental performance.
Those who are physically active typically have better brain oxygenation and better patterns of brain activity, particularly in the hippocampus and in connecting different brain regions together.
Such patterns are associated with improved cognitive function. Exercise also triggers the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which preserves brain cells and activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons, effectively making your brain grow larger.
Other research2 has shown that exercise boosts mitochondria biogenesis, the tiny intracellular organelles that produce most of the energy for your body, which suggests exercise may help your brain work faster and more efficiently.
Sleep is also imperative if you want to reach new mental insights and be able to find creative solutions to the problems you encounter on any given day. Sleep enhances your memory formation, and helps improve your performance of challenging skills.
Midday napping can also be beneficial, dramatically boosting and restoring brainpower.3 It's not an alternative to getting enough high-quality nighttime sleep though, as important waste elimination occurs only during deep sleep cycles.
Nurture and Nourish Your Second Brain
Your gut is your "second brain," and gut bacteria transmits information to your brain via the vagus nerve, the 10th cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem into your enteric nervous system (the nervous system of your gastrointestinal tract).
There is a close connection between abnormal gut flora and abnormal brain function. Quite simply, your gut health can impact your brain function, psyche, and behavior, as they are interconnected and interdependent in a number of different ways.
Your gut bacteria are an active and integrated part of your body, and as such are heavily dependent on your diet and vulnerable to your lifestyle. If you consume a lot of processed foods and sweetened drinks, for instance, your gut bacteria are likely going to be severely compromised because processed foods in general will destroy healthy microflora and sugars feed bad bacteria and yeast.
Limiting sugar and processed foods and eating traditionally fermented foods (rich in naturally occurring good bacteria) are among the best ways to optimize your gut flora and subsequently support your brain health.
Other Tips and Tricks to Boost Productivity and Mental Performance
The Epoch Times4 and Today Health5 recently published articles listing various tips and tricks that can help boost your brain performance and efficiency. Some of them were already detailed above. Here are a few more suggestions:
- Disconnect from electronic media at regular intervals. Aside from being a time-drain, being constantly connected to your smartphone also prevents you from reaching many of your goals in life.
When you interrupt your work all the time for messages, you will need up to four times more time to do your work, working longer hours, sleeping less, while making many more mistakes and experiencing more stress. It's also virtually impossible to set and reach goals without setting aside blocks of time in which you can deeply reflect — without interruptions — on what you are doing, where you are and where you're going.
- Put on some appropriate music. It's long been theorized that listening to music may boost your brainpower; you've probably heard of this with the "Mozart Effect," which suggests listening to classical music can make you smarter.
Indeed, research has shown that listening to music while exercising boosted cognitive levels and verbal fluency skills in people diagnosed with coronary artery disease (coronary artery disease has been linked to a decline in cognitive abilities).
In this study,6 signs of improvement in the verbal fluency areas more than doubled after listening to music compared to that of the non-music session. Listening to music has also been associated with enhanced cognitive functioning and improved mental focus among healthy adults, so take advantage of this simple pleasure whenever you can.
Different genres of music have different effects on brain function. For creative work, select ambient lyric-free music, such as classical, and keep the volume at a moderate level.
Played too loudly, it may become distractive. Disco, pop, hip hop, house, dance, and other up-tempo music work best for exercise and other physical tasks like cleaning. Conversely, if you find sound distracting, take steps to make your space as quiet as possible. If you're in a noisy office setting, ear plugs or headphones can do the trick.
- Bring the outdoors indoors. Stress and anxiety can be dampened by modifying your workspace to include some of nature's elements. If you can, make sure your workspace receives natural light from a window. If there's a nice view, all the better. House plants and pictures of nature can also be helpful.
- "Bribe" yourself with a reward. Most of us have some task or tasks that we tend to procrastinate over, which means it lingers on the to-do list indefinitely or until the very last minute. To motivate yourself to get it done, decide on a pleasurable reward to be had once the task is done.
- Read and write often. Being a prolific reader and writer has its benefits. One study that followed seniors for six years found that those who read and wrote the most suffered the least amount of memory loss. According to Today Health:7
"When autopsies were performed on participants who died during the course of the study, it became clear that the there was no impact on brain pathology, just on brain performance. "
To Get More Done, Master Some Basic Life Skills
Improving your productivity involves more than just figuring out how to get a certain number of tasks done within a specific timeframe. Making sure you give your brain proper rest and nourishment are foundational aspects for any kind of mental performance.
Ditto for physical exercise, which greatly benefits your brain and can go a long way toward boosting cognition and clarity of thought. Once your brain is working optimally, productivity tools such as batch processing emails and creating a work environment that is most conducive to focus can be put to greatest use.