Time Hacks: How to Trick Your Brain into Being More Active and Attentive


Ever have those days when it feels like you’re really “on?” It feels like you’re in total control—your mind and body operate as one, and you coast through the day without running into any obstacles or setbacks. For most people, these days are rare and can make you feel superhuman when you’re fortunate enough to have one. But what if every day was like that?

No, we’re not talking about taking drugs or achieving a zen state of being. We’re talking about the science of timing. You might not realize it, but timing has a lot to do with how your brain performs throughout the day. When and how you do something can play a big part in how the events afterward unfold, and how you process them.

To get a great background on this concept, we recommend reading When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Dan Pink. The author studies how time plays a role in our brain’s function and what we can do to master time in the cognitive sense, to become more active, attentive and successful.

Understanding the relationship between when and how

There’s a relationship between when you do something and how you do it. For example, if you’re dog tired from a long day of hard work, you probably don’t want to take an IQ test. You’ve spent the day focused, deep in thought. Your brain’s exhausted. Taking an IQ test after you’ve exerted your mind affects how you’ll do on it. The relationship between when and how goes beyond direct connections like this, too.

Consider those mornings when you hit every green light on the way to work, or when you wake up five minutes before your alarm ready to start the day. You’re likely to feel good as you start your day, which can lead to better productivity or motivation to get things done. Here, you might choose to tackle bigger projects or more complex tasks because you feel up to them. That’s the when and how relationship at work again. When you feel good, it improves how you approach things.

In his book, Dan Pink illustrates this relationship in great detail—even using the example of scheduling surgery in the morning. Fewer surgical mistakes happen in the morning because the brain is fresh and attentive!

Mastering time to control your destiny

It’s hard to create the catalysts for those “perfect” days. You can’t will yourself to wake up before your alarm goes off or change red lights to green just by wishing. What you can do, is control when and how you do things within the scope of your everyday life. Again, Dan Pink offers some examples:

  • Drink coffee then take a 20-minute nap, since it takes caffeine 25 minutes to kick in
  • Take a 10-minute break from what you’re doing every 60 minutes, for clarity
  • Be the last person in a group to present, since audience expectations will be realer
  • Create self-imposed deadlines and check yourself against them

In these examples, you can control the when and the how. For example, if you drink coffee, then snooze, you’ll wake up ready to get to work. This isn’t dependent on chance or variables outside your control. You create the perfect circumstances for your success.

Time hacks for everyday life

So, what can you do to master time and control its effects on your mind and body? More than you think! There are many everyday adjustments you can make to optimize your brain for action and attention, and make the most of that untouchable feeling that comes with perfect sync. Here are a few of them:

  • Do your most important work right away in the morning, before your brain gets tired
  • Build in breaks frequently and break up tasks that take more than 60 minutes to complete
  • Take a nap every now and again! Sleeping 15-25 minutes can restore brain power
  • Learn the value of a minute and train your brain to passively track 1-minute intervals
  • Stick to bedtimes and wake times for consistency and predictability

In truth, your brain doesn’t need a lot of ‘tricking’ to unlock its true capacity for action and attention. What it really needs is support. Changing when and how you do things to be more conducive to natural brain function is a great way to get the most out of your mind power. Sticking to a sleep schedule and doing the difficult tasks early in the day may seem like simple advice, but they have untold mental benefits that result in more days where you feel truly “on.”

Evan DeMarco

Evan DeMarco is a leading sports medicine and nutrition expert, published author, public speaker and frequent guest on television, radio, and digital platforms.

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