Brain Health: 15 Cognitive Activities to Help Improve Workplace Skills
It’s not only in one’s early childhood that cognitive activities are necessary to keep the brain healthy. Companies should support and encourage cognitive activities to improve critical everyday workplace skills.
Definition of Cognitive Abilities
According to the American Psychological Association, cognitive abilities are the skills involved in performing the tasks associated with perception, learning, memory, understanding, awareness, reasoning, judgment, intuition, and language.
Cognitive abilities help employees with such functions as acquiring job knowledge, interpreting data, remembering details, and focusing during meetings and project work. By improving cognitive abilities, employees can complete these functions quickly and efficiently. Work productivity increases, employees advance and remain engaged, and the company prospers.
What are Cognitive Activities?
Cognitive activities are mentally stimulating activities that will improve your cognitive skills, such as attention, focus, concentration, comprehension, perception, memory, reasoning, and processing speed.
15 Cognitive Activities to Help Improve Workplace Skills
“The muscle that needs the most exercise is your brain.” - Carmen Jacob, Personal Development Coach and Author
Cognitive activities will not only improve employees’ brain health and performance and help to combat dementia but will lead to both employee career and company success. Here are 15 cognitive activities to help employees improve their workplace skills.
#1: Protect Overall Health & Well-being
Long-term smoking, over consumption of alcohol, and poor diet affects not only overall health and well-being but cognitive performance. According to the National Library of Medicine, under the National Institute of Health, low overall well-being results in low productivity through several processes: a drain in energy, increased distractions while at work, negative emotions about work resulting in lack of effort, and an inability to attend work or perform well.
Companies can support healthy lifestyles by creating a culture that supports work-life balance. Another great way is to share healthy tips on an internal social network. Tips could include the benefits of eating blueberries, salmon, dark chocolate, leafy greens such as kale, and taking supplements like fish oil, vitamin D, folic acid, B6 and B12. Sharing how to increase energy levels and improve thinking and reasoning skills and memory shows employees their company cares about their health and well-being.
Interested in learning more? HSI offers the following trainings:
- Brain Food
- Health and Wellness
- You Are What You Eat
- Optimizing Work-Life Balance
#2: Increase Physical Activity
Aerobic exercise increases the heart rate, which increases blood flow to the brain and enlarges the hippocampus. The hippocampus is at the center of the brain’s memory and learning functions. An increase in volume can lead to better memory and a more robust learning capability. Physical activities boost executive function (higher-level thinking skills). These skills affect our inhibition control, task switching, attention span, and goal management. Specific skills like these are necessary for organizing, planning, and problem-solving strategies.
Exercise increases focus and mental processing speed, enhances cognitive flexibility, strengthens willpower, and sharpens short- and long-term memory. Employees who exercise show an increase in productivity and have a positive outlook.
Thirty minutes of regular exercise three or four days a week is all that’s needed to help build a healthy brain. Recommendations for a daily routine include biking to work, working out at lunch, taking walking breaks rather than coffee breaks, taking the stairs rather than the elevator, parking farther away from entrance or buying an under-desk treadmill to place under a standing desk. Don’t have access to these options? Try simple deskercises! Check out HSI’s deskercise video!
HSI also offers additional deskercises:
- Chest, Neck and Back
- Arms and Shoulders
- Legs and Backside, While Sitting
- Legs and Backside, While Standing
#3: Minimize Stress
According to the American Institute of Stress, chronic stress is commonplace, with 94% of workers reporting feeling stress at work. By reducing stress, working memory will increase and cognitive decline may be prevented. Workplace stress affects employees’ health and well-being, and ultimately the success of the employee and company.
Encourage employees to learn to say no to unrealistic asks, have open communication, transparency and manage time effectively. Employees will be more relaxed, supported, and be able to make better decisions when less stressed.
Want to learn more? HSI offers the following trainings:
- Time Management
- Stress Management
- The Art of Saying No
- Healthy Communication
- Developing Assertiveness
- Creating a Culture of Transparency
#4: Get Quality Sleep
Want a sharper memory? Want to make less mistakes at work? Want to boost learning? Get seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends putting away all electronics (yes, work laptop and cell phone) at least an hour or two before bedtime.
To learn more HSI offers the following trainings:
- The Science of Sleep
- How to Beat Insomnia
#5: Practice Mindfulness
Dr. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Harvard, suggests practicing mindfulness. It stimulates the prefrontal cortex helping us focus, make sound decisions, and analyze stressful situations.
Employees can practice mindfulness by meditating or doing breathing exercises. They may wish to enjoy leisure activities that soothe the mind such as gardening, knitting, and drawing. Practicing mindfulness is a simple way to improve brain health and reduce stress. Blue Ocean Brain, an HSI company, offers brain exercises that are easy to consume in the flow of work. These include mindful breathing exercises, as pictured here.
#6: Do Brain Teasers
Turn me on my side and I am everything. Cut me in half and I am nothing. What am I?
The number eight. On its side it looks like an infinity symbol; cut in half, it looks like two zeros.
Have a mental block? Time for a brain teaser! A quick teaser will boost productivity and creativity. Brain teasers help flex critical thinking skills. This in turn strengthens innovative thinking and problem-solving skills. Employees will ask themselves “am I missing any key details? Am I misled? Can I think about this a different way?”
Teasers are also a fun team-building exercise. They get everyone involved in trying to solve the challenge. Enjoy a teaser or two in a cross-departmental collaboration meeting. Employees will enjoy thinking on their feet to be the first to solve the teaser.
#7: Take a Break with Brain Exercises
Brain exercises are a great way to take mini breaks during the day to refresh and rejuvenate the brain. They also offer a fun way to take a quick 5-minute diversion from work. Blue Ocean Brain offers brain exercises included with their soft skills microlearning platform.
Color games such as the one below have cognitive stimulation properties and help improve spatial memory. This type of brain exercise also improves perception and information processing abilities.
#8: Play Games
Why not play a game? Board games, like chess, Clue, and Monopoly, increase cognitive executive functioning behavior. This facilitates meeting and setting goals, increases creativity, and improves memory. Here are some other games that boost workplace skills:
- Card games, like solitaire, nurture logical problem solving and memory retention.
- Card memory games test short-term memory and the ability to remember patterns.
- Jigsaw puzzles and even simple puzzles stimulate the brain and improve perception, mental rotation, working memory, and reasoning.
- Video games improve attention span, problem solving skills, math skills, and cognitive flexibility.
- Sports require a range of important cognitive skills such as sustained attention, planning, and multitasking. According to research at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, playing video games can help employees adapt better to changes.
These different activities help employees make faster decisions, boost memory, decrease stress, improve communication, and increase productivity. Why not set up a game table at the office? Perhaps one of the best ways to spend a lunch break!
Most of us want to be well informed or entertained. Regular reading provides this and more:
- Exercises the brain and increases intelligence
- Sparks imagination, leading to creative problem solving
- Builds perseverance allowing employees to commit to long-term projects
- Inspires creativity and broadens the mind to think on a deeper level, leading to innovative thinking
- Broadens knowledge by gaining perspectives and insights on different cultures, lifestyles, relationships, etc.
- Fosters empathy, which helps employees connect and communicate as they understand others’ feelings and perspectives
- Reduces stress by 68% after just 6 minutes of reading, according to University of Sussex research, which in turn helps combat employee burnout
- Expands vocabularies and language skills, helping with written and verbal communication skills, allowing employees to speak more professionally, confidently, and easily
Why not start a company book club? Or share a top picks book list for employees to develop skills useful in their career and industry? Offer a gift card to the first employee who posts a summary of one of the books on the company social networking site.
#10: Practice Visualization
Ever visualize a goal and it materialized? Try visualizing a successful sales call or a presentation to the team. What does it look like? By creating vivid, highly detailed images and sensations, practicing visualization provides a mental rehearsal. The intel surrounding the task at hand becomes organized. And employees can then make appropriate decisions based upon those bits of organized details.
Research shows visualization impacts cognitive processes in the brain, such as enhancing motivation, increasing confidence, improving motor function, reducing anxiety, and building psychological readiness.
Visualization improves work performance. And optimizes success as steps for a successful outcome are played out in the employees’ mind from concept through execution.
#11: Listen to Music
It does not matter if you listen to pop, rock, alternative, R&B, hip-hop or classical music. Just listening engages and connects different parts of the brain. This leads to improvements in cognitive function. So, encourage employees to put in those earbuds or play soft music in the background. Music not only improves moods but makes employees more relaxed, focused, and proficient.
According to Harvard Business Review, consider the following when listening to music at work:
- Effects of music on job performance align with the complexity of task. Performing a mundane task? Listen to music. It provides extra stimulation to the brain, and it will enhance attention to the task at hand.
- Desire to enhance a certain mood, even if it’s not a conscious thought, influences music choice. For instance, when listening to classical music employees can focus on the task rather than a personal issue.
- Individual personalities determine whether and how much one benefits from background music. For example, music provides creatives in a non-creative working environment an escape and stimulates their imagination.
“She said, “Shut up and dance with me.’” - lyrics to Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon, American pop/rock band
Why not dance to your favorite tune before work? Stand up at your desk and do a jig! It will not only rejuvenate but will clear brain fog, increasing sharper thinking. Employees will have increased energy. Oh, and fewer sick days! According to the National Institute of Health, the elevation in body temperature during and following exercise could prevent bacteria from growing, which can assist the body in fighting off infections. And dancing helps employees’ memory and organizational skills.
#13: Try a Hobby
Everyone needs a hobby. This saying has been around forever! Love to read? Start up a book club at work. Have a passion to help others? Schedule employee volunteer days. Interested in cooking? Get co-workers together and sign up for a cooking class. Block time for something enjoyable like spending time painting or writing.
Learning a new language increases and strengthens connectivity between different areas of the brain. And learning to play musical instruments exercises parts of the brain responsible for coordination.
Hobbies are mentally stimulating and exercise the brain in new ways. Hobbies can boost workplace productivity. Talking about a favorite hobby facilitates conversations and strengthens connections with co-workers. Common bonds form and business relationships grow. Hobbies reduce stress, and less stress leads to a more productive workday.
#14: Plan Social Interactions
Social interaction is crucial for a happy and meaningful life. Socializing during work and after- work helps preserve cognitive function. And not to mention strengthens relationships and improves social skills. Social activities at work include friendly conversations about family members and friends, celebrating birthdays and milestone work anniversaries, and after-hours happy hours and holiday celebrations.
These supportive interactions foster a sense of belonging and are good for the company’s bottom line. Employees’ well-being is boosted, harmful workplace stress decreases, and teamwork improves.
Want to learn more? HSI offers the following trainings:
- After-Work Socializing
- The Water Cooler for Remote Teams
#15: HSI Can Help: Microlearning Training Courses
Learning new skills improves brain function as it engages the brain in different ways. Research shows that microlearning is a more effective way to engage employees, make the most of their divided attention, and guarantee that the information is retained and used. To learn more download HSI’s white paper, The Science of Microlearning.
A learning culture keeps employees knowledgeable of current trends. Upskilling allows employees to enhance their current skills and helps them advance in their careers. According to a report by The Execu|Search Group, 86% of professionals said they would change jobs if a new company offered them more opportunities for professional development.
Here’s a sampling of HSI’s microlearning course topics for new skills training:
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Professional Productivity
- Selling Skills
- Software Skills
Interested in further developing learning capabilities? Here’s a few HSI courses:
- Remembering Names & Faces
- Why Can’t I Remember Anything?
- Learning Styles: Develop Your Learning
- Tips and Tricks to Help Improve Your Memory