THREE Ways to Increase Performance Now

This post is inspired by my most recent read, an excellent and concise book on our most vital organ, the brain. Brain Rules by John Medina is a guide to understanding your brain and striving towards using it better in work, school, and life; based on a set of 12 principles:

  1. Survival
  2. Exercise
  3. Sleep
  4. Stress
  5. Wiring
  6. Attention
  7. Memory
  8. Sensory Integration
  9. Vision
  10. Music
  11. Gender
  12. Exploration

Although every rule is worth delving into, I would like to share my three biggest takeaways. Having put these into practice myself, I can attest to these tips, which will almost certainly increase your performance immediately.

1. EXERCISE – make time to get active!

In my opinion the most salient of Medina’s Brain Rules: Exercise Boosts Brain Power.

The science is sound, thousands of published and peer reviewed studies all supporting the claim. Proteins called BDNF are created during exercise and essentially supercharge your brain–who doesn’t want that?

FACT: Exercise aids ALL areas of Executive Function

  • concentration
  • impulse control
  • foresight
  • problem solving

I’m fortunate enough to be able to exercise during my lunchbreak, the mid-day pump provides me with an excellent boost to power through the afternoon. Making time whenever you can to get moving daily will pay dividends, whether it’s a morning jog,  evening sports, a standing desk–or all of the above.


2. SLEEP – proper sleep schedule and the magic of naps

We all know sleep is important, but it is still incredibly unknown in the grand scheme of things. As Medina points out; despite centuries of research, we still do not conclusively know why we do it.

We spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping and studies show that the time isn’t so much for recovery, as most people assume, but rather to review events from the day and imprint them onto our memory.  This new research makes the concept of pulling an all-nighter before a big exam rather counter-intuitive. Get those 8 hours in every night.

FACT: A 26-minute nap improved a pilot’s performance by more than 34% (NASA Study)

The findings behind the effectiveness of naps are staggering; there literally isn’t a stimulant on the market that can come close to boosting cognitive performance by 34%. Unfortunately, most companies aren’t quite ready to let employees nap for 20 minutes at 2:00pm, despite the proven benefits in productivity. If you can’t nap in a bed, try finding a quiet space like a car or boardroom and laying back for 20 minutes. Your brain wants to nap, so it’s better to embrace the lethargy than continually fight it, it will reward you with increased performance.

Also, check out this article coffee naps which are taking the silicon valley by storm.


3. Attention – multi-tasking is a myth

Your brain is not capable of multi-tasking, you are literally switching between tasks and in doing so, depleting brain power and reducing productivity. Medina presents several case studies pointing to the same conclusion: you will be more productive by setting 10 minutes of focused time on a task, then you will by multi-tasking on that task for an hour. Use this to your advantage; there are plentiful programs (like TimeDoser for Chrome) which will allot work time and break time, allowing you to dedicate your focus to one task.
Hint: try spurts of going offline to get things done!

FACT: Our attention span is 10-minutes

This is extremely relevant for professors, instructors, or anyone giving a presentation. Simply put, you need to do something emotionally relevant every 10 minutes to maintain your audiences attention. Yes, it is more work, but it’s far better than speaking for an hour and only having the introduction remembered.

We don’t pay attention to boring things–we pay attention to things like emotions, threats, and sex.


A nice infographic (check out for more information):