Friday 5: Ways to Nurture Your Brain and Improve Your Work

Feeling a bit sluggish after the holidays? You’re not alone. Try these five helpful tips to get your brain’s neurons firing in the new year. You can read more in Helen Ling’s full article, “Brain Science and Lawyering: Paying Attention to Your Body and Brain to Improve the Quality of Your Work,” in the Dec 2014/Jan 2015 issue of NWLawyer.

    • Get some exercise. We can live for 30 days or so without food and a week or so without water, but after just five minutes without oxygen to our brains, we risk serious and permanent damage. When we exercise, we increase our brain’s access to oxygen, keep existing neurons healthy, and encourage the formation of new brain cells.

  • Don’t multitask… Sorry, but it’s true: research shows that we are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously. Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50 percent longer to accomplish a task and makes up to 50 percent more errors.
  • …but find a system that works for you. Ling’s system (which, she admits, horrifies her husband) is to quickly scribble a sticky note to herself when those distracting thoughts strike. That way, she doesn’t lose focus on her main task, and she has a reminder to come back to later, so those random insights aren’t lost.
  • Get a full night’s sleep. The brain is incredibly active while we are asleep. Our neurons are crackling electrical commands to one another in constantly shifting patterns that display greater rhythmical activity during sleep than when we are awake. Sleep loss cripples thinking; getting the right amount of sleep for our brains can only help us learn quicker and better, as well as being more present for our clients.
  • Drink more water. A small study tested the effects of mild dehydration on cognitive performance, mood, and concentration in women. Although dehydration did not substantially impair cognitive function, women who experienced just a 1.36% dehydration level felt adverse effects such as increased fatigue, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and an increased perception of task difficulty. If you’re feeling cranky or overwhelmed, you might just need a moment to step away from things — and drink a tall glass of water.