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How to Use Neuroleadership as a Competitive Advantage

October 5, 2015

Those of you who have been following my story for a while know that three years ago, I experienced a freak accident which led to a brain injury. I didn’t know it at the time, but this injury would change my life. Not just because of the severity of it, but because of the valuable lessons I would learn through my recovery and brain rehab that have taught me a lot about how I want to work and lead my life.

Recently, I was featured in the Business section of The Globe and Mail newspaper as well as some trade publications in articles about neuroleadership. As the CEO of Potential Unlimited, I work with people who are all wanting to do more with less. They are moving at a fast pace with technology having them turned on 24/7, and of course, we can’t forget all of our personal commitments. The reality is, we just have so many to do’s in our lives that it may feel, at times, we are losing ourselves and scattered in our work.

Due to all of the interest I have been receiving from the media articles, I have decided to begin a newsletter series to teach people about neuroleadership. These principles will help you understand how you can leverage your brain to its fullest ability and bring more peace to your life.

Rewiring your brain is a multipronged approach so I encourage you to take what feels right for you from each of the articles over the next couple of months and try it on. I invite you to tell your friends about this series. They can register for this FREE series now.

The study of neuroleadership is a relatively new approach to the way we work. Essentially, neuroleadership is knowing how to leverage your brain and the way it functions to its maximum efficiency in each moment to be stronger and more fulfilled.

What you will learn is how to ‘hack’ your brain to change patterns to be able to live and work in a more focused way. Throughout this series, I will begin to introduce a few of the tools I use with my coaching clients who are interested in growth in this area. And when I say growth, I literally mean your brain will grow and change its structure.

For instance, the area of your brain primarily in charge of executive functioning such as high level decision-making, planning and focus is located within the prefrontal region of the frontal lobe.  Research shows that by performing the exercises I will share with you on a regular basis, you can actually enlarge this area of your brain.

Giving yourself and your staff a brain tune-up is the best investment you can make. Having a happy, healthy, intelligent group of people on board is a win-win situation.

Today’s article on Neuroleadership features a tool I learned at brain rehab – Pacing. I still employ pacing every day and I work with many of my clients on it, too.

How to Use the Pacing Tool to Set Your Brain Up For Success

Most of us use an online calendar to chart out our meetings. This helps keep us on track. I know a lot of people who also have an additional list of to do’s for the day. Why not streamline this approach and keep both of these items in the same place? A place that will allow you to see what actually is possible to accomplish within the time you have available each day.

I use a simple daily log template (email me at ceo@potentialunlimited.ca to receive your copy) that I proactively fill out for each day. I plan everything in it from the moment I wake up until the time I go to sleep. If I think an activity will take 30 minutes to complete, then I double it and give myself an hour to complete it. This gives me and my brain space so I am not always feeling pressured.

Sometimes pressure is good, but as a society, we tend to live in a constant state of pressure. And that stress is actually what causes the hippocampus area of your brain to shrink. Yes, it can shrink! This area is a part of that prefrontal cortex and its shrinkage decreases your ability to perform Executive Functioning types of activities.

If you build in extra time for each activity, you are making your brain feel like it is successful. This leads to a greater sense of fulfillment, and also strengthens your brain’s ability to rewire itself for future tasks.

Tips to Setting Up A Successful Daily Pacing Agenda

Work in intervals – Everyone is slightly different on what exact time interval works best for them. But as a rule of thumb, try focused work for 45 minutes and then give yourself a 15-minute break every hour.

Take real breaks – A break is not a chance to check email. That should be planned as a separate activity. A break is a chance for you to step away from the computer and perhaps, walk around the halls. Grab a snack. Even go to the bathroom. A break requires you to change your physical position in some way to trigger to your brain that you are truly separating yourself from the previous task, allowing a mental recovery period so you can be refueled when it is time to work again.

Build in fun – When you plan your day fully in advance, it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun without the spontaneity. A lot of us could use more fun in our lives, but are feeling too busy to experience true joy. Planning time to take part in an activity or to be with people who bring you joy ensures that each day you have something, even just for a few moments, that makes you smile.

Build in a creativity ‘Free’ Day into your work week – This item may sound too good to be true. To have one full work day with no meetings. To just be able to dream, strategize and focus proactively on your people. But, it is not too good to be true. I began plotting this for myself about a year ago and it is amazing. I have worked with senior executives as my coaching clients who have also adapted this way of working through our time together. They love it!

The key to making this work is to have one sacred day each week. This date can be the same one each week or switch it up to accommodate for mandatory meetings, but this day needs to be respected and planed around. Block off your creativity day in your calendar in advance. You have to make a decision which meetings are the most important to attend and draw some hard lines.

My brain injury showed me that we are all replaceable. We may think that we HAVE to attend each meeting, but we don’t. Life goes on without us, so focus your efforts on the areas of greatest importance and let the other activities be shared by someone else.

I know it seems impossible to cut back when you already feel stretched, but I have never worked with a leader that I couldn’t help to find areas to pull back on and give themselves more space.

I know many of you work in environments where new things are coming up all the time. How do you plan in advance for that? It comes down to choices. You need to ask yourself:

  1. Does this task REALLY need to be done today?
  2. Does it need to be done by me?

If the activity can be completed tomorrow, then just plan for it in your next day’s pacing agenda. If the task must be done that day, then you have a decision to make. Something needs to come off your calendar to accommodate it. There is a temptation to do both things. But when you continue to make these decisions to cram more and more into your days, the more you wire your brain to make compromises on its ability. Regardless of how intelligent a person is, a human brain performances and feels best when it experiences a variety of challenging work and true mental breaks.

For my coaching clients who are working on neuroleadership, we use a point system for activities to determine their individualized sweet spot of performance and energy. Every activity is given a point value. In this regard, points are treated like dollar bills that are given away whenever energy is exerted. The key is determining how many points you have to give away before you go into a deficit. You can determine this by how productive, energized and fulfilled you feel at the end of the each day.

There may be some days where you need to use up more energy points than you have to complete certain projects. Most people can get away with this from time to time without any serious toll on their brain performance or bodies. But, those who live each day in overdraft are racking up too much debt and need an energy detox to get back in balance.

My points plan helps to get busy people back on track and managing their lives in a way that works for them, while still getting the results. It does require discipline to the principles of neuroleadership. But, I can tell you it is well worth the effort to wire your brain in a way that dances with your work versus going against it.

High-performance brains are like high-performance race cars; if you don’t stop for a pit stop, you won’t be able to win the race.

Contact me to to learn how neuroleadership can be built into your Executive Coaching package with me.

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