3 Ways To Switch Your Brain Into A Higher Gear

Lightbulb Thinking Pic

Exercise is good for the mind.

A burst of activity before work can help you stay alert, think more clearly and concentrate for longer (see previous post). In the past, I relied on chance to get me into the zone. Nowadays I deliberately switch my brain into a higher gear by harnessing the power of exercise.

Here are 3 tips to help you do the same…

1. Exercise before you do important work

Exercise readies our brain to perform. Blood flow shifts to the brain immediately after exercising and chemicals associated with learning are released (I.e. BDNF, dopamine and epinephrine)[1]. This is a great time to do your most important work.

As such, I start each day with 20-30 minutes of exercise and then work on an important task. For me, this might involve writing a blog post, forming a mind map or brainstorming with a colleague. It’s rarely checking my emails. Using your “prime” brain time for email can be a big waste. It’s like holding an ace and a king in blackjack and then folding! Starting with email is tempting because it’s easy and addictive. But where possible, I use my one-hour post exercise window to begin my most important task for the day.

2. Go for a walking meeting

In her 2013 TED talk, Nilofer Merchant suggests:

If you want out of the box thinking then you have to get out of the box.

I couldn’t agree more. Wherever possible, I initiate walking meetings. Walking meetings help me to form fresh ideas and think creatively. They also allow me to access the benefits of exercise while still at work.

At Spacemakers, we start every week with a walking meeting to communicate issues and delegate weekly tasks. We also meet and walk whenever we require strategic or creative thinking. We have a semi-structured agenda and defined outcomes. When we return to the office we immediately record our best ideas and outline actions in our to-do lists. One word of warning – walking meetings can be expensive. If you walk around the block enough times, it’s likely that you’ll end up with a round or two of take away coffees!

3. Stand up and feel better

Famous people stand up when they work. Thomas Jefferson had a six-legged ‘tall desk’ for standing. Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway and Winston Churchill all wrote at a standing desk.

Studies suggest that working at a standing desk increases productivity. In 2006, a Sydney organisation provided sit-stand desks to its workers. After a trial period, staff reported feeling more comfortable, energized, focussed, happier and less stressed. They reported fewer aches and pains and generally left work in a better mood[2].

Standing Desk - Verdouw SketchI designed and built my standing desk a few years ago and have never looked back. It’s a simple plywood fixture and cost about $250 in materials. I’m lucky to have an office with plenty of space. I have a standing desk and a sitting desk close by, with two keyboards and two screens that mirror each other. Whenever I feel like sitting, I sit. Whenever I feel like standing, I stand.

Be creative. Make your own desk. Buy a sit-stand desk that winds up and down. Or simply raise your current desk and buy a stool to sit on when tired.  Act like Jefferson and start standing to stay alert and focussed at work.

For tips on how to commit to some more serious exercise see How Folding My Clothes Helped Me Run 5km.

Do you use exercise help you maximise your productivity?

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Winter, B., et al. (2007) High impact running improves learning. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 87: 597-609.
  2. Grunseit, A., et al (2013). Thinking on your feet: A qualitative evaluation of sit-stand desks in an Australian workplace. BMC Public Health, 13:365.

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  1. I love my standing desk. A $25 IKEA LACK coffee table with its legs trimmed down that sits on top of my work desk. Cheap and effective. Now to install the walking machine or exercise bike underneath…