Book Review: Your Brain at Work by David Rock

by Ayla Lewis

book 14Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long is highly recommended.

“In this book you’ll get to know your brain in a way that brains like: by reading a story.” Author and leadership coach, David Rock, wrote the book like a play, going scene-by-scene as the two main characters, Emily and Paul, experience many of the same challenges we all face at work.

The stage of this play is your attention, and the purpose of the book is to teach you about your own brain so that you can get better work from it. From The Morning Email Overwhelm in Scene 1, to The Culture that Needs to Transform in Scene 14, David provides examples, strategies and research focused on the brain and ways to maximize its abilities and results.

Each of the four acts has two to six scenes, and each scene is broken down twice. In the first enactment of each scene, Emily and Paul are acting (or rather, reacting) without any knowledge of their brains or strategies to soothe stress and boost happiness and productivity. In the reenactment of each scene, Emily and Paul respond, rather than react, after they have learned about the brain and how it works best. The result of this increased awareness and control is that Paul and Emily experience more happiness and more successes both at work and at home. The ‘play’ also includes an intermission, where David focuses the reader on developing self-awareness through mindfulness practices.

Each scene wraps with a summary of “Surprises About the Brain” and “Things to Try”, with the whole book totaling over 160 of these tips and facts.  I’ve listed just one from each scene in Act 1 to start the process of getting the most out of Your Brain at Work:

  • Scene 1: The Morning Email Overload
    • Surprise about the brain: Conscious thinking involves billions of neurons in the brain and the most important mental processes, like prioritizing, often take up the most effort.
    • One thing to try: Prioritize prioritization, meaning prioritize first because it is an energy-intensive activity for the brain.
  • Scene 2: A Project that Hurts to Think About 
    • Surprise about the brain: The less you hold in you mind at once, the better.
    • One thing to try:  When you have too much information, group information into chunks.
  • Scene 3: Juggling Five Things at Once –
    • Surprise about the brain:  You can make more mistakes when you are switching between tasks frequently.
    • One thing to try:  Catch yourself trying to do two things at once and slow down instead.
  • Scene 4: Saying No to Distractions 
    • Surprise about the brain:  When we get distracted it’s often a result of thinking about ourselves, which activates the default network of the brain.
    • One thing to try:  Reduce the likelihood of these internal distractions by clearing your mind before embarking on difficult tasks.
  • Scene 5: Searching for the Zone of Peak Performance –
    • Surprise about the brain:  Peak mental performance requires just the right level of stress, not minimal stress.
    • One thing to try:  Practice being aware of your levels of alertness and interest throughout the day.
  • Scene 6: Getting Past a Roadblock –
    • Surprise about the brain: Insights occur more frequently the more relaxed and happy you are.
    • One thing to try: Take a break to do something light and interesting, to see if an answer emerges.

A great takeaway from Your Brain at Work is the SCARF Model. In the SCARF Model David summarizes that to better influence and engage others, you can maximize their reward state while being sure not to threaten their Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, or Fairness.

Happy Brain Science highly recommends Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long to everyone, especially those seeking growth and change at work. It is power-packed with insights, strategies, and research for doing better work with yourself, with colleagues and with clients and customers.