Getting back into the work groove

If you made it back to work this week after the extended Songkran holidays, congratulations! You should really get a raise or at least a backrub from your too-touchy colleague. But managing to get your pants on in the morning and returning to the office after a vacation is only part of the battle; actually getting stuff done and being productive is why they keep paying you the little baht.

Luckily for us lazy folk, there are smarter people out there who have done research to find out what can help boost motivation and creativity. And no, none of these tips involve injecting caffeine directly into your cerebral cortex, or drugging your manager and putting him/her into compromising positions to take blackmail-worthy pictures. So crawl out from under your desk where you've been sleeping all week and try kick-starting your brain into action by...

Opening your eyes really wide

No, this isn't to give off the appearance that you're really awake and intensely concentrating on your task. The simple act of raising your eyebrows can apparently trigger all sorts of untapped connections in your brain, according to a 2003 study published in the Creativity Research Journal. In one experiment, two groups were given two minutes to come up with as many innovative uses for a pair of scissors as they could think of. One group was asked to wrinkle their corrugator muscle (fancy talk for "furrowing your eyebrows") while the other was asked to contract their frontalis muscle (fancy talk for "raising your eyebrows").

It was found that those who lifted their brows were able to come up with more creative responses (like using scissors for hair decoration; err, dangerous but novel, I suppose). The theory behind this is that raising your eyebrows increase perceptual attention, which in turn opens up your mental processes. On the other hand, squinting prevents the brain from abstract thinking, and potentially makes you look like a grumpy grandpa who doesn't understand why kids today wear super-tight pants.

Gesturing with both hands

While it would be great to sit on your ass and demand that your brain starts making itself useful, unfortunately threats don't work to boost productivity (unless it's your boss saying stuff like "I'm gonna fire you, you good-for-nothing imbecile!"). What supposedly does work is throwing your hands in the air and waving 'em like you just don't care - or in terms that don't sound like lyrics to a hip hop song, making small gestures with both hands to get the ol' noggin stimulated. In a 2012 Psychological Science article, researchers found that physical movement with both hands fosters innovative thinking because it can help your mind organise complex ideas.

This study suggests that when you're stuck on a problem, instead of sighing at your desk with one curled-up fist leaning against your forehead and the other presumably scratching a butt-itch (I don't know what you guys do!), you should combine hand motions to help you better visualise the task before you. No word if this trick is effective when you use both hands to smack your head when you're at a complete loss about getting work done.

Wearing a white coat

If you've been able to concentrate long enough to get to this part of the article, then you're probably wearing a white coat. Or I'm just really interesting and have kept you captivated the whole way through... aww, shucks! OK fine, it's probably the white coat. A concept termed "enclothed cognition", documented in a 2012 study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, looked at how certain clothes influence the wearer's mental processes. Researchers tested the effects of wearing white lab coats - usually associated with concentration and detail - and found those who wore them performed better on attention-related tasks.

Although the result seems simple - i.e. people can take on the symbolic meaning of certain clothes just by wearing them - it's interesting to observe how attire can influence your work mood. Not to say that putting on a painter's smock will automatically make you the next Picasso, or wearing a police uniform will give you the power to control traffic. But hey, Bangkok's ridiculously freezing offices require a jacket anyway, so why not make it a white lab coat and get your co-workers to start calling you Doctor Awesome. And if it doesn't suddenly make you the smartest person alive, at least it'll keep you warm when you snuggle back under your desk to continue your nap.G

About the author

columnist
Writer: Sumati Sivasiamphai
Position: Guru Editor