Category Archives: productivity

Beyond Meditation: Improving Brain Health And Performance

Image Source: Medicalxpress

Brain health is a fascinating topic. We know so little about our brains yet they drive everything we do. Meditation and the concept of mindfulness are popular topics, yet we don’t understand how we arrive at the benefits that everyone talks about. It’s probably safe to say that the majority of us don’t know how our brains actually work.

The good news is that we’re in new period of health and wellness where doctors can accurately see how our brains function, and even pinpoint the specific areas where our brains malfunction. This is very different from the traditional, assumption-based approach to making diagnoses in mental health. We are also learning that in many cases, real treatment doesn’t require the help of chemical drugs in order for us to find balance or heal.

 The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D. is an informative read that focuses on brain elasticity. He presents the concept that that we can redesign our brains by understanding how they work from a mechanical perspective.

For example, you know when you have trouble recalling a memory, or a specific word? Blame it on the gradual neglect of the brain’s attentional system. In short, our brains become noisy. When this happens, the signal for a new memory can’t compete against the background electrical activity of the brain. This causes a signal-to-noise problem.

Using practical explanations paired with real-world stories, Doidge covers topics ranging from healing through neuroplastic therapy to everyday practices for preserving our brains.

In Change Your Brain, Change Your LifeDr. Amen calls out the main issue with  mental health today – we are “throwing medication-tipped darts” at issues unproven through science.

He relies on a technology called SPECT  to discover which areas of the brain over or under perform. Unlike an MRI or CAT scan,  a SPECT scan shows the electrical activity happening within your brain as it functions. Based on this, he is able to find the cause of a problem through factual evidence.

A SPECT scan is expensive – it’ll set you back $3,500. In Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, he presents methods for anyone to improve their brain health. Treatment methods are broken into four core areas, or 4 overlapping circles, where we can take a balanced approach to assessment and healing.

  1. Biological – how your body actually functions. This is the physical aspect of how your brain and body work together. Factors include nutrition, exercise, sleep, hormones, genetics, and overall physical health.
  1. Psychological – developmental issues and how you think. This includes how we talk to ourselves, self-concept, body image, traumas, upbringing, and significant developmental events.
  1. Social – social support and your current life. This includes the quality of one’s relationships and current life stressors. For example, depression is often triggered by stressful life events involving others, and the health habits of the people with whom we spend time with have a dramatic impact on habits and well-being.
  1. Spiritual – your sense of meaning and purpose. Having a sense of purpose allows us to reach beyond ourselves to affirm that our lives matter.

Mental health is a topic we tread lightly, as though we are somehow considered “broken” or “weak” when addressed. The irony is that our brains are actually the CEOs of our bodies –  influencing every thought we have, each action we take and the behaviors we choose to express. If we treat mental health in a reactive way rather than a circumstantial one, we can break these taboos and become higher functioning human-beings in the process.

Getting To Inbox Zero In 3 Hours Or Less

Photo Credit: Liane Metzler via Unsplash

Photo Credit: Liane Metzler via Unsplash

I always thought “inbox zero” was an urban myth. How is it possible that one’s inbox could have literally no emails in it whatsoever?

The last time I checked there were around twenty-thousand messages. Incoming ones starred for later, bookmarked newsletters going back to the beginning of time begging for acknowledgement — the dutiful read, watch, response, purchase or listen that may or may not make our lives slightly more whole.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a hoarder of information. I’m pretty much obsessed with emailing myself several times daily — links to recipes, lengthy thought pieces, cute shoes — never to be opened at the fabled moment for where there’s actually time. Let’s face it, emails generate more work than pleasure. And if the case was in fact pleasure, my pocketbook surely wouldn’t be pleased.

I also have a terrible habit of staring at my inbox for moments on end. I sit unblinking and motionless, eyeballs glossing over the never ending list. Whether starred, marked as “important and unread,” or falling within the categorical everything else, without moving a muscle the meter on my forehead goes from full to hovering near bone dry.

One Friday evening I decided to take matters into my own hands. It was time to part with these missives from the past. They were slogging things down, preventing crystal-clear clarity in order to have a more fulfilling, energized, and productive day.

Here’s how I finally reached the ever-so-elusive Inbox Zero in less than three hours.

1. I took to e-mail management tools.

Basically, if there’s a way to cheat through technology I’m going to do it. In this case the enablers were Sanebox and Boomerang.

I implemented Sanebox to filter out everything that wasn’t urgent. Most emails were automatically delivered to a new inbox called “SaneLater.” Urgent e-mails, as defined in this case, arrive directly in my main inbox from the fingertips of human beings I actually know. Anything and everything else goes to SaneLater.

I made use of Boomerang, which I’ve had installed for years and never actually noticed. I scheduled starred emails to return on the day an action item was due. The original message was then archived.

2. I took the plunge.

The great thing about Gmail is that all your archived emails are still searchable (via the nav bar at the top). They live in a far-off place you don’t need to visit unless absolutely necessary, far away from your actual inbox.

Sanebox offers a simple and useful methodology for e-mail management: Delegate, Defer, Delete, Respond, and Do.

After responding to, rescheduling, or filing away everything timely I could find, I did the unimaginable. I selected everything in my inbox — I mean everything — and *gulp* clicked Archive.

Sanebox has a tiny learning curve when it comes to additional features. Part of the fun is leveraging them for specific needs.

For example, I don’t always need a message to return if I don’t hear back from the recipient. I do, however, need constant reminders in order to follow up with people within a reasonably courteous timeframe and/or get things done by a specific date. Having the message go away then reappear when the timing is relevant is a hack that’s been working massively well for me so far.

After it was all said and done, my inbox looked like this!

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Day one went flawlessly. By removing the clutter I felt immeasurably energized and ready to do the deep work instead of staring at the screen in an overwhelmed stupor. I didn’t miss anything about the old e-mail workspace. I found myself attacking the “to dos” — the major bullseyes of the day that mattered most.

Email became secondary to workflow. Actual work came first. By using chunks of time specifically set aside for e-mail I now manage inbound communications tactically (while attempting to avoid becoming obsessed with the notion of persistent zero!). This week was noticeably more productive — my headspace has been clearer and I found that my mood was actually better.

All in all, the tedious effort was worth it in the end.  Inbox Zero for the win!

Now, does anyone have any tips for keeping it this way?!