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3 Interesting Brain Facts You Need to Know to Double Your Productivity

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Brain Facts

The brain is a fascinating piece of machinery. I’ve read many books on how the brain works and this has helped me understand the underlying principles behind many productivity concepts. Here, I’ll distill three interesting brain facts you need to know in order to double your productivity. Ready to get your mind blown? Sorry, that cop out was too tempting to not put in :)

1. Walk 12 Miles

In Brain Rules, the author says we are hard wired to walk 12 miles a day. Yes, you read that right – 12 miles. That’s almost a half marathon. John Medina writes:

We moved. A lot. When our bountiful rainforests began to shrink, collapsing the local food supply, we were forced to wander around an increasingly dry landscape looking for more trees we could scamper up to dine. “About 10 to 20 kilometers a day with men,” says famed anthropologist Richard Wrangham, “and about half that for women.” That’s the amount of ground scientists estimate we covered on a daily basis back then-up to 12 miles a day. That means our fancy brains developed not while we were lounging around but while we were working out. What these data tell us is that we grew up in top physical shape, or we didn’t grow up at all. And they also tell us the human brain became the most powerful in the world under conditions where motion was a constant presence.

I know, that sounds crazy in today’s world where we get called crazy for walking just one block. Well… that’s more of a Los Angeles thing but still. Most of us have sedentary jobs where we sit 6–10 hours a day and are lucky to get 1 mile of walking each day. Particularly those who work from home like yours truly.

The point is – exercise boosts productivity. Your average lifespan goes up, cognitive function improves and you get less fatigued which all help boost your productivity. If you’ve been working out for a while and suddenly stopped for a week, you know how different you feel.

Aside: A trend I’ve noticed is that people get Fitbits or an UP band to track their daily steps which seems to help motivate people to walk more. Especially if you do the 10,000 steps/day challenge (which equals about 5 miles). If for some reason you can’t squeeze in exercise, this is a simple step to push yourself to get closer to 12 miles a day.

2. Multitasking is a Myth

If you’ve been reading productivity blogs, or our blog, for a while, I’m sure you’ve heard that multitasking is a big boo-boo. It’s because our brain can’t multitask. It’s physically impossible because our brains are not capable of doing it. They process inputs in sequential order. In Brain Rules:

Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth. Research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously. The best you can say is that people who appear to be good at multitasking actually have good working memories, capable of paying attention to several inputs one at a time.

In other words, people who are good at multitasking are actually really good at switching between tasks. Not only is it biologically impossible to multitask, it always slows you down and you’re more likely to make mistakes:

Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50 percent longer to accomplish a task. Not only that, he or she makes up to 50 percent more errors.

The next time you feel like multitasking, remember: we can’t do it and it slows us down. So don’t. Instead, try to focus on one thing at a time.

3. Don’t Sacrifice Sleep

Sleep is one of the cornerstones of your physical energy. A bad night’s rest is a guarantee for an unproductive day the moment you wake up. The number of hours of sleep you need is debatable (everyone is different) but what we do know is that lack of even just a little bit of sleep hampers your cognitive function. Per The Power of Full Engagement:

Even small amounts of sleep debt have a significant impact on strength, cardiovascular capacity, mood and overall energy levels. Some fifty studies have shown that mental performance—reaction time, concentration, memory and logical/analytical reasoning—all decline steadily as sleep debt increases.

When we’re low on energy and not in the right mood, it’s difficult to be truly productive. Ever felt like your brain was “foggy”? That’s usually due to lack of sleep. A quick power nap can usually alleviate that or a little bit of food with carbs and essential fats (Omega–3).

When you feel like you need to be more productive – don’t compromise on sleep. It’s usually the first thing we’ll sacrifice but it’s the wrong to do. That’s why we came up with Better Sleep – to help you get more and higher quality sleep to improve your productivity. (If you’re having an unproductive day, check out our flowchart on what to do about it.)

Conclusion

Increasing your productivity doesn’t have to be difficult or fancy with shiny new apps. Just handle the basics:

  • exercise on a regular basis
  • don’t multitask
  • get enough sleep every night (check our Better Sleep for more info)

Take care of the big three and you’ll instantly see an increase in your productivity. Promise!

If you’re interested in reading more about how the brain works and how this can help your productivity, we can recommend these books:

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4 Comments

Posted by Michael W. Perry  | June 20, 2013 at 4:33PM | Reply

Those who work late in front of computer screens like me might want to look into getting UV-blocking, orange-tinted glasses. I’ve been using them for a couple of months, and it seems to help me get to sleep more quickly.

The theory behind them is that bright, white light tells our bodies it’s midday and we must stay awake, while orange light resembles sunsets and firelight, hence bed time.

I tried red, but a red lens seems to block so much light I had trouble working or reading. Orange is better, although it makes colors appear a bit odd.

Posted by Minh Châu  | May 31, 2013 at 6:48AM | Reply

Thank you so much for your article !
This website help me to fight against my productivity’s biggest enemy : procrastination !

Posted by Mike Kabbani  | May 30, 2013 at 12:18PM | Reply

Thanks for the post.

What did you find to be the biggest variable to affect sleep quality? I find that it’s not just how many hours I sleep, but also the quality of it. Curious to hear your thoughts.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | May 30, 2013 at 12:20PM

There are many factors (which we discuss in our product Better Sleep) but I think the biggest are nutriton and fitness. Eat the right foods, time it right, will make a huge difference. Also, regular exercise will improve quality of sleep.

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