3. Are you working with your brain? Or against it?

By 28th June 2016November 10th, 2016leadership

Here’s the latest day in the life of newly-promoted Operations Director Frazzled Freda. She hasn’t had a moment to spare ­­– so why has she made so little progress?

See what you think….

Arriving at her desk, Freda first decided to schedule some much-needed meetings with her co-directors. She noticed Effective Ellie’s 9am slots were all blocked out. What was Ellie doing so regularly first thing every morning?

Meeting requests sent, Freda opened up her departmental restructuring project planning document. As she pondered over the timeline detail, she heard a text notification.  It was her son Sam’s school, with a reminder about the PTA cake bake. Ten minutes or so later, Ian, her second-in-command, strolled past, telling one of his notorious bad jokes. Trying in vain to capture an idea that had just flashed into her mind, she pointedly carried on looking at her screen.

She’d managed no more than one or two tweaks to the timeline when the incoming email alert started to flash. Best look, just in case. One of the emails contained the agenda and paperwork for the next board meeting. Freda’s heart sank. She’d missed the report submission deadline. Unlike Effective Ellie, whose two regular reports were – as always – both included. Quickly, she closed down the restructuring document and opened up her report template.  If she could get the documents done straightaway, it wouldn’t be so bad. She needed a coffee first, though. On her way to the kitchen, she spotted Ellie sitting alone in a meeting room with just a pad of paper and pen.

Having completed her rather rushed report, Freda decided it was time to get organised. But faced with a sea of unfamiliar tasks, prioritising and delegating seemed so much harder than in her previous lead scientist role.  After half an hour getting nowhere, she decided to leave prioritisation for another day.  She was sure some of the activities could be delegated, but didn’t have the energy to think about it right then. Instead, she decided to pop down to the lab to see how her successor was getting on. Before she realised it, two hours had passed.

At 5pm, Freda dialled in to a TC with the LA team.

‘What’s your view, Freda?’

It was Seth, in LA.  View on what? Freda had no idea. It was twenty minutes into the meeting and she’d been trying to think of how to respond to an email from one of her direct reports saying he’d be off work for a few days as his mother had come down with pneumonia.

‘I’ve not been hearing you too well,’ Freda lied.  ‘Could you go through the last point again?’

Breathing a sigh of relief at her narrow escape, Freda opened an urgent email from Ian.  He was asking for clarification of a message she’d sent a few minutes ago. Resisting the temptation to type a terse reply, she looked back at what she’d written. She’d missed out a ‘not’ from a critical sentence, changing the meaning completely. And put in days and dates that didn’t match up.

The TC ended at 7pm, leaving Freda exhausted. Yet again, she’d failed to make progress with the restructuring project. Her to-do-list remained chaotic, and the issues she’d wanted to put to bed in the TC would have to wait till next time.

How can neuroscience help us manage time more effectively?

Neuroscience is revealing more and more about how the brain works – and it’s a huge topic. Important insights include:

Multitasking reduces performance – especially when working on unfamiliar tasks.

Working memory can only hold a handful of new ideas at once.

The brain prefers what’s familiar (old habits die hard) and needs more energy to handle new concepts.

Think about your own working day – could you be making it harder for your brain to do its best?

Do you want to get more done?

Try this.

Think about how you allocate your time.

Schedule planning, prioritising and delegating for when you’re most alert.

Plan to do one thing at a time.

Expect new ways of working to be hard – but don’t let your brain tempt you back to old habits.

Do you want to become a more effective leader?

Would you like to find out more about how neuroscience can help you manage time more effectively?

In my latest book, Stop Doing, Start Leading, I will share with you the six keys you need to realise your potential as a leader.  I will also all the practical steps you need to take.

Don’t be like Frazzled Freda and click here to learn more about how you can use your brain to improve your performance.



Sue has over twenty years of business experience and uses the latest thinking on leadership and advanced coaching skills to create the conditions you need to be at your best.

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