By Karen Marley.

Think back to the last time you felt stuck on a project. What did you do? Stare at your computer screen? Drafting board? Notepad? Telephone? No matter how hard you willed your brain to think, your idea tank was empty. To add insult to injury, as you sat the clock kept ticking, reminding you the deadline was approaching.

Not a fun memory, is it? Here’s the good news: mental blocks are not a result of a wilted creativity but rather a function of how your brain is performing at that time.

The best news: you have complete control over the actions that will keep your brain and productivity functioning at an optimum level.

What to do: Move it! Unless your project is due, like NOW, the best thing you can do to guarantee your best effort is to leave it and go for a walk. Even a fifteen minute active stroll is sufficient.

Why: Studies show exercise improves cognitive functions. Dr. John Medina is a developmental molecular biologist and author of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. According to Medina:

  • Exercise increases oxygen flow into the brain, which reduces brain-bound free radicals. One of the most interesting findings of the past few decades is that an increase in oxygen is always accompanied by an uptick in mental sharpness.
  • Exercise acts directly on the molecular machinery of the brain itself. It increases neurons’ creation, survival, and resistance to damage and stress.

Another bonus, it’s amazing how warm a cold office can feel after a walk in the snow!

What to do: Have a glass of water. Even if you’re hungry.

Why: One of the first symptoms of dehydration is mental confusion and sleepiness. Plus, Americans often confuse thirst with hunger which only contributes to most of us not drinking enough water to keep our brains functioning in top form.

What to do: Stop multitasking!

Why: Multitasking decreases your productivity. True! Gregory Kellett, cognitive neuroscience researcher and author of the Lumosity brain blog explains, “Every time you switch to a different activity, you must give up a moment to shift your attention to the new task at hand. Overall, doing more than one thing slows you down.”

In other words, you lose time switching from one task to another and the amount of time increases with the complexity of the action. Studies show multitaskers lose up to 20-40 percent of their productivity.

So, take a walk, drink some water (not soda), and focus on one task at a time. Pretty simple. The hard part is remembering to actually do them when the moment calls.

That means I have to improve my memory! I think I’ll go get a glass of water.

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Karen Marley is a freelance business writer who helps businesses increase their visibility, position them as content experts, and connect with people. She can be reached at

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