A neuroscientist explains how being aware of your emotions can make you super-productive

Like many people, I typically use the first few minutes of the workday to scan my calendar for any mandatory meetings and urgent project deadlines.

Lately though, I’ve added another minute or so to my morning routine, specifically to think about how each of these events will make me feel.

It might sound superfluous or self-indulgent, the kind of stuff that’s best relegated to the confines of meditation studios or therapists’ offices. But according to neuroscientist Josh Davis, Ph.D., author of “Two Awesome Hours,” this emotional awareness and preparation can make all the difference between a super-productive workday and a wasted one.

That’s because emotions have a huge impact on what Davis calls our “mental energy.” Emotions, Davis says, can make it easier or harder to complete specific tasks. For example, enthusiasm might make it simple to write a project report; lethargy might make it more difficult.

Fortunately, there are two easy ways to manage your emotional fluctuations so that they don’t interfere with your workflow:

1. Anticipate your feelings based on past experience.

“After a little practice it’s easy to recognise patterns [in your emotions],” Davis says. “There are reliable triggers.”

For instance, I’ve learned that if I’ve got an assignment due at noon, I’ll likely be anxious starting at 10 a.m., as I’m rushing to complete it. On the other hand, if there’s a team brainstorm meeting scheduled for 2 p.m., I’ll probably feel energised for the rest of the afternoon.

Once you become aware of how your emotions will change throughout the day, you can plan your work accordingly. When you know you’ll be anxious or tired, for example, you might check emails because that activity doesn’t require a lot of focus. And during periods when your energy will be high, you can work on a project that requires attention or creativity.

“Recognising those times of the day can be a real benefit — capturing that moment when we have the right mental energy,” Davis says.

It sounds simple enough, but the problem is that sometimes you don’t have the flexibility to decide when you perform specific tasks. Maybe the client needs an answer to her email ASAP or your manager has suddenly decided that he wants to see a copy of your project report by the end of the day.

That’s where the second strategy comes in.

2. Deliberately alter your emotional state.

To start, Davis recommends asking yourself two questions: “How do I feel right now?” and “How would I like to feel right now?”

Say the answers are “tired” and “energised” and you’ve got 10 minutes before a meeting. Silly as it sounds, you could take those 10 minutes to walk up and down the stairs to increase your energy levels or even just think about something positive, like an upcoming vacation.

Again, it’s a question of practice and understanding what actually works to put you in a certain emotional zone — even if just temporarily.

Once you develop that emotional awareness, you can use it to make the most of every day, both at work and outside it.

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