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Training Your Brain to Increase Productivity

The hot movie at theaters right now is the mind-melting thriller Inception in which thieves steal ideas by entering people’s subconscious by way of their dreams. The thing about our subconscious is that it is at work even when we are awake and it can affect the nature and focus of our thoughts. For startups, maintaining focus on the most important goals of your company is imperative to success, and Y Combinator founder Paul Graham says he has learned to train his brain to do just that.

Graham is an excellent source of valuable information for startups, partly from the essays he posts to his personal website. In the first half of 2010 Graham wrote just one essay, but thankfully has returned to the full swing of writing with three essays in July so far.

“I’m always delighted to find I’ve forgotten the details of disputes, because that means I hadn’t been thinking about them.”
– Paul Graham

One of his essays from this month, “

The Top Idea in Your Mind,

” details his theory that the brain will think about whatever it wants to. Our “top idea,” he says, is whatever our brain reverts to pondering when we aren’t really thinking about anything – or what we think of in the shower, for example.

“This idea will thus tend to get all the benefit of that type of thinking, while others are starved of it,” writes Graham. “Which means it’s a disaster to let the wrong idea become the top one in your mind.”

For startups and young entrepreneurs, the top idea should be concepts like “How do I raise more money?” or “How do we better engage our customer base?”. Unfortunately, the life of a startup isn’t always smooth sailing, and hiccups can get in the way of valuable thinking time.

Graham says he has trained his mind to avoid wasting thoughts on negative or inconsequential things. One of the things he avoids thinking about are disputes – something he believes most people allow to overcrowd their thoughts and stifle productivity.

“I’ve found I can to some extent avoid thinking about nasty things people have done to me by telling myself: this doesn’t deserve space in my head,” he says. “I’m always delighted to find I’ve forgotten the details of disputes, because that means I hadn’t been thinking about them.”

If theres one thing startups should take away from Graham’s essay it’s that distractions can be devastating to a company’s productivity. By avoiding situations that could potentially preoccupy the brain’s “top idea” spot, startups and young entrepreneurs can remain focused on the most important goals of their companies.

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