Increasing Brain Power

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“If the mind really is the finest computer, then there are a lot

of people out there who need to be rebooted.”

– Bryce’s Law

INTRODUCTION

In the world of writing there is something called “Writer’s Block” where the author

procrastinates on his work and is easily distracted. Hopefully, he overcomes

the problem and tackles his assignment. To do so, he needs to eliminate

distractions and engage his brain to the subject at hand. The same is true

in any endeavor, be it a carpenter, an engineer, or a programmer. The more we

can engage the brain, the more we can produce. The challenge therefore becomes

how to maximize the use of our brain. By brain power I am not referring to a

measurement of IQ, but rather to simply engage what God has given us.

LEVELS

I may not be a psychologist, but it has been my observation as a management

consultant that there is essentially three levels by which our brains operate:

LEVEL 1 – PRIMAL

This represents our basic instincts and reflex actions as we blunder through

life (I call this the “auto-pilot” mode). For example, we devise a morning

regimen where we awaken and prepare for work. At this level, we are not

at our most alert. Instead, we want to simply catch up on the news, brush

our teeth, dress, and travel to work. Similarly, at the end of the day, we

decelerate our activity as we prepare for sleep. In other words, we develop

predictable routines to go through day after day without much thought. The

brain is engaged, but far from our maximum output. In fact, we take in more

than we put out. This is where we want to be entertained or informed.

LEVEL 2 – MODERATE

This level represents an equal level of input and output. The brain is either

accelerating (at the beginning of the work day) or decelerating (at the end

of the work day). At this level we have no trouble taking instructions and

produce an average amount of work, quite often mundane or routine assignments

simply to pass the time of day. We are also easily distracted. In the normal

business day, Level 2 typically occurs between 9:00am – 10:00am (as the work

day begins), 12:00pm – 1:00pm (following lunch), and 4:00pm to 5:00pm (as

we prepare to conclude the work day).

LEVEL 3 – ACCELERATED

This level represents high achievement where we are able to concentrate

and put forth our best work effort. Here, the brain is fully engaged and our

output surpasses our input as we concentrate on the job at hand. In the

normal business day, Level 3 typically occurs between 10:00am – 12:00pm,

and 1:00pm – 4:00pm.

AVERAGE WORK DAY

Let us now consider how we use time during the average work day and

consider how much is used at the various levels. First, we will divide the

day into three equal increments of eight hours: Sleep, Work, and Personal Time.

REST – 8 HOURS

During this time, the brain is not truly engaged other than to maintain

bodily functions.

WORK – 8 HOURS

Based on studies we have performed on time management, we have

found most people in corporate offices to be approximately 70% effective,

meaning in an eight hour work day, they are spending about six hours on

direct work assignments, and two hours on indirect activities (time that

doesn’t contribute directly to their assignments; e.g., breaks, meetings,

taking instruction or direction, etc.)

PERSONAL TIME – 8 HOURS

This represents time where we perform pet projects and hobbies,

pay the bills, run errands, attend a function (such as a meeting),

relaxation, awake, prepare for sleep, etc. During this time we

typically spend two hours of concentrated work, and six hours of

indirect activities.

SHIFTING GEARS

This means in a typical work day, we only spend eight hours to really exercise

the brain (Levels 2 and 3). But from a manager’s perspective, we are primarily

concerned with the six hours devoted to work. During this time, people will

spend approximately three hours operating at Level 2 and three hours at

Level 3. This ratio between Levels 2 and 3 will fluctuate based on how well

the worker is able to engage the brain. Some people are able to engage their

brains at Level 3 for several hours, some for only an hour, and some not at all.

At this time we have to recognize that thinking is hard work. Although Level 3

is where we want employees to perform at, we must recognize that nobody can

keep it in high gear for an extended period of time. The brain grows weary and

moderates itself, shifting from Level 3 down to Level 2 or Level 1.

We must also beware of the “cattle phenomenon” whereby we fall into

the tedium of repetitive behavior and, as such, our brains do not progress

past Level 2. Consequently, repetition often leads to laziness.

“He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has

been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice.”

– Albert Einstein

SOME RECOMMENDATIONS

It is the manager’s objective to keep employees operating at Level 3 for as long

as is practical, thereby producing the best and most voluminous work products. To do

so, the manager must minimize distractions, relieve tension, and maximize focus

on work (concentration). To this end, the manager should consider the following:

* Use of Stimulants

No, I am not suggesting the use of narcotics in the work place, other than a

good strong cup of coffee (the rocket fuel of industry). However, you want to

create an environment that appeals to the human senses, specifically visual,

audio, touch, even smell. For example, a well lit and brightly painted room

stimulates human senses as opposed to a dark, dull, lackluster room. A

painting or office furnishings can add a touch of class and stress the disposition

of the office. A calm and quiet office, perhaps with some suitable background

music, can help people focus as opposed to a loud and boisterous environment.

Ergonomically designed office equipment can have a positive impact on employee

behavior. But be careful not to introduce too much comfort as it might put people

to sleep. To illustrate, I do not have a problem with hard chairs that force people

to sit up and pay attention.

Encourage mental gymnastics during the day. Perhaps some friendly debate

or the solving of a problem. It has long been known that puzzles, crosswords,

chess and checkers, and the like help stimulate the human brain. Simple, basic

social intercourse can work wonders in terms of stimulating the mind.

Consider room temperature; if too warm or too cold, it will become distracting.

But keep the room more cool than warm as it forces you to stay awake. Also

consider the amount of available oxygen which stimulates the brain.

Another area to review is nutrition. Make sure workers are eating the right

foods in the right amount. Large meals tend to put people to sleep immediately

afterwards.

Basic exercises can also enhance both physical and mental acuity. Many

companies now offer in-house facilities for such programs.

Understand this, employee breaks are not all bad. It gives the worker an

opportunity to get away from his work, clear his head, and return with a

better focus. Of course, there will be those employees who will abuse this

privilege and, because of this, the manager has to constantly monitor the

use of breaks.

Ultimately, the corporate culture has a profound effect on the stimulation

of workers. If the right environment is established, you can turn lethargic

workers into “movers and shackers.”

* Motivate

It is necessary for the manager to encourage workers to rise to a challenge

and work harder. To this end, the manager must play the role of Industrial

Psychologist to understand what makes people tick, thereby providing the means

to motivate them to excel. This can be done with simple praise, rewards, and

recognition. It can also be done through constructive criticism. I have seen

instances where both a cheerleader approach and a tough taskmaster approach

have worked to positive effect. Some people respond to praise, others respond

better when their integrity is challenged. Here, the manager has to intuitively

know when and where to press the right buttons of his workers.

The manager needs to be able to create a sense of urgency, regardless of the

task at hand. This can be done either by carrot or by stick depending on the situation.

The worker must understand their work is important and adds value to their life.

If they feel their work is irrelevant, then their self-esteem will suffer and they

will put forth little effort to achieve anything. One way of implementing this is

to empower the workers and make them more personally responsible for their

actions and allow them to participate in the decision making process. By

creating a sense of ownership, the worker becomes more responsible (and active)

in their work effort.

* Avoid Repetition

As indicated earlier, repetition can cause the brain to relax. Because of this,

the manager must consider ways to break up the monotony and cause the

workers to refocus. Work breaks can break up the tedium, perhaps with some brief

physical exercise thrown in. Scheduled breaks are effective but they too can face

the problem of repetition; e.g., workers work around anticipated breaks. In contrast,

unscheduled breaks often have a better effect as it disrupts worker expectations. Think

of it as a game of “Musical Chairs.”

Sometimes a simple change of scenery can help break up repetition. Instead

of meeting at the same place over and over again, try a different physical

venue to perk up worker interest.

* Health

Regardless of how logical we believe we are, the brain is a physical organ

greatly influenced by human health. If we are sick or in distress (perhaps due

to the death of a loved one, a pending divorce, financial problems, etc.), it

is difficult to focus on our work. The manager should monitor worker

mental/physical health and take corrective action. For example, if someone

is sick, get them to a doctor so they can begin to mend and become productive

again. Further, the last thing you need is for someone to infect the rest of

your workers with a contagious disease (e.g., colds, flu, etc.).

The manager should also look for sleep deprivation in workers and counsel

them accordingly. A tired worker will not engage his brain properly. Further,

look for signs of drug abuse and depression that might have an adverse effect

on their work.

* Minimize Distractions

One of the manager’s responsibilities is to monitor the surroundings of

the worker in order to minimize distractions and create a suitable environment

to concentrate on their work assignments. To assist in this regards, a Project

Management system is useful to record both direct and indirect activities. By

doing so, the manager can analyze the causes of worker distractions, plot

trends, and take appropriate action to minimize interference. For example,

if a manager detects excessive use of the telephone, he may devise a policy

to arrest the abuse. He may even go so far as to hold all outgoing calls.

The point is, the manager should constantly monitor and analyze

disruptions and distractions so that workers can concentrate on their

work effort.

* Avoid Technology

A recent study was performed by Kings College in London for Hewlett

Packard, the purpose of which was to study the effect of technology

on worker performance. According to Dr. Glenn Wilson, the author of the study:

“Results showed clearly that technological distraction diminished IQ test performance

(mean scores dropped from 143.38 achieved under quiet conditions to 132.75 under

‘noisy’ conditions).”

“The impact of distraction was greater for males (145.50 down to 127) than for females

(141.25 down to 138.50). Putting that another way, males were superior in quiet conditions,

females were superior in the distraction condition. This is consistent with the idea that women

are better than men at ‘multi-tasking’.”

“Noisy conditions caused a striking increase in self-reported stress. Ratings on a 0-10 scale

of ‘stress experienced during the test’ increased from 2.75 to 5.5 for males and 4.75 to 6.75

for females. Note that in addition to the main effect of conditions of testing, women reported

higher stress levels than men overall.”

Basically, Wilson’s study is saying that excessive use of technology can

have an adverse effect on a person’s brain power. This is somewhat disturbing

as technology now permeates our society. As an example, while traveling through

the airports recently I observed the majority of my fellow travelers “tuned out” by

technology. The lion’s share of travelers today make active use of iPods, PDA’s,

cell phones, DVD & CD players, and laptop computers. It seems fewer and fewer

travelers read a book or engage in conversation anymore. In other words, most

travelers today are operating at a Level 2.

If Wilson is correct, and I believe he is, the manager should take notice of

this adverse effect of technology and discourage the use of such devices,

particularly at break time, and encourage more interpersonal contact

instead. Technology has its place, but I tend to believe we rely too heavily

on it. For example, using an automated calculator allows our brain to relax

while the machine performs the math. Too often I have seen people reach for a

calculator to perform a simple computation as opposed to working it out with

paper and pencil. They simply do not want to engage their brains. Further, I

have seen whole engineering departments come to a standstill when power

outages brought their computers down. Do they really lack the skills to continue their

work? Not really; their minds have simply been turned off by the technology.

CONCLUSION

The human brain distinguishes us from the rest of God’s creatures. It is

sad when we do not use it to its full potential. How the brain shifts

between Levels 1-2-3 is something we control ourselves. We can

elect to engage it and aspire to achieve, or not to engage it and

become lazy and complacent. It can also be engaged due to circumstances

and affected by others, such as our friends, family, fellow workers and

manager.

How a manager manipulates his worker’s brain power is analogous to

a mechanic fine-tuning an automobile. He is simply trying to get the

most out of it. Hopefully, we can give the mechanic something to work

with; if not, we’ll be scrapped.

“The more you use your brain, the more brain you will have to use.”

– George Dorsey

For additional information on the use of time, see the following

“PRIDE” Special Subject Bulletins:

No. 18 – Being ‘Effective’ with Project Scheduling – Apr 04, 2005

http://www.phmainstreet.com/mba/ss050404.pdf

No. 17 – Taking the Mystery out of Estimating – Mar 28, 2005

http://www.phmainstreet.com/mba/ss050328.pdf

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Source by Tim Bryce

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