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Train Your Brain to Thrive From 9 to 5

Five scientifically-proven tips to make your brain smarter

The majority of employers throughout the world are "strongly committed to creating a workplace culture of health" and are investing in programs to achieve these goals, according to Buck Consultants at Xerox, describing their newly released survey, "Working Well: A Global Survey of Health Promotion and Workplace Wellness Strategies."

That's welcome news. It's hardly a surprise that employees are happier and more productive when they are feeling their best. But any truly effective workplace wellness strategy must focus not simply on physical health but also on brain health.

After all, the brain is the one indispensable tool workers need throughout their careers. From the first entry-level position until the retirement party, the brain is on the job and expected to function at peak capacity on a daily, hourly, even moment-by-moment basis.

Yet, while workers who spend time and energy doing aerobic exercises and weight-training, they probably rarely give a second thought to maintaining the health of their brains. Similarly, corporations may fail to consider aspects of the work environment that either add to or detract from their employees' brain performance.

I have coined the term "brainomics" in an attempt to capture the connection between cognitive potential and economic performance. A healthy brain is a financial asset, with an impact on the bottom line, for both individuals and corporations. Creativity and productivity -- key to individual and corporate success -- flourish when the brain is at its best, and when the corporate culture supports workers' ability to innovate and add new concepts and ideas to the organization.

But many of today's work practices are more likely to harm, rather than help, brain health. Locating workers together in loud "cube farms" prevents employees from focusing on their own work, reducing productivity. Numerous meetings without focused agendas keep employees from spending time actually getting results. How many times do we stop and ask ourselves how much large meetings are costing the bottom-line? Drawing too many people into projects tricks us into believing we're building a consensus, but in reality, the true issues are not addressed and the time and talent wasted are unnerving.

Individual habits also diminish brain health. Perpetuating a culture that cultivates the feeling that individuals must respond instantly to emails, texts and social media posts limits the ability to focus and think deeply. Similarly, multitasking actually reduces productivity and accuracy, creates stress, and taxes the brain. Other habits, such as constantly downloading information via technology and media, overload the brain's preferential capacity to block out irrelevant information, decreasing performance.

Fortunately, we have discovered strategies that optimize brain performance on the job. Taking advantage of neuroplasticity, the brain's inherent ability to adapt and change throughout life, workers can train their brains to be more productive. By eliminating toxic mental routines and engaging in the right mental exercises, anyone can think clearer and sharper at work.

Workers: Here are five scientifically proven tips you can adopt to make your brain smarter.

1) Brainpower of None -- Step away from your desk and disengage for five minutes at least five times a day. Quieting your mind briefly will help improve decision-making, problem solving and productivity.

2) Brainpower of One -- Stop multitasking and focus on one thing at a time. Once you are interrupted, it takes an average of 20 minutes to return to the original task, so silence those smartphone and e-mail alerts.

3) Brainpower of Two -- Prioritize the two most important tasks on your to-do list each day. Dedicate uninterrupted brain time to accomplishing them before moving on to less significant items on the list.

4) Brainpower of Deep and Wide -- The brain is bored by robotic repetitious facts. Instead it is built to dynamically shift between details and big picture. Train your brain to think in a more synthesized way by condensing large amounts of information into a few impactful messages, or by beginning meetings with a seven word unexpected thought or provocative question.

5) Brainpower of Innovative Thinking -- The brain was wired to be inspired and thrives when facing new challenges. Exercise innovation by committing yourself to exploring new ways to build on your passions, broadening and deepening your knowledge, skills, and expertise. Or ask yourself how you could respond differently to personnel issues and operational challenges.

Employers, your role is to support your workers by creating a workplace that is conducive to the brainpower strategies above. Where possible, create a quiet work environment. Urge employees to keep distractions and interruptions to a minimum while working on important tasks.

Encourage your employees to innovate, constantly spurring them on to figure out ways to improve products and processes, and not get stuck in the same old routine. Incentivize your employees to take advantage of opportunities to master new mental challenges and learn new skills.

Remember that the brain, like the body, needs rest. Allow employees to take advantage of brief downtime several times a day so they return to their desks mentally refreshed. Respect their vacation time with their family and friends.

Using these strategies offers a profitable approach to "brainomics." Both employers and employees will benefit from the increased productivity that results from higher brain energy and enhanced brain health.

Copyright Sandra Bond Chapman. This article first appeared on Huffington Post.

Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., Founder and Chief Director of the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas, is committed to maximizing cognitive potential across the lifespan.

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