When people have to develop “learning agility,” they imagine that they somehow have to acquire superhuman multitasking skills or an unusual knack for adapting without skipping a beat. Just the thought of that can be exhausting. Instead, you have to make adjustments to the way you use your brain in order to work smarter – not harder. So, how do you optimize your brain to learn and adapt at the speed of change?
Developing perspective: A little strategy time never hurt anyone. Many people spring out of bed and rush off to work, getting their to-do lists together as fast as they can. While this may sound efficient, it often isn’t. When there are too many things in your brain, you develop a brain traffic bottleneck. All of a sudden, everything slows down. That initial rush leads to diminishing returns.
It helps to sit down at the beginning of the day to see if you can arrange your tasks efficiently. Can you combine two meetings into one? Can you turn an hour-long meeting into a 30-minute meeting? Can you schedule the more challenging tasks of the day to a time when you have the greatest energy? Small strategic efficiency changes can help you become more agile and develop a supertasking brain.
Conserving brain energy: With the demands you face to adapt to constant change, you might think that focus is the order of the day. However, as I point out in my book “Tinker Dabble Doodle Try,” you must build unfocus times into your day to refuel your brain and gain the energy to adapt.
Did you know that our minds wander 47% of the time during the day? We need to learn to mind-wander strategically. For instance, a five- to 15-minute nap can give you up to three hours of clarity. Doodling during a conference call may improve your memory by up to 29%.
One way to do this is to practice positive constructive daydreaming — scheduling 15 to 20 minutes in your day when your brain would be naturally depleted. However, you can’t just sit at your desk. Take a walk, do some gardening or try knitting. Then, imagine something positive like going apple-picking or cozying up to a good movie. Then, let your mind wander. This will boost your creativity and refresh your brain. The brain’s default mode network comes on when you stop focusing and puts puzzle pieces together, allowing you to discover new ways of becoming agile.
Connecting to your psychological center of gravity (COG): Your psychological COG is your north star. It is your guiding light when you feel lost or rushed. When you are overwhelmed by the changes you have to make, reset to your psychological COG. It’s like training your abdominal muscles.
One key way to do this is to reconnect with your sense of purpose. This is not some external goal, but the activities that make you feel you are flourishing. When you do, you activate your brain’s reward system, and you get the energy edge you need to hold steady.
Think of a possibility that is not yet a reality, and commit to believing that you are sufficient to deliver on promises that you have not yet delivered on. This does not require you to be sure or right every time. It’s a choice that you make to let possibility be your guide.
Ask yourself, “What two things can I say ‘no’ to?” Offload things that drain you – the barely satisfying friendship, the task that you hate to do, the compromise you’re being asked to make that you don’t actually have to make. When you do, you gain the ability to do more satisfying and motivating things.
When it comes to learning agility and optimizing your brain, less is more.