How do you keep your brain fit for leadership?

Marianne Slotboom
Dec 16, 2021

As a leader, it is important to keep calm in all kind of situations, maintain focus, have overview and be able to take the right decisions, based on the information you have. What does neuroscience learn us, especially when it comes to training our “leadership brain”?

#1 Use your working memory optimally

There is evidence that we have three types of memory: long-term memory, short-term memory, and working memory. The working memory is a temporary storage place for task-relevant information in the brain. It mainly plays a role in active thinking processes. It can take various forms, such as activation of old memories (an image of an earlier holiday) or retention of more recent events, such as remembering a new telephone number. This memory is exhausted fairly quickly. A tired working memory ensures that you work less efficiently and that you have many more opportunities to make mistakes. Every status update of your Facebook account, every tweet and every email message, ensures that you use your working memory. This competes with other important activities, such as getting an important task ready in time. But fortunately there are simple techniques to optimally deal with your working memory. Here are a few:

  • Stop multitasking. Multitasking does not actually exist. What some people do is quickly change between tasks, at the end it is working sequentially. Sequential work depletes the brain, it increases the level of cortisol, which also gives more stress. Therefore start with mono-tasking.
  • Take short naps. A nice technique is the key-nap, which is a powernap. At the start of the nap you put your keys in your hand. When you really fall asleep, your muscles relax and as a result, your keys fall to the ground. The sound of it will wake you up.
  • Take frequent breaks. You can recharge your working memory with a small pause. Walk around for a few minutes and return to your workplace. You will quickly experience the effect.
  • Keep your brain empty. Do not make a habit of remembering things. Of course you can remember a lot. But you better use your brain resources for more complicated matters. Therefore write down all your tasks, ideas, and so on. With pen and paper or in your smartphone. Process this information in your to-do list.
  • Do complex tasks with a vitalized working memory. Many people have a revitalized working memory in the morning. That’s why the morning normally is a good time to tackle the more complex issues.

#2 Keep overview

Without overview your situation could be compared with that of shopping in a supermarket where the vegetables, meat, wines, fruit, etc. are all mixed up. It’s almost impossible to find the things you’re looking for. If you don’t know what is important and what has to be done and when, you’re lacking overview. This drains the brain even faster and you will achieve your goals very slowly. What could you do about this?

  • Create order in the chaos. Take care of order on your desk and in your computer. Work according to a certain structure.
  • Have clear your priorities. What is your focus for the coming period? This starts with an overview of all your activities. Then order these.
  • Organize your work in time blocks. By subdividing your work into time blocks you beat three birds with one stone. You ensure that you can focus, you can alternate energy-consuming jobs with work that costs less energy. And finally you keep an overview; you can only work in time blocks if you know your priorities.
  • Use mind maps. For overview we do not need laps of text but clear schedules. A mind map is a diagram made up of concepts, texts, relations and / or images, which are arranged in the form of a tree structure around a central theme.
Keep overview

#3 Stay focused

One of the common reasons that leaders want to be coached is that they are easily distracted. Being too often distracted ensures that you don’t deal with the right things in an appropriate way. It is important to do your work with focus and concentration, because it enables you to enter a flow state. When you work from flow, you feel timeless and focused. This allows you to achieve your results more quickly. It also gives you a feeling of satisfaction.

  • Block times in which you can not be disturbed and communicate this to the people around you. Do not check your mail and put your phone out of sight. Make sure that you will be available for real urgencies.
  • Meditate or do mindfulness. These exercises are crucial for an optimal use of your brain. Meditation and mindfulness are techniques that make you concentrate better at what you do. It is a training that helps you to detect more quickly that you are distracted.
Stay focused

In this article we have described eleven ways to keep a fit leadership brain. We didn’t mention healthy food, exercising or sleeping. It is clear that these basic rules are the start for a fit brain for everyone.

Thanks go to Guido de Valk, executive coach and specialized in neuroleadership.

Marianne Slotboom
The author
Marianne Slotboom

Marianne is a strategic partner and practical developer of human behavior that helps leaders, teams and organizations become more focused and effective, elevating their value to customers. In 2015, Marianne founded Yellow Training to answer the call for more inspirational and creative leadership in the modern workplace.

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