With work so busy and peppered with distractions, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking the only way to work at our best is to focus hard while fending off those pesky interruptions. But this denies our brain the opportunities that abound to use distractions to our benefit and boost productivity. It's time to stop following the herd and start using distractions to your cognitive advantage.
Give your brain a break.
Trips to the water cooler, going to the toilet or hanging out in the staff kitchen making your 10th cup of coffee might seem like time wasters, but the reality is these activities give your brain the break it needs to re-energise and refresh before tackling the next round of focused work.
Our prefrontal cortex, the small, energy hungry part of our frontal lobes, is designed to apply our best focus in short, sharp bursts of 25 to 90 minutes. Continuing to work when tired adds to our cognitive load, increases stress levels, slows down mental processing speed and leads to more mistakes. Two to three brain breaks of 20 minutes during the day enhances daytime productivity and promotes better sleep at night.
While watching funny cat videos might seem counter-intuitive to higher productivity, research has shown that taking a short humour break to watch a YouTube clip actually increasesproductivity.
Talk to your colleagues.
Face-to-face conversation far outweighs the benefit (and tedium) of quick and prolific emails. With 205 billion emails being sent around the planet each day, how much time and energy could be saved using dialogue or debate to solve problems more quickly, and enhance mutual respect, empathy and understanding? Social interaction is the best way to share new ideas, knowledge or concerns when the working environment is deemed safe to do so.
Taking time out from our work schedule to go to the gym, run around the block or attend a Pilates class might appear to be time wasted but studies have shown how 15 minutes of exercise is energising and primes the brain for greater attention, focus and positive mood.
Take a nap.
Over 6 percent of American workplaces are now deemed nap friendly. Rather than being frowned on, falling asleep at your desk is now seen as an indicator of a tired brain needing rest. A 20-minute power nap can boost attention span, improve memory, decision-making, motor skills and mood while decreasing stress levels. Organisations that rely on a high level of innovation and creativity such as Google and Nike now provide nap areas for staff to take a short sleep to boost cognition.
Take time out to think.
While being busy ticking off items from our to-do lists feels rewarding, taking time out to press pause for 15 minutes can be the most productive time of your day. Quiet reflection is the thinking space your brain needs for deeper thought. Going for a little mind wander is ideal time for your brain to come up with your best ideas, insights and decisions.