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Brain-friendly study methods

Brain-friendly study methods

Brain-friendly work practices (cognitive ergonomics) are about how we can work and do tasks in a brain-friendly way, concentrate better and remember better. Cognitive ergonomics is also about smart ways to use technology and tools that contribute to brain-friendly work practices.

Cognitive ergonomics is based on brain research with a focus on understanding how the brain learns and recovers and how the work and study environment affects us and our concentration, memory, problem-solving and planning skills. Cognitive ergonomics helps us to cope better and to study and work in a sustainable way.


Occupational health psychologist Anna Avellan’s three most important tips on how to improve your cognitive ergonomics by reducing distractions and interruptions:

Do one thing at a time!

People think and act best when they can concentrate on one thing at a time. The brain gets tired from jumping back and forth between tasks. We use much more energy if we do several things at once. According to research, this often leads to us not completing the tasks we should.

Have screen-free time!

Spend more time when you don’t have screens and digital devices with or near you. Put your phone away! According to research, our thoughts are only interrupted by having our phone on the table, even though it is silent and we don’t even touch it.

Switch off all notifications on digital devices!

When using digital devices, we should be careful to switch off all notifications. Doing one thing at a time is a cognitively sensible way to function.

According to Minna Huotilainen, a brain researcher and professor of education at the University of Helsinki, cognitive ergonomics means combining the work environment, tools and methods of work in a way that takes into account the functioning of the human mind and consciousness. According to Huotilainen, a cognitively sensible mode of operation is to do one thing at a time because, according to research, humans are focused on completing a task that has been started. In her research, Huotilainen has used neuroscience methods to understand learning and factors affecting learning, and has adapted information from brain research to the development of the education system and working life.

If we can avoid interruptions, we can do our jobs successfully

Interruptions and multitasking – doing several things at the same time – are stumbling blocks to cognitive ergonomics. We use many different kinds of programmes and applications that interrupt our work. Email software interrupts us with pop-ups every time a new email arrives, perhaps with a pinging sound. Teams alert us to every incoming comment even in discussions we are not currently involved in, and many of us use multiple communication channels and shared digital workspaces.

The environment affects concentration

It is not only digitalisation that affects our ability to concentrate. The work and study environment also has a significant impact on our concentration. Noise and disturbances can easily interrupt concentration, and people get tired more quickly in a noisy environment. There are aids such as headphones that block out ambient noise. In terms of cognitive ergonomics, open spaces and study environments are often quite challenging. When the environment is distracting, occupational health psychologist Anna Avellan recommends that you find a counterbalance in your free time to recover. It is also very important to take breaks during the work and study day, even short microbreaks are important.

Taking control of unnecessary brain strain

The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (ttl.fi) database “Better flowing cognitive work through cognitive ergonomics” presents methods for improving cognitive ergonomics in the workplace. The database is aimed at all those who perform brain work, such as experts and other information workers, including students.

The databank provides concrete solutions for smoother and more efficient work. With the help of the material in the databank:

  • you understand what functional brainwork means
  • you identify obstacles to smooth work and ways to solve the problems
  • provide you with concrete rules, action models and evidence-based practices for the development of agile brain work.

The databank focuses on three stressors in brain work: distractionsinterruptions and information overload. These themes have been strongly emphasised in the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health’s research and development projects as general and stressful factors in all sectors. Brain work also involves other demands and stressful situations. In the What next section of the database, you will find ready-made solutions and services for the development of brain work.

How to improve your cognitive ergonomics – a 10-point checklist by occupational health psychologist Anna Avellan:

  1. Do one thing at a time when doing anything.
  2. Have screen-free time.
  3. Switch off all notifications.
  4. Use headphones that block out ambient noise if you are in a noisy environment.
  5. Recover in your free time.
  6. Get to know yourself: When during the day do you function best and concentrate most easily?
  7. Move around and get fresh air – short breaks are enough.
  8. Plan and structure your daily life. Have realistic goals for the day.
  9. Before finishing the day’s work, write down what you have done and what you will do the next day.
  10. Use a calendar to avoid unnecessary strain on your working memory.

Online materials


  • Huotilainen, Minna (2021). Aivosi tarvitsevat tauon. Taukokulttuurin elvytysopas. Jyväskylä: Tuuma.
  • Huotilainen, Minna & Katri Saarikivi (2018). Aivot työssä. Helsinki: Otava.
  • Kilpi, Esko (toim.) (2016). Perspectives on New Work: Exploring Emerging Conceptualizations. Helsinki: Sitra.
  • Manka, Marja-Liisa & Marjut Manka (2014). Työhyvinvointi. Helsinki: Alma Talent. 




Updated 18.12.2023