After hosting a wonderful workshop on Ben Free recently, we put productivity expert Phil Dobson in the hot seat to answer 5 quick questions on how he’s been managing lockdown life.
Former musician Phil, is the founder of BrainWorkshops and author of The Brain Book. Phil now works with businesses all over the globe helping leaders apply what we know about the brain to improve their performance at work. He works with clients such as The Financial Times, Warner Music, The BBC, Viacom International, Jamie Oliver, Channel 4, The Academy of Chief Executives and Facebook.
In 2016, Phil wrote the best seller, ‘The Brain Book – How to Think and Work Smarter’. He is a regular guest on BBC radio and contributes to publications on the application of neuroscience in the modern workplace.
In a year that’s been tumultuous to say the least, Phil has kindly shared his top tips looking back on 2020, his favourite productivity apps and also a new perspective on goal-setting for 2021.
As we’re now back in lockdown, many are facing a different kind of pressure than they did the first time around especially as it’s winter. What’s your number one tip for staying productive during the second wave?
Learn how to create and sustain deep focus. Whether navigating a pandemic or not, your productivity depends on your ability to focus. In the productivity workshops I've been running for my clients over the last eight months, one of the most common challenges people have shared is their inability to focus. As many of us are working remotely, our distractions may have changed, but our need to manage them remains the same. My recommendations here would include turning all your notifications off (desktop and mobile), checking email and other digital comms less frequently, using your phone less (and charging it out of the bedroom), having regular breaks when you work, giving your brain adequate downtime and practising meditation and mindfulness (known to strengthen your attention).
Now that we have to stay at home, how do you stay creative and inspired?
Personally, I write and produce music. It’s been a big part of my life for years, but this year I've been particularly grateful to be able to get lost in music creation. To help others stay creative and inspired during lockdown I would encourage people to try new things. It is often observed that highly creative people tend to cultivate interests in lots of different things – crossing domains and broadening their creative palette. I’ve just started filming to make a video for one of my music projects. Creative projects like these provide valuable absorption away from more traditional work, and learning new things is good for your brain as it helps promote neuroplasticity.
What is your number one tip for staying resilient in stressful, high pressure situations?
I've worked with doctors, pilots and CEOs helping them build their resilience, and this year I’ve had my own resilience tested like never before. Developing and maintaining your resilience depends on many factors: everything from adequate sleep, emotional regulation, psychological recovery, cognitive mastery... My number one tip for ‘in the moment’ high pressure would be to regulate your physiology. This can be done through managing your breath or using relaxation techniques. If you get good at shifting state in this way (from sympathetic to para-sympathetic dominance) this helps you maintain a sense of control, regulate your emotions and think more clearly under pressure.
My number one tip for surviving more sustained pressure is to ensure you have adequate psychological recovery. When you're going through prolonged stress it's important to prioritise and calendarise the things you love doing. It might be connecting with your friends, listening to music, getting out into nature…Whatever it is for you, when you’re navigating challenging times, these activities become more important than ever. They help you respond better to stress and increase your emotional resourcefulness, and this allows you to sustain your performance over time.
Do you use any productivity apps to help stay focussed? Are there any that you would recommend?
I use CalenGoo as my Google calendar app - it’s the best calendar app I’ve seen. I use Evernote to capture ideas, articles and any written notes - the web browser ‘clipper’ is particularly useful. I use Trello to collaborate with my brilliant assistant. All these apps help me stay focused on the right things - but it’s turning them off that actually allows me to get any work done(!)
The new year is approaching, many will be thinking about new goals, do you have any new year’s resolutions? Or tips for sticking to them?
I'm a fan of goals, but resolutions, not so much. New year’s resolutions have an abysmally low success rate because people tend to go about them the wrong way.
My tips for successful goal setting include: Think less about the goal and more about the process that's necessary to achieve it. If you turn goals into steps they become far more actionable. If you turn goals into habits they become almost inevitable. When forming habits start with the tiniest steps possible. Don't overcommit. Instead, establish routines that you’ll stick with. Also consider why your goal is important to you and how you’ll feel, and how you’ll celebrate, when you achieve it. This will help build motivation through increased emotional engagement. And finally, share your goals with people who can help - either through increased accountability, or more practical support.