Updated: Jan 16, 2022
Take Away: Prioritise your daily tasks using the Three Degrees of Difficulty.
How often do we say that it is the most obvious things that we neglect that have the biggest impact on how we perform at work? You would think that structuring your day so that you tackle the most complex tasks during your peak performance hours is standard practice. However, in a world increasingly full of distractions, this may not always be the case. Understanding how to prime your brain for peak performance is essential for successful performance at work.
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the region of the brain that is responsible for all of your problem solving, planning, decision making and impulse control. It controls your working memory and has a central role to play in high level thinking and peak performance. The PFC is energy intensive and its resources are limited - it can get overwhelmed and distracted easily which will undermine your cognitive performance at work.
It stands to reason then that we should come to understand how best to work with our PFC so we optimise our performance at work. Ensuring we tend to the most important tasks when our PFC is at it optimal state is important. During what part of the day do you work best and what are you normally doing during this peak performance window? Do you waste your most-effective thinking time on lower cognitive tasks that could still be done when you are not at your peak?
The Three Degrees of Difficulty
The Neuroleadership Institute has a useful framework called the Three Degrees of Difficulty that can help you structure your day so that you work at the most important tasks when you are in your peak performance window. Humans by default want to conserve energy and avoid threat states - therefore we are programmed to gravitate to the easiest tasks (or Level One tasks) as they are cognitively less taxing, provide less opportunity for failure and provide instant gratification (another tick on the to-do-list). Resist this urge to ´get busy´ with the less important tasks and save your precious thinking time for the Level Two and Three tasks.
Level One - doesn’t require much thinking or effort and use of the PFC is minimal. Example: deleting an email
Level Two - requires a little more thinking and effort.
Example: scheduling a meeting
Level Three - requires a lot more thinking and effort and uses a lot of glucose. Example: writing a blog post about Peak Performance!
Nowadays, it is very easy to get distracted, when we are distracted we lose sight of our priorities. Many of my clients often use coaching sessions for reflection and learning. They also use coaching as a calibration tool to re-set so they can get clarity on where and how to direct their effort so that it will yield the greatest returns for them.