The Neuroscience of Work Performance

Company Culture

February 20, 2023

A woman smiling while working on her computer

When looking to improve work performance and enhance employee engagement, it may be beneficial to turn to the research of neuroscientists who study cognitive and behavioral brain function.

Understanding how your brain works impacts how you interact with others and your ability to achieve personal and professional goals. With greater knowledge of your brain function, you can strengthen your ability to learn and adapt to change – which, as a result, enhances your productivity, stress management, and overall work performance.

Tapping Into Your Brain Function

Neuroplasticity, or your brain’s ability to adapt to change, is the key to evaluating your unique perceptions and reactions. Learning about the four brain states in which humans operate and practicing attention management can help you tap into your brain function and gain this knowledge.

In this Fast Company article, Maura Nevel Thomas, the most widely-cited author on attention management, explains that our brains operate in four states: 1) reactive and distracted, 2) daydreaming, 3) focused and mindful, and 4) flow. Thomas’ research finds that we most commonly work in a distracted state, unable to focus because of a lack of control over our environment. Whether that is due to an open office setup or a remote work environment, employees today are often plagued by distractions that impact their work performance. It is beneficial to identify external distractions, create solutions to limit them, and find a balance in each brain state that works for you.

The best way to find this balance is by practicing attention management. Attention management may be more effective than time management at increasing focus and productivity. Attention management relies heavily on mindfulness – starting with your ability to recognize your current brain state and then shift to one that will best suit you in the given moment to succeed at your objective. Employers can promote attention management in the workplace by having leaders model this mindfulness, encourage work-life balance, and set clear priorities.

Mind Hacking to Improve Brain Health

Optimizing brain function is unique to the individual; however, there are techniques proven to improve general brain health and work performance. With a greater understanding of your motivations and how your brain reacts to change, you can train your brain to develop healthier habits. Neuroscientist Tara Swart, MD, Ph.D., says meditation, self-reflection, and visualization are all helpful practices to incorporate into your daily routine.

In the book, The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance, authors Friederike Fabritius and Hans W. Hagemann share ways to sharpen your focus and create high-performing, productive teams, including understanding your brain’s unique reaction to stress, avoiding multitasking, and assessing personality styles.

“Hacking” into your brain by practicing these techniques can improve your cognitive abilities and overall health. But as with any new habit, consistency is essential. Over time, learning how to achieve your peak brain performance will help you accomplish your personal and professional goals.

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