I recently read Your Brain at Work by David Rock, to understand the limitations of our brain and so that I could learn how to maximise productivity.
There’s a part of our brain called the pre-frontal cortex where our conscious interactions occur and it’s the most energy sapping part of our brain. It runs these critical activities:
- Deciding, prioritising
Wasting precious resources
These conscious mental activities devour our precious metabolic resources way faster than unconscious activities, like blinking and breathing. So each time we make a decision, a neutron fires off in our brain, burning expensive energy.
When we check email, Facebook and Instagram first thing in the morning, each single item we look at, we make a decision: delete or keep, like or skip, read or swipe, double-tap or not, and so on. Each seemingly insignificant decision erodes our energy, giving us decision making fatigue, making each subsequent decision harder. So after ten minutes of email and social media, we’ve already made hundreds of decisions, before even getting out of bed.
In an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, President Obama once described his job as “An endless string of decisions. A president is a decider”. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make”
A simple fix
To help me hit some critical creative deadlines, I switched from my Galaxy Note 3 to a dumb phone for four days. I limited my email checking to three times a day on my laptop. 11am, 3pm and 5pm. And that was it.
I switched phones because I realised using will-power to stop myself checking email wasted valuable processing power. Instead, eliminating access for a few days helped me preserve energy for better use.
Halfway through the first day I felt a deep sense of peace and stillness. I felt present. When I sat at my laptop at 7am to begin writing I felt fresh and in the flow. In 45 minutes of solid work I completed a chapter of my book. During the day my social media was more purposeful than simply passive consumption. In the evening I quickly feel asleep because I hadn’t looked at my screen for several hours.
On the fifth day I switched back to the smartphone only because I need Maps to get me to meetings. Otherwise I would have preferred my dumb phone. Since the experiment, I isolate email and social media to allocated chunks of time to conserve valuable energy. The result is multiplied productivity, sharper focus, and hours of time to work on revenue generating activities.
Over to you
I don’t expect you to dump your smartphone. But you could try for one day only, check email, social media and media at 11am, and not before. Just try it for one single day and see how you feel. If you like it, do it again.