Multitasking has become a way of life – and work – for many of us. Most of us consider it an acquired skill. We check mails while on a conference call. Talk on the cell phone while driving. Doing two or three things at once is almost second-nature now. But multitasking is not the most efficient use of brain power. In fact a series of recent studies using brain imaging has ascertained that multitasking has a cost in terms of efficiency, learning, and neural activity devoted to each task.
Dr Praveen Gupta, head neurologist at Artemis Hospital says that multitasking can in fact tax the brain with over stimulation. “Human brain has a finite working memory. Multitasking can interfere with the brain activity leading to lack of efficiency,” he says. The best way to improve your cognitive fitness at work is to handle one task at a time. It will also help if you set yourself a defined time band.
Mapping the Brain
Just like computers have different circuits, so does the human brain. There are various functional areas in our brain allotted to their defined roles. “When it’s unable to handle pressure it can start causing memory loss,” says Dr Gupta. Neuroscience tells us that only we can affect how our brain works.
At work, or otherwise, you can increase your chances of maintaining your mental edge and functional independence throughout your life. How? By working on cognitive fitness, meaning fitness at all levels – physical, mental and emotional. “Diet plays a vital role in cognitive stimulation,” says Dr Surbhee Soni, clinical psychologist, Fortis Healthcare.
According to Dr Soni, one of the best ways to stay mentally alert at work is to drink lots of water and avoid too much caffeine and nicotine as it affects the neurotransmitters. “Caffeine may provide instant boost but it also leaves the body dehydrated,” she says. Or you can take a walk around the office.
Eat 5-6 small meals during the day to keep your energy levels up. Dr Gupta advises doing one thing at a time so that you stay focussed. “Even writing down tasks helps as it defines the goals and creates an organised subset in our mind without mixing or interfering one task with another,” he says. When making the ‘to-do’ list assign priorities – it will help you organise tasks in your mind. Set small targets for the day and complete them first before moving on to others – this gives you a sense of satisfaction and completion, says Dr Soni.
The one thing that you need to be careful about is stress. “Stress overloads the brain. A stressed-out brain becomes oblivious to the external environment and loses the power of recall and retention,” he says. The only way to beat stress is to train your brain. Here’s where you start.
Eight ways to boost your brain power while at work:
1. Handle the Mundane Stuff
You have to file for your arrears or that claim from last year’s travel. Don’t postpone. Getting the mundane paperwork out of the way clears up your mind.
2. Put it in Writing
Write down your goals – daily tasks or long-term ones, of course separately. It makes them more meaningful and boosts you to work towards ticking the list off. Adding a why to long-term goals acts as a real motivator.
3. Stop Multitasking
Multitasking is not the most efficient use of brain power. A series of recent studies confirm that it actually costs in terms of efficiency, learning and neural activity.
4. Set a Timeframe
Once you have set goals, it’s best to assign it to a time band – in hours for short-term goals and months/years for long-term ones. It will help you set your agenda and keep the brain focused on the tasks ahead.
5. Level of Physical Activity
Daily exercise will of course boost your body as well as your brain. But the key question is how active are you at work. Keep a mindful eye on how many minutes did you walk at work today – maybe taking a call while walking around or taking the stairs instead of the lift – little things count.
6. Keep the Mind Busy
At the end of the work day, ask yourself: what new thing I learnt today? What routine task did I approach differently? Did I challenge my mind? Did I do anything just for fun? Reading constantly can also improve your skills.
7. Manage Your Stress Levels
Stress is the biggest brain killer. Keep a watchful lookout on your stress levels. Identify what stressed you the most at work today, find out why and then assess your reaction. If it persists, follow corrective measures to tackle it. It’s important to give your brain some me time – listen to music, read or enroll into a new class – anything that gives the neurons a break, call it a mental sauna.
8. Sharpen Your Skills
If your organization allows cross-functional movement, try and challenge yourself. Decide carefully on the new skill-set that will be complementary to your existing one.
No need to pop a pill, here are eight natural brain foods:
All B vitamins help boost the brain but Inositol, choline and B6 help to sharpen your memory and reduce stress. Take 50-100 mg of B complex supplements everyday.
It’s a memory enhancer and helps prevent your blood sugar level from rising – one of the causes of brain fog that happens when you eat sweets.
Turmeric contains an anti-inflammatory property called curcumin, helps to boost the memory by protecting your brain cells.
Rosemary is rich in carnosic acid, a chemical that shields your brain from the damaging effects of free radicals. Eat 4-6 gm of rosemary a day.
Gingko biloba is another herb which enhances blood circulation in the brain. This stimulates the brain to work at its best. But it has to be taken under medical supervision.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids – found in fish – are good for the brain because they help to fight depression, slow brain ageing and help your brain to work faster.
Vitamin C works to protect your brain from free radicals and helps enhance the flow of oxygen to your brain. Take 90 mg daily.
Courtesy of The Economic Times.