NEW @ THCB PRESS: Surviving Workplace Wellness. Spring 2014. Al Lewis and Vik Khanna. e-book edition. # INNOVATION: PCORI APP Challenge

How do you sharpen your thinking?

I’ve written already about how you can use auto-analytics to measure and improve the tasks you take on every day at work, but there’s another class of auto-analytics that help you improve at a more fundamental level. These tools strengthen the underlying brain and behavioral structures that support smarter thinking, decisions, and routines in any professional field.

Here are four new tools that I’ve spotted in my research. I use the term “DIY” because each option can be tested, and learning outcomes quantified, without the need for an outside instructor or expert.

Quantified Mind is a personal online cognitive testing platform based on psychometrics, the measurement of cognitive performance in areas like reaction time, executive function, and verbal learning. You take a battery of tests to see your current cognitive performance; then you introduce an intervention to understand whether it helps or hurts thinking. Interventions can include changes to daily routine or diet.

This kind of measurement is common in the research world, but Quantified Mind allows you to “test and quantify changes relative to yourself over time, rather than relative to a large research population,” says founder Yoni Donner.

Take-away: Use this to become smarter about which interventions (like drinking coffee or doing creative work in the morning rather than the afternoon) measurably improve your thinking, so you don’t waste time on those that don’t.

Brain training involves playing simple online (or mobile) games that build your memory, problem solving abilities, and other cognitive functions that are critical to professional work environments. Users practice during free time or off-hours, almost like a lunchtime jog for your neurons.

Brain training requires consistency and monitoring over time. Designed by neuroscientists, a brain training approach such as Lumosity builds on breakthrough concepts such as neuroplasticity and fluid intelligence.

Take-away: This provides a targeted way to improve a weakness that’s bothered you throughout your career, such as poor recall of facts in a meeting, or an inability to remember faces that would help improve your networking skills.

Neurofeedback tools require users to wear an EEG headband with small sensors that track brain waves. The devices wirelessly interact with PCs or smartphones to create real time analytics on how deeply you are focusing on a job task, such as writing a sales report or ad copy.

New neurofeedback products look a bit sci-fi and may not (yet) be a good fit for button-down workplaces; you’ll have fewer concerns about the geekiness factor if you work from home or at an office where everyone already wants a pair of Google glasses.

Take-away: Based on substantial neurological research, neurofeedback promises to make you more effective at learning how to control your own brain to minimize distraction or stay in a productive state of flow.

Nudgers are mobile apps or online tools that guide you toward your goals by pinging you with a reminder or questions such as, “When was the last time you worked on your goal?” or “It’s time to go outside and take a walk.” Building on insights from behavioral economics that people often don’t do what they say they want to do, nudgers can be a smarter way to keep you on task and accountable.

As I detail here, nudgers may require some up-front investment in tracking personal data to make the algorithms know when and how to ping you.

Take-away: A shrewd new way of staying on track toward executing a professional goal.

Football players work on their football skills, but they also lift weights to improve the core systems that their skills rely on. Think of these auto-analytics tools that way. You work on your business skills, but you need some time in the mental weight room, too.

H. James Wilson is senior researcher at Babson Executive Education. He is co-author of The New Entrepreneurial Leader: Developing Leaders Who Shape Social and Economic Opportunity (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2011). This post first appeared at HBR.

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