Work is draining. It takes a lot of cognitive brainpower to be productive.
I’m sure you’ve experienced it, where you spend time working on Project X and then you want to move to Project Y, but have no mental capacity to do so.
In the past, we’ve thought our willpower may have run out, but recent research has shown that’s not the case. It appears that our cognitive output may have more to do with how we work, rather than any depletion of will.
When it comes to process then, I think we need to take a closer look into what our work approach looks like. This is where I find that the best approach is breaking things into three distinct chunks: think, create, and unwind.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps and understand why they work well together.
Part of any cognitive process is the work before the work. This is the chunk where you think through the problem you’re facing and wrap your head around potential solutions.
Dissecting your work and understanding how to approach it, can make the actual work that much easier to do. While it sounds simple enough, thinking is a taxing process.
What you don’t want to do is to flip back and forth between thinking and making, as they are significantly different processes. Much like editing and writing at the same time are often conflicting efforts, you want to try to separate thinking and creating as best you can.
The next step is doing the actual work. Taking your plan and executing on it. Again, the key to this chunk is that it is entirely focused on creating and not interrupted by further thinking.
Of course things don’t always work out so perfectly, and we’re going to face unexpected problems to think through. Even so, if we can minimize the overlap, we can maximize our productivity.
When we avoid interruptions (in this case thinking) we are better able to achieve a state of flow, which is the key to the process of creation.
Finally, it is vital to unwind after any cognitive effort, to allow us to mentally recover from any work that we just finished.
This is the part of the process that we typically overlook. Instead, we try to move on to the next thing, assuming we’ll be as mentally sharp and aware from the get go.
In reality, giving ourselves some time to decompress and rest can make all the difference before we try to change gears.
The greatest sensual pleasure, which does not contain any impurities and revulsion, is rest after work.Immanuel Kant
The steps of thinking, creating, and unwinding is an effective way to think about any work effort, as it brings a good balance to the process.
Moreover, it applies to both your day to day routine, as well as over longer chunks of time, such as long-term projects. We need to remember to give ourselves time to rest and recover, as we think and create.
Of course, the holiday season is certainly a good time of year as any to allow for some R&R, which is exactly what I’m planning to do.
I’ll be taking the next week off, as I’m visiting my sister in London, and give my mind a much needed break.
Happy holidays to everyone and see you in the new year!