The exceptional 10% who outperform everyone else exist in every business, in every company, on any team, in any room. They have been the focus of hundreds of studies over the last ten year in order to essentially answer one question:
What do they do doing differently to outperform everyone else?
One thing become immediately clear, exceptional has a pattern.
The exceptional 10% were doing things in a certain way which made them highly productive. But this list of activities does not include all those things we’ve been conditioned to be believe yield high productivity – such as working long hours, doing overtime, working weekends – you know, generally becoming the work slave that many of us are in pursuit of being the best. Of delivering and even overdelivering on what often feels like unreal expectations.
In the digital age productivity means problem solving, and problem solving is powered by creativity. This exceptional 10% were found to not only be highly productive, but highly creative, one of the reasons for this was because they were unconsciously working both sides of their brain.
They’re also less stressed than everyone else, they don’t from stress related back pain or insomnia or anxiety or any of the other problems associated with the hard-working but underperforming 90%.
However, the exceptional 10% should not be confused with the exceptional 1% who are another breath entirely, they are often gifted in ways that aren’t attainable or replicable, however, the way the exceptional 10% work and approach life is totally replicable.
All the data from these research studies was broken down to find commonalities among the exceptional 10% irrespective of gender or race or occupation. The pattern that was identified can be summarised with the acronym B.R.A.I.N. R.E.S.T ™. It seemed appropriate since brain rest was key their success, but only one of the 9 element of the framework it was perhaps the most important
At the most basic level brain rest simply means taking regular breaks from work. In fact on average the exceptional 10% never worked for longer than 52 minutes without a break.
When you’re really in the flow of a project and you feel productive, it’s obviously not the time to take a break. But science tells us this doesn’t last for more than an hour. In fact if you push yourself just a bit beyond that cut off time and you will begin to be less productive, unfocused or even irritable.
Basically, the human brain just wasn’t built for the extended focus during an 8 or 12 hour day. Our brains are vigilant all the time because they evolved to detect tons of different changes to ensure our very survival. So focusing so hard on one thing for a long time isn’t something we’re ever going to be great at (at least for a few centuries of evolutions).
The good news is that the fix for this unfocused condition is simple—all we need to take an effective break for 15-17 minutes.
University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras explains:
“…Deactivating and reactivating your goals allows you to stay focused,” he said. “From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!”
Our brains have two modes: the “focused mode,” which we use when we’re doing trying to master a new task like driving or doing deep work, and “diffuse mode,” which is when we allow our minds to wander and we day-dream, for example, when you’ve an experienced driver making your daily trip to work.
You might think that the focused mode is the one associated with high productivity and the exceptional 10%, but in fact the diffuse mode plays hugely significant role.
Studies have shown that brain activity increases when we day-dream. In fact our brains solves its most difficult problems while daydreaming—something you may have experienced while driving or taking a shower. Breakthroughs that seem to come out of nowhere are often the product of diffuse mode thinking.
That’s because the relaxation associated with daydream mode “can allow the brain to hook up and return valuable insights,” engineering professor Barbara Oskley explains:
“When you’re focusing, you’re actually blocking your access to the diffuse mode. And the diffuse mode, it turns out, is what you often need to be able to solve a very difficult, new problem.”
The Harvard Business Review examines another prime benefit of breaks: they allow us to get out of the weeds and refocus on the path ahead and how best to navigate it.
When you work relentlessly on a piece of work you will lose focus and become less productive.
In contrast, taking a quick break will re-boost your brain power allow you to refocus.
Three effective breaks you can take:
-A 15 minute walk outdoors without your mobile phone!
Even walking briskly to your car and then listening to uplifting, high frequency music for ten minutes with your eyes closed while you recline back in your car seat is an incredibly effective break (as long as you’re not scrolling through your phone at the same time).
Effective Breaks are only one element of the B.R.A.I.N. R.E.S.T™ framework. For more information visit www.brainrest.com so you too can join the exceptional 10% who outperform everyone else.
Trina Rea is a Fulbright TechImpact Scholar, third level lecturer, and Founder of the online course Mum to Mogul with B.R.A.I.N. R.E.S.T ™ She also works with Corporate Clients and individuals teaching them how to apply B.R.A.I.N. R.E.S.T ™ in a corporate setting.