Find ease in times of crazy busy with brain-friendly habits

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Editor's Note: On March 5, 2015, Eileen Chadnick discussed this topic in more detail in a free webinar, including tips and strategies to help you manage feelings of overwhelm, at a free webinar. Watch the recording today!

Get to office for early morning meeting. Check the fifty-four emails that came in overnight. Book flight for conference trip. Finish grant proposal. Complete performance review notes. Prepare for board meeting. Pick up dry cleaning. Make vet appointment for Fluffy. Schedule car tune-up…..!@#@!

Ever feel like life is a blur?

Do you find yourself asking, “Where did the day go? Where did the week/month and year go? How the heck will I get all this done?"

Welcome to times of crazy busy. We live in times of unprecedented busyness with demands and the pace of work and life at an all-time high. It used to be that we would have seasons that were busier than ever but now it seems every day is the season of rush.

Stress and overwhelm in sustained times of crazy busy can hit everyone – from entry level staff, to mid-management and even executive leadership. And the costs are high: lost productivity, diminishing engagement, and less-than-optimal thinking ability.

Recognizing that the pace of work and life won’t likely slow down, we need to embrace better habits to keep ourselves hearty, productive, resourceful and inspired.

Many of the habits I lay out in my book, Ease, appear embarrassingly simple, yet they all have some profound, neuroscience-backed truths to them. Our brains and minds are powerful forces and most of us would do better by understanding more of how our brains (and minds) operate and what they need for ensuring our best ‘brain-ability’ and overall well-being. In essence, a little neuroscience savvy can go a long way in helping us choose brain-friendly habits as we tackle the loads of work and life.

Here are just a few of many ideas...

Five brain-friendly habits to work and live with more ease

1. Organize and make a plan. It sounds like common sense but from a neuro-savvy point of view, our brains just love it when we get organized and have a plan. The ‘higher thinking brain’ – known as the prefrontal cortex (PFC) – is responsible for decision making, critical thinking, judgment and discernment. Unfortunately, when under too much stress, the PFC gears down. When we aren’t coping well with our daily loads, we unwittingly send a threat signal to the brain putting us into stress mode and this compromises our ‘brain-ability’.

Simple acts of getting organized can make a big difference. Even a few minutes in the midst of feeling the stress of ‘too much to do’ can bring a dose of calm to your day and open up the mind to better thinking.

It could be as simple as taking a bit of time to sort out your thoughts and tasks; prioritizing (and re-prioritizing continually as your days shift); cleaning up your workspace; or even making a plan for how and when you will tackle a particular task. Your brain will thank you for this as you relieve the feeling of chaos and start to feel a little more in control. This is not just an emotional or mental reward, you will also be rewarded physiologically as these light cognitive activities can help prompt a release of GABA, the hormone that brings calm. Think of it like a spritz of Pepto for the brain.

2. Write it down. The ‘to do’ list seems like a banal strategy but there’s some neuroscience beyond its value. Our PFC is best for critical thinking activity and should not be confused with a storage bin for all our to-do’s. Far too often we bog down our minds by trying to remember it all – or worse, worrying about it all – which is a first class ticket to “mind FULL” distraction, and overwhelm.

Instead, be more mindful and develop and refine your habits of writing things down (typing works too!). The idea is to have a system that keeps things ‘out of your head but keeps them top of mind’. Not only will you be more organized but your ability to be more present, mindful and think better will be enhanced – helping you navigate your day with more success and ease.

3. Focus: Candy for the brain. Our PFC brains love it when we focus. But most of us are addicted to our multi-tasking habit. Our brains don’t actually multitask – what they do is switch and toggle from task to task. This drains your brain and energy. Instead, ditch some of the gratuitous juggling and try to bring a bit more focus time into your day (even 20 minutes will do) without interruptions, and notice how your thinking, productivity and energy will improve. Read an excerpt from Ease on how to tame the multitasking beast.

4. Positivity: Good for your brain. When it comes to good thinking, mood matters! Whereas negativity (stress, worry, frustration) limits and narrows your brain, positivity broadens and expands your thinking capacity. Our brains, however, do have a bias to hold on to the negative so we need to work a bit more intentionally to bring more positivity into our focus.

Far too often, we think our circumstances dictate whether or not we can be positive and happy. We delay gratification until we get through this meeting and that task. But science has proven that those who practise authentic positivity regularly can handle the stressful loads better because positivity builds resilience, more resourcefulness and ultimately creates more potential for success in work and life.

The good news is you can do this in micro moments. There’s a big menu of positive emotions to tap into including: gratitude, pride, joy, interest, hope, laughter, inspiration, and so much more.

Small acts with even just micro moments of positivity do pay off. So count your blessings regularly; thank others more often; celebrate the wins of the day – large and small; focus on what’s right and good vs. what’s not yet perfect; share a laugh. Compound the effects by connecting positively with others. Both negativity and positivity are contagious. Which will you choose?

5. Bring this to work! As you dive back into your crazy busy work-life, explore where you can apply or adapt any of these ideas for yourself and for those who you work with. If you manage others watch out for the stressed employee who might just need a bit of coaching from you to help them shore up his/her organizing skills. Invite others to reframe negative perceptions to more positive ideas where appropriate. Consider small, yet powerful ways to infuse more positivity into your work interactions and meetings. There are countless ways to do this and they don’t cost time or even money.

We’ll explore these and other ideas in an upcoming webinar on March 5th. I look forward to seeing you there!

Eileen Chadnick, PCC, ACPC, ABC, Principal of Big Cheese Coaching, is a certified, executive, leadership and work-life coach and author of Ease: Manage Overwhelm in Times of “Crazy Busy”. She is also a contributing career columnist with the Globe and Mail. See more at and

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Photos (from top) via iStockphoto. All photos used with permission.


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