Control Cognitive Burn and Get More Done.
I recently stumbled upon what I consider one of the most effective ways to increase my productivity. I like to call it decreasing cognitive burn. I’ve heard the term ‘cognitive burn’ in certain circles where individuals are highly successful and incredibly busy, but can’t say that I’ve ever actually taken the time to see how it could impact my life and work. After all, if it’s not broken …
What’s Cognitive Burn Anyway?
Honestly, I don’t think that it’s any form of medically accepted term. At least, I couldn’t find anything on Google. The term means that, similar to a computer, there are only so many tasks and items that you can keep bouncing around your head at any given moment. The more tasks you add, the faster you burn. The faster you burn, the less efficient you are.
The most obvious illustration is multi-tasking. You might be able to text and drive, but one is going to suffer greatly. What most people don’t realize. is that things like remembering when you have to pick your kid up from soccer or the three item grocery list your wife gave you as you were getting in your car this morning will impact you in the same way.
This is because we have to devote some amount of energy towards remembering to remember those items. Get enough random things to remember and you’re quickly bogged down.
The solution is easy, create a to-do list. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. Most of the time, when I’ve tried to sit down and create my list for the day, I end up missing things, or I only write down work-related items, and keep all of the personal stuff bouncing around in my mind.
How to Clear the Deck
Here’s the trick. You have to let your subconscious run wild. I’ve found that doing this requires engaging in a simple task like reading a book. One or two sentences in, I get interrupted with a thought like, “Crap. I forgot to move my socks from the washer to the dryer last night.” Then instead of pushing it back into my subconscious stash of things to not forget, I drop it onto my Todoist app. Once I’ve got that cleared up I start reading again, and what do you know, another pesky little item comes to mind. It doesn’t take long until you have them all down in an actionable list — once you have your list, you can be highly efficient.
So, next time you can’t concentrate on getting your task done, try lowering your cognitive burn by eliminating items you’re remembering to remember.