Brain fitness: 7 Ways to work smarter

Feb 2, 2012 at 2:47 p.m. ET

Brain fitness is a hot topic at work. Our jobs require sharp intellectual performance for everything from recalling important clients or product information to learning training materials to just keeping track of key documents.

Woman concentrating on computer

This is especially true for project managers, who often say that one of the most difficult parts of their job is remembering all those project details, deadlines and dates. No wonder project managers, as well as corporate leaders and entrepreneurs, have taken notice of this current health trend.

Build better brain health

Although the science of brain health remains young, the research clearly indicates that there is much we can do to improve how well we multitask and remember details such as names. Building better brain health can help us boost these skills and also lower our risk of serious memory loss. The findings can be surprising, as they often suggest activities that we don't usually associate with brain fitness, such as staying socially active or getting regular exercise.

Prime your mind right at your work desk

Many of us want to improve our brain health, but aren't sure what exactly we need to do, or simply can't imagine putting one more "must-do" item on our list. Improving your brain fitness doesn't have to be complex, expensive or even time-consuming. The best approach to improving our brain health is one that reflects the current science and blueprints a plan that is practical and actionable. In fact, there are plenty of things we can do to prime our mind while sitting right at our desks.

7 Ways to train your brain in minutes

Here are 7 brain-smart things you can start doing right now to boost your brain power at work. You can do them in five minutes, or spend more time on them over the course of the day if your schedule allows. All are geared to boost your management skills and give your brain an awesome on-the-job workout.


Just doodle

Do you doodle? Many of us (including folks such as Bill Gates, President Bill Clinton and others) do. But did you know that doodling is good for your brain health? Recent research suggests that doodling helps us maintain focus and remember more effectively. A recent study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology found that subjects assigned a doodling task performed 29 percent better than their non-doodling counterparts on a surprise memory test covering the material they were learning. Doodling improves attention, making it more likely that you will acquire things that you later want to recall. So when you are in a meeting or on a conference call, go ahead and doodle -- no need to apologize!


Learn how to
remember a name

Name tagHere's a smart tip we can all really use: Spend five minutes learning some simple memory strategies to boost your memory for names. For example, try repeating information as you hear it. This easy technique will force you to focus on what you are learning and give you the chance to rehearse it, increasing the odds that you'll remember it. Or use my Connections Technique and make a connection between what you are learning and something that you already know. For example, if you are meeting a woman named Florence? Connect her name to a famous Florence, such as Florence Nightingale, or to the city of Florence in Italy.


Wear your watch
upside down

watchGive your brain a little stretch each time you check your watch by wearing your watch upside down. This subtle change doesn't take much effort, but will force your brain to think out of your comfort zone in making sense of time gone a bit topsy-turvy. These kinds of "neurobic" activities may seem simple and fun, but they are also a terrific way to challenge your brain's flexibility and routine.


Keep up with your
social network

Studies have shown that folks who are more social have an associated reduced risk for memory loss. In one recent study, Harvard researchers found that persons with lower levels of social interaction were much more likely to show memory problems after six years than their more social peers. Remember, no man -- or woman -- is an island. Reach out from behind that desk and connect with your family and friends for five minutes. It's good for your soul and good for your brain.


Jump some jacks

Here's a tip that's pretty basic, but packed with brain-boosting power. Aerobic exercise is one of the best things we can do for our brains, as it revs up our daily performance and reduces our long-term dementia risk. Jumping jacks are a simple calisthenic exercise you can do in a small space that will quickly get your blood pumping. So go ahead! Stand up at your desk and do jumping jacks or any activity that gets your heart rate up for five minutes.


Play games online

Angry BirdsResearch has shown that we can better maintain intellectual skills critical to our work performance by giving them a good "workout." One of the best ways to keep these skills sharp is to play games against the clock, since timed activities force us to focus, think fast and be nimble in our approach. Games we play online tend to be timed and can give our brains a terrific skills challenge. So take five minutes during lunch or as your schedule permits to get your brain in the game.

For more helpful brain-boosting tips, check out 30 Days to Total Brain Health.


Rearrange your desk

Pencil cupClear some clutter from your life. Folks who are organized remember better. Why? Because they have mastered one of the secrets to better memory -- getting organized. Spend five minutes organizing your desk, getting rid of what is non-essential. Keep in view papers that require immediate attention, filing away what you can. Look at how your desk is organized and see if you can think of a better way to neatly put it all together.