Capacity. Right now we’re all fighting the problem of capacity. In organisations as they have become more streamlined there is just no extra capacity other than that which is quantifiably needed to deliver what needs to be delivered.
There is NO spare capacity in organisations anymore. No buffer, no extra capacity or resource built in for when for example something unexpected happens in our business plans, no spare capacity in our teams when we have more than one person off longer-term.
The simple fact is that now most of you reading this will be doing the workload of more than one person. Admirably doing your best to fulfil a role that was originally done by two or more people. That means that what once was delivered by two must now be delivered by just one – so now more than ever we need to be working at our best, making sure that we have the maximum internal capacity available to deal with the day-to-day issues that will inevitably come our way.
When we are at our very best, when we’re firing on all cylinders, it’s amazing what we can achieve. When we are on form, there’s almost nothing that phases us and we can deal with almost any issue or problem that comes our way. That’s why in this busy, even crazy world of work that we currently live in it’s more important than ever to build our own internal capacity so that we can be at our best more often.
OK so here’s where I get a little technical, a little ‘science-y’ and explain why it’s so important to look after yourself and more importantly understand how your brain works in order for you to be at your very best. Don’t worry though, if you, like me weren’t that good at science at school, this is what we call – ‘Blue Peter Science – it should be pretty simple to understand.
During our working day we use both our conscious and sub-conscious parts of our brain. The conscious part of our brain, helps us to reason things through, communicate effectively, problem solve, be creative, make multi-level decisions, make pro-active choices, prioritise, decipher what needs to be done when, pay attention, concentrate (amongst many other things). Effectively the conscious part of your brain is VITAL for you as a leader to do pretty much everything that needs to be done in an average working day. The subconscious and unconscious control everything else, they control your neurology, all your body functions like breathing, digesting etc. and your automatic responses to things, things you don’t have to even think about, what some call your ‘auto-pilot’.
What is useful to know here is that the conscious part of your brain, the bit we all need to function effectively in our working day has a very small capacity. It is tiny in comparison to the total capacity of the brain and is comparable to your smartphone’s memory and processing ability compared to a super-computer’s.
During every night, just like your computer at home the content from the day that has been filling your conscious mind is downloaded into the sub-conscious. Both the factual content and the emotional content is downloaded and stored in the internal hard-drive of your brain.
The problem is that most people right now are interrupting their sleep at the most important part – the R.E.M, second deep-sleep stage of sleep, which means that the all important emotional download is interrupted and you wake up with your storage capacity still half–full from yesterday’s content.
Think about this a moment – What happens when you put too many photos, videos and songs into your smartphone? What happens when it gets close to full capacity, it’s memory is full? – It GOES SLOW right? It starts to stop functioning properly. It takes a long time to load information or process anything.
Well, in simple ‘blue peter science’ terms it’s EXACTLY the same with your brain! When it’s running close to its capacity, that’s when we struggle at work with even the most basic of tasks. You’ve all been there, reading that report late at the office, you know the one where you read it over and over but it’s just not going in? That’s because you’re brain is running at pretty close to full capacity. It needs downloading; it needs rest and space to recover itself.
The GOOD NEWS is that the brain is a remarkable instrument. It’s incredibly adaptable and when used well, it will serve you brilliantly. The fact is that right now, we’re not looking after ourselves or our brains well enough and as a result we’re all suffering from a loss of performance, just like our smart phones do when we’ve loaded too much content on them.
So what can we do?
Well first thing to do is to just bear in mind that your brain (and body) just like your phone or pad or computer needs energy in order to work.
What happens if you don’t charge your phone, plug it in for 24hours? Likelihood is, unless you’ve got an amazing battery life on your phone, that it will run out of juice and stop working. And yet, what do we do at work now? Most of us don’t listen to our bodies telling us to stop and take a break and most of us don’t take a lunch break anymore. Is it any wonder that we run out and can’t read that email later on in the day?
Here are some principles to follow that that should enable you and your brain to build capacity and lead at your best:
PRINCIPLE 1: Your brain (and you) need fuel to work at their best
If we are expected to work like the computers we sit in front of, then we, just like our computers need to be fuelled on a regular basis. Remember this isn’t just food and drink, it’s energy, and so anything that gives you and your brain an energetic boost is good.
PRINCIPLE 2: Take your breaks – give you and your brain some rest
I want you to think of your brain as a muscle. (It isn’t a muscle strictly speaking but go with me, it’s a useful metaphor). When you go down the gym, or you want to get fit, if you want your muscles to perform at their best it’s important to warm them up, warm them down and to take breaks between sessions. It’s just the same with your brain, give it time and space to ‘warm up’ and take regular breaks. When you take a break it clears capacity and enables you to come back more refreshed and work at a sustainably high performance level.
PRINCIPLE 3: Move your body, move your mind
When you get stuck on something or if you have something that you need to come up with a creative solution to, MOVE. When you move your body you move your mind, so use this as a conscious technique to get out of your ‘stuckness’ and into problem solving mode.
PRINCIPLE 4: Download and unwind at the end of your day
Because we are working later these days we are eating into what researchers say is a key part of every working day – The wind-down. This 1-1.5hour post work slot is a vital part of your day. Use it to download (write or record) anything that’s still buzzing around your head from the day and to consciously unwind and relax yourself. It will help you to get a better night’s sleep
PRINCIPLE 5: Get a good night’s sleep and let your brain recover
Sleep is our most important resource of all. Sleep is when our brain (and our body) regenerates, repairs, recovers and downloads. Follow the principles for a good night’s sleep in my previous linked in article: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sleep-your-most-vital-leadership-resource-all-part-2-jo-clarkson – and you’ll find that just by getting a good night’s sleep you will increase your brain capacity’s ability to deal with everything that a challenging day at work can throw at you.
PRINCIPLE 6: Be kind to your brain and your brain will be kind to you
Trust me when I say you want your brain to be your buddy not your enemy. Right now we are being unkind to our brains and as a result our brain is sometimes not there when we need it most! So don’t let your brain go on strike, treat it kindly. Look after it and it will most definitely look after you. The good news is that generally things that make YOU feel good make your BRAIN feel good, so do things that make you feel good and you’re half the way there.
So there you have it, 6 principles that should enable you to get the most from your brain and as a result, increase your capacity to lead. Don’t run on empty anymore, don’t run yourself down, now is the time to be kinder to yourself and to your brain
The result? You’ll be able to function and perform at your best, and when you’re at your best? There’s nothing you can’t achieve and nothing you can’t deal with.
At Meta we’ve been supporting leaders and their organisations for nearly 20 years. We’re passionate about what we do and we’re passionate about finding the research that enables the busy executive and the busy workplace to become a more effective one. We think that with some simple shifts in working practices, some simple principles of smarter working, every leader and every workplace can excel.
We hope that you found the blog useful and if you’d like to find out more about what we can do for you and your organisation, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re always happy to talk about the principles of smarter working and we’re always happy to support enlightened leaders like you, because that’s what we’re in business for – We do what we do because we’re on a mission to change the world.
Happy capacity building everyone!