I’ve had a breakthrough recently I want to share regarding getting the most out of your poor, beleaguered mind. I’ve actually been brainstorming quite a few posts here recently, some of them a little more personal and open than others (those will go directly to my email list instead of being posted — sign up here) but we’ll start with the vanilla.
**DISCLAIMER** all of what I’m about to say stems from personal experience, testing, and results. There has been no formal experimentation or documentation, and I’m not going to pull any abstracts from journals. So, take this with a grain of salt.
I don’t know about you, but for me, every day is mentally exhausting. I don’t have any real tedium or a regular day-to-day…in fact, some days all I really know is that I’m going to have a rough day filled with working through tasks and problems that I have no idea how to solve, and most of the time I’m underestimating it.
In that reality, it’s become abundantly clear the advantage of having a sharp and prepared mind. Lots of things can cloud your mind and take away from its sharpness — drinking the night before, poor sleep, poor nutrition, dehydration, etc. Actually, I struggled with all of those things and have been actively working to improve each one (most notably less drinking during the week and better sleep, though I say this while writing at nearly 1am). It’s honestly kind of intoxicating to feel mentally sharp every morning.
But physiological decisions and actions aren’t the only things affecting your mental sharpness. As Tim Ferriss explains, you have a finite number of “mental hit points” throughout your day. The harder the problem you’re trying to solve, the more mental hit points you are using. The more decisions you make, no matter how inconsequential, the more mental hit points you are using.
Once you exhaust your mental hit points for the day, you’re going to struggle to make even basic decisions or think clearly.
So, eliminate all unnecessary use of your mental hit points. Take President Obama as an example: leaving all personal opinions at the door, Obama has objectively one of the toughest jobs in the world. He is constantly making decisions that are neither black and white nor inconsequential. He has publicly said that he tries to pare down non-essential decisions, e.g. when to wake up, what to do in the morning (creating a routine), the suits he wears, and the breakfast he eats.
Routines are very important and very difficult to get into. Just check out my June Goal tracker for trying to get into a routine — I’m only hitting about 50% day in and day out. But on days that I stick to my routine, I get up by 6:30a, get to the gym and back by 8:30a, and to my work station by 9a ready to start my workday. By that time I’ve already calibrated my mind and body and am fully prepared to start the day on my own time (starting from behind is exhausting, and often you never catch up).
But here’s the real secret: your memory is killing your productivity.
Multitasking has been proven to be a myth. It is inefficient and actually a detriment to productivity and effectiveness in the workplace. When you are relying on your memory to keep tasks and thoughts straight, you are burning mental energy and forfeiting mental hit points. Think about it: if you’re trying to remember, “I need to call Dave after this email” while writing that email, your brain is multitasking: writing the email and remembering to call Dave.
This is exhausting. How many times do you sit back and think, “Shit, what was that I was just thinking about?” or “What was that I needed to do?” Not only were you burning hit points trying to remember it while you were doing your previous task, but now you’re burning hit points in trying to remember it after you failed to keep it top of mind!
You may have a great, flawless memory, but it is no different. While your mental processor is trying to hold your to do list, it is also working on whatever it is that you’re working on — and it’s burning you out.
The title of this article is clickbait. I can’t tell you whether you have a good memory or a bad memory — but I can tell you that your memory sucks. It sucks in the sense that if you’re relying on it to keep your thoughts and tasks organized, it is at your detriment — even if it is keeping all of those thoughts and tasks organized.
Stop relying on your memory.
Have a thought? Write it down. New to-do item? Write it down. You can write it in a notebook, or you can do what I do and keep a running list in an open email draft with the subject “TO DO.” You don’t need to put them in a prioritized list, though I’d recommend grouping them together if they relate to a similar subject. But writing down all of your thoughts, ideas, and tasks is a much better way to keep yourself organized while maintaining a higher level of mental acuity.
What was that I was just thinking? Oh, here it is. What do I need to do next? Ah, yes that’s right. Thought no longer relevant? Scratch it off. Task finished? Scratch it off.
In this way, you can flow seamlessly from task to task while maintaining 100% focus on your work. Nothing will slip through the cracks, you’ll perform at a higher level for a longer period of time, and you’re gonna like the way you work.