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Your Brain at Work

Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long

By David Rock
18-minute read
Audio available
Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock

Your Brain At Work (2009) explores the inner workings of our brains and provides many methods for us to optimize our thinking. Drawing upon thousands of neuropsychological studies conducted in the last 25 years, the book presents many strategies that will help us overcome distraction and become more focused.

  • Anyone who wants to learn how to control their thinking
  • Anyone who is interested in regulating their emotions
  • Anyone curious to find out how their brain is related to those of others

David Rock is an author and business consultant. Rock works to connect neuroscientists with leadership experts to establish a science for leadership development (he coined the term “NeuroLeadership”). He is also the author of Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work.

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Your Brain at Work

Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long

By David Rock
  • Read in 18 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 11 key ideas
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Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock
Synopsis

Your Brain At Work (2009) explores the inner workings of our brains and provides many methods for us to optimize our thinking. Drawing upon thousands of neuropsychological studies conducted in the last 25 years, the book presents many strategies that will help us overcome distraction and become more focused.

Key idea 1 of 11

Your ability to think well is a limited resource, so conserve the resource at every opportunity.

We all know what it’s like to “burn the midnight oil.” The later we work into the night, the less we're able to think clearly, and when we notice that our attention is waning we tell ourselves that we should simply try harder.

But there’s reason to believe that you should give your brain a break instead.

We use a massive amount of energy in all our interactions with the world, which fatigues our ability to think clearly. This indicates that our capacity for active thought is limited.

Evidence for this limitation can be found as early as 1898, in a study where subjects were instructed to perform a mental task while putting as much physical pressure as possible on a machine that measures force (a “dynamometer”).

The results revealed that, when the subjects were engaged in active thought, their maximum physical force was reduced by up to 50 percent.

Furthermore, as you'd expect, performing more than one conscious process simultaneously is even more taxing. The result is that our performance quickly declines when we try to do several mental tasks at the same time.

For example, one study indicated that the constant distraction of emails and phone calls reduce performance in an IQ test by 10 points, on average. This reduced mental capacity is similar to that we experience after missing a night's sleep. One explanation for this effect is that such interruptions force the brain to spend too much time in a state of alertness.

So if we want to maintain a good level of performance, we have to conserve the brain's energy for only the most important tasks.

This can mean prioritizing certain tasks above others. But be aware that prioritizing is itself a task that drains energy, so make sure you prioritize when your mind is alert and fresh.

Another way to conserve energy is to turn tasks into routines, as these can be stored as patterns that won't require you giving your full attention to a task.

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