Feeling tired, crabby and can’t make a decision to save your life? It might mean you have an unfit brain -- and you need a nap.
Whipping your brain into shape is just as important as toning your guns at the gym -- especially for small business owners.
The average brain makes 30,000 decisions per day, and that’s a lot of pressure if your mind muscle is flabby, unmotivated and lethargic.
Dr Jenny Brockis, author of Future Brain, shared her top tips for a fit and healthy brain that will make you more productive, innovative and happier.
Remember to sleep on it
Small business owners are renowned for burning the candle at both ends to get the work done, but Dr Brockis warned this was counter-productive.
“If you’re a solo-preneur or if you are in a very small startup with only a couple of staff, because you are having to do it all, your working day gets longer and longer so what do you do? You work longer into the evening or you get up before the sun’s up,” she told The Huffington Post Australia.
“Sleep has been overlooked for so long mostly because we didn’t know why sleep mattered so much. Good quality sleep is so crucial for anybody and particularly in the business world to have a with-it brain.”
Without enough quality sleep, we become less focused, less productive and more irrational -- things you want to avoid when you’re running your own operation.
“The more fatigued we are the harder it is to concentrate and our ability to access our logic and our thinking and our reasoning is diminished so we tend to run more on our emotions,” Brockis said
“Our limbic system becomes more activated and that’s where we start to snap people’s heads off -- that’s not the time to be making really important decisions. The best decisions happen when we are rested, when we have our emotions under control and we are in a more positive mood.”
And, sadly, she busts the myth that you can “catch up” on sleep on the weekend.
“We accumulate so much sleep debt that the couple of hours that we gain from sleeping in a bit on the weekend are never going to pay back the debt,” she said. “We are much better off sticking to a regular pattern and maybe going to bed 15-20 minutes earlier when we can.”
One of the simplest, but perhaps more unconventional ways to ensure you and your employees are fully charged is to have a nap room in the office. A quick 20-30 minute nap taken during work hours can fire up your neurons and get you back in the game much more effectively than a double-shot espresso.
“Around 6 percent of all American workplaces are now deemed ‘nap-friendly’ so you don’t just have a room where you go and have your lunch, you’ve got a room where you can go and have a nap,” Brockis said.
Obesity shrinks your brain
Yep, it’s true. The larger we become, the less space there is for our brain to fit. So in order to have a healthy brain, we need a healthy body.
This means adopting a nutritionally-balanced diet, scrapping trans fats and getting plenty of exercise. Brockis advises small business owners and employees to make time to lift the heart rate each day.
“Self-care tends to get relegated to the ‘I’ll do that when I’ve got a spare moment’ pile and, of course, we never have that spare moment,” she said. “So you just have to schedule it in like any other appointment.
“It’s particularly important when you are self-employed -- you just tend to keep going all the time but taking time out actually makes us more productive.”
“If we are actively engaged in making decision after decision after decision we are just using up mental energy all the time, so unless we actually have a break at regular intervals during the day we will basically just run out of mental juice.”
Make your brain do a few push-ups
Things such as cryptic crosswords and tango lessons are excellent ways to boost brain fitness, simply by finding new ways to think.
“It’s stretching your mental muscle because it’s pushing us out of our normal way of thinking,” Brockis said.
“The brain is always looking for opportunities to form connections between our neurons and if you give it a bit of a challenge -- the brain loves that.”
Be mindful of the multitasking myth
Brockis said multitasking was splitting our attention between things -- but when it came to truly focusing, there was only monotasking.
“We have thoughts buzzing around our head and that’s normal but when it comes to focus there is only one parking bay for one vehicle. If we try to divide our focus we will end up having to reverse one vehicle out of the car bay and get the new one in,” she said.
“This is exhausting for the brain -- it reduces memory, you make more mistakes and takes longer to complete the work.”
Brockis says the practice of mindfulness can be very helpful to small business, and some owners even use it in the workplace in group sessions.
“Mindfulness is a great way just to calm the brain down and still our minds so that we focus on one thing to induce that sense of calmness,” she said.
“A number of small business owners I have spoken to do it as a group session. They sit in a room together in the morning and they have a quiet meditation session for 10-15 minutes. It just grounds everybody so they feel good and ready to go for the day.”
Train your brain to innovate
Small business and startups thrive on innovation -- finding new ways to disrupt traditional industries and making their own operations more efficient.
Brockis said the brain would flex its creative muscle more often if you had the right headspace where you saw change as a normal and expected thing.
Brockis said Aussie startup Atlassian did it well by introducing ShipIt days to encourage staff to think outside the square.
“On this day every employee has 24 hours to think about things -- that might be a new idea or new way of doing things,” she said. “So they were given creativity or innovation time.
“For small businesses are always looking for the next way to grow their business they sometimes forget that their biggest resources are right under their noses -- the minds of their staff who, if given the opportunity and a voice, can come up with fantastic ideas.”