Daily Archives: May 3, 2010

Becoming a Super Worker: 4 Things That Can Boost Your Performance

As far as I know there is no radioactive spider, Krypton heritage, or magical power ring that can give a web worker the superpowers to meet rushed deadlines and keep going during long work hours. Unfortunate, I know, but there are certainly other things we can use to get our brain working during the tough days. Here are some of them:


Concentrating on completing a task or sticking to a schedule requires self-control, which can be taxing on your body’s energy supply. According to researchers from Florida State University [via Mind Hacks and Cognitive Daily], “Some patterns of poor self control are attributable to drops in glucose.” What does this mean for us? Well, if you find yourself checking Twitter and doing other Internet fiddling when you should be working, it may be due to having low blood sugar. We need to replenish it if we want to keep going. As the experiment revealed, even a glass of lemonade could help.

The researchers also point out that self-control is not the only brain function affected by glucose levels. They think it’s possible that the results they found from their experiments “…would generalize to other executive functioning or controlled processing. Evidence is accumulating that these other executive processes rely on the same energy source as self-control.”

So the next time you feel mentally depleted, consuming something containing real sugar — not artificial sweeteners — might help.


Apart from trimming your waistline, keeping your mood elevated and reducing the risk of certain diseases, exercise also improves cognitive ability. This paper by Henriette van Praag of the National Institutes of Health shows that exercise is one of the strongest stimuli for creating new neurons in your brain. Increasing evidence shows that this process, called neurogenesis, contributes to learning and memory. Plus, according to the research, ” […] an increase in neurogenesis is associated with improved cognition.”


Several studies show that meditation improves attention skills, as well as the regulation of one’s emotions. This means that by practicing meditation we can be more attentive to the main tasks we perform. We are also less likely to feel negative emotions such as anger, depression, anxiety and stress.

A newly-published study discussed in this article from Science Daily shows that you can reap these benefits after meditating for just 20 minutes a day for four days. As researcher Fadel Zeidan pints out, though, “This doesn’t mean that you meditate for four days and you’re done — you need to keep practicing.”


In a previous article I recommended adding plants to your home office for aesthetic reasons. But adding some plants in your office or even hanging nature photographs can also improve your memory. Researchers from the University of Michigan conducted an experiment asking participants to memorize a random string of numbers and repeat them backwards. Half of them were then sent to walk in a busy street, while the other half was sent to walk in an arboretum. Then, they were asked to repeat the test.

Those who walked in the arboretum had outperformed the others by 20 percent. According to the researchers the reason behind this is not just because nature is peaceful, but they also believe that “…this peacefulness is driven by natural environments capturing attention modestly and limiting directed attention—not to sheer quiescence alone.”

What do you do to improve or maintain your mental performance while working?

Photo by flickr user nestor_galina, licensed under CC.

Don’t Burn Bridges

A recently released Careerbuilder survey found 57% of surveyed workers who had found work again after being laid off had gone back to former employers. The lesson from this finding is that despite our feelings of distress at involuntary separation, not keeping our cool and or showing grace under pressure may be something we regret. It is unlikely that any of the 57% are those who took the opportunity to tell the boss ‘what I really think’ or tell the overdemanding customer what he could do with his 15th order change.

The desire to do those things is totally normal. But research shows that our actions don’t follow feelings. The two are a feedback loop to one another. Acting out our anger makes us more angry. By acting cool, we tend to find ourselves feeling less stressed about the situation.

We might think we’d never want to go back to an employer who treats us so badly. I have felt that way. What I found, after I was separated from them, was the negatives faded away and I remembered all the positives. It’s easy to gripe when the alternative is a mysterious ideal, and harder when it’s a less positive reality. Even if you do think you think you’ll never go back, stay cool. The people you know might move to a new company, and if you’re the person they remember as putting the chair through the conference room window, they’re unlikely to read your resume.

Have you gone back to a former employer after a layoff? What was that like?