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Productivity is less about time management than it is about mind management. Knowing when is the best time to use different parts of your brain can help you use those parts to their fullest potential. The better you understand how a tool works, the more effectively you can use it. There’s no more powerful tool in your brain than your prefrontal cortex.
Your prefrontal cortex is a thin area across the front of your brain that is responsible for executive thinking. You use your prefrontal cortex to prioritize, to suppress urges, and to plan stuff. This is the type of thinking that really sets humans apart from other animals.
But, your prefrontal cortex is very energy hungry. It fatigues quickly. When your prefrontal cortex gets tired, your executive functioning suffers, and other parts of your brain take over.
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Now, meet what is pretty much the exact opposite of your prefrontal cortex. Your amygdala. Your amygdala is referred to by some as “the lizard brain,” because even lizards have a brain that is very similar to your amygdala – and that’s pretty much all that they have.
Your amygdala is responsible for your “fight or flight” response, and it’s really at odds with your prefrontal cortex, especially because your amygdala can elicit a response in your sympathetic nervous system before the rest of your brain is even aware of what is going on. This means when you see a bear, your amygdala tells your heart to start pounding before you can even consciously think “bear!” (This is why you run when you see a bear, despite knowing it’s a bad idea.)
Love your prefrontal cortex. Fight your amygdala.
When it comes to being successful in business, your prefrontal cortex is really your friend. Your amygdala is your enemy.
- Your amygdala will run around trying to “put out fires.” Your prefrontal cortex will think about how to prevent the fires in the future.
- Your amygdala will lash out at a colleague for making a mistake. Your prefrontal cortex will try to improve the process that caused the mistake.
- Your amygdala will spend the whole day combing through “vanity metrics.” Your prefrontal cortex will concentrate on the metrics that matter.
- Your amygdala will focus on the .1% conversion rate change caused by changing the color of a button. Your prefrontal cortex will dream up a product offering that will increase conversions 10x.
You have to be darn good to your prefrontal cortex.
Use your prefrontal cortex when it’s at its best
Because your prefrontal cortex is so powerful – can do such valuable thinking for you – yet so energy hungry, you have to really use your prefrontal cortex when it is strongest. This is why I’ve instated Prefrontal Mondays – and I think you should too.
On Prefrontal Mondays, I do executive-type thinking. I turn off social media. Heck, I get off of my computer entirely. I put a whiteboard on the floor, and I review – using only a marker and my prefrontal cortex – what’s going on in my business. What’s working? What’s not working? What should I do next? What should I stop doing? What is it, really (at the highest, most abstract level possible) that I’m really trying to accomplish, anyway?
Executive thinking: How Steve Jobs did it
It’s said that the prefrontal cortex is in charge of “executive thinking.” Really think about that word: “executive.”
In business, executives are in charge of the very thinking that I just talked about: providing the company’s vision, thinking about the future, scaling up, scaling back, and even cutting certain efforts, all for the health of the business.
You don’t have to do Prefrontal Monday by yourself. You can work with other people’s prefrontal cortexes. Steve Jobs probably didn’t call it “Prefrontal Monday,” but that’s exactly what he was doing with his Monday morning executive team meetings (from the Isaacson biography):
the key venue for freewheeling discourse was the Monday morning executive team gathering, which started at 9 and went for three or four hours. The focus was always on the future: What should each product do next? What new things should be developed? Jobs used the meeting to enforce a sense of shared mission at Apple. This served to centralize control, which made the company seem as tightly integrated as a good Apple product, and prevented the struggles between divisions that plagued decentralized companies.
Just as your prefrontal cortex serves as a sort of “mission control” for the various parts of your brain, so too did Jobs’s executive meetings “centralize control” for everything Apple was doing.
Why make “The Mondays” Prefrontal Mondays?
Why do all of this prefrontal cortex thinking on Mondays? If you’re living right, Monday should be the day that your prefrontal cortex is well-rested. You’ve spent time with family and friends, caught up on sleep, and haven’t thought about work.
On Monday morning, your mind should be about as disconnected from the little details of work as it will be any other part of the work week. So, you’re well-prepared to review the 30,000-foot view of what you’re working on.
The added benefit is that the thinking you do in a Prefrontal Monday session can inform the work you do throughout the rest of the week. If you’re one of the poor suckers that hates Mondays – and doing this doesn’t make them better for you – you should make some changes in your life.
Or, maybe there’s some other day or time that just works better for you. You get the idea. Make it “Prefrontal Saturday” if you wish. I’ll be at the farmer’s market.
Well, it’s Monday morning right now. Close your damn laptop, grab a pen and paper, and use your prefrontal cortex! Let me know how it goes (later).
P.S. I’m teaming up with some all-stars to make something that will help you manage your mind. Stay tuned. You’ll learn about it in early 2014.