When do I need my brain to perform at its best today?

Why you should ask yourself this question at the start of each day. Neuroscience provides us a few helpful tips when it comes to planning our day.

19 September 2017

"I have a meeting at 9:30 a.m." You think to yourself as you glance at your watch.  "I know this meeting will require a lot of focus, brain storming and managing various personalities...other personalities in the meeting...not mine! And this will all happen at the same time." You continue thinking to yourself. 

You will really need your brain to perform at its best at 9:30 a.m. so you can think well and cope with the chaos. 

But prior to this meeting (say 8:00 a.m.), you make a decision and tell yourself: "I'll just check a few emails really quickly before I review my notes and outline for the meeting...I really want this meeting to go well!"  But what don't realize is that the brain naturally consumes a lot of energy when performing conscious and deliberate task. 

"It is well established that the brain uses more energy than any other human organ, accounting for up to 20 percent of the body's total haul."  (Scientific America-April 2008). 

"WHAT! It's already 9:15!  How did that happen?" You yell inside your head.  So you hurry up and gather your items and rush off to your 9:30 meeting, with your brain spinning and trying to change tracks.  So much for prepping.

Returning e-mails seemed to be an innocent enough task to do prior to your 9:30 meeting, but quite a few of those emails (unknown to you in advance) ended up being stressful and challenging to deal with.  So now you arrive in the conference room a bit frantic, and a lot less focused than before you started checking emails.  Your brain has also used up quite a bit of fuel. 

"When we experience anxiety, fear, self-consciousness or any strong emotion, our neurons get flooded with electrical signals, so there isn't enough capacity left to process what is going on in the moment."                                  (David Rock – Quiet Leadership)

Now you will have a more difficult time focusing, brainstorming and playing well with others.  Your brain definitely won't perform at its best!  This is definitely not what you really need to have happen.

What could you have done differently? 

  • Deliberately think to yourself, "When will I need my brain to perform at its best today?"  Knowing that your brain requires a lot of fuel to perform at its best you have to deliberately ask yourself this question.   
  • DO NOT try to take on any new and/or different tasks within 30 minutes before this time.  This will drain your brain of its fuel and will only get you anxious or frustrated.  This buffer time can vary for everyone, but you know yourself best. 
  • Definitely avoid things that will stress you just prior to the time you need to focus.  If you know checking emails can easily 'throw you off center,' then don't check them now, simply wait until after the meeting.
  • Allow yourself a brief moment prior to the meeting to do something that will help you 'recharge' and focus prior to when your brain needs to be 'at its best.'  Here are some simple ideas:
    • Take a quick walk.
    • Have a fun conversation with a co-worker and laugh.
    • Eat a simple snack to re-boost your energy.
    • Get quiet for a moment at your desk or go lock yourself in an empty office for a bit of peace and quiet. 

Enjoy your day!  And ask your brain... "When do I need you at your best today?" then plan accordingly.


Michael LeBlanc is a Consultant Manager for Intertek Consulting & Training. His expertise is focusing on the "human side" of safety and safety culture and believes employees deserve to go home safe and healthy every day. Michael holds a masters in Social Work with MSW and LCSW accreditations; certified as a life coach; and is an author. For the past 14+ years, Michael has been consulting and training with international companies that perform high-risk work in over 25 countries with more than 25 companies. He's presented at various conferences on topics such as: Human Factors, Safety Leadership for supervisors, Sustaining Culture Change Efforts, Safety Culture Assessments and Hazard Awareness as it relates to stages of learning a new skill and will be presenting October 2017 at IADC's Human Factors Conference on 'Safety Culture and Performance Management.'