Your brain needs bite-sized chunks

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in practical tips

When your life’s at its busiest, your brain seems to fill up with task after task, issue after issue, list after list.

Soon, you’ve so many things on your mind that you can’t recall them all, and being forgetful becomes another thing to deal with. Then you worry. You worry that you have too many things on your mind, and then you feel anxious all the time – so you worry about how anxious you feel….and so on.

It isn’t so much that you have a lot of things in your life, it’s the feelings you have about them that cause the common sense of overwhelm so many people carry around.

Now, serious anxiety needs a proper therapeutic approach, but this to-do list anxiety responds very well to “chunking”.

Here’s an example of an exercise that management trainers use to demonstrate how the brain prefers chunking or categorising information.

A room of people is split into four groups. They are asked to work together to list as many types of bird as they can think of in two minutes. Three of the four groups work hard, racking their brains to randomly recall birds from their collective memories. They come up with a decent score of between 40 and 60 birds.

The fourth group however, was given something extra – a set of headings:

  • Water birds
  • Garden birds
  • Caged birds
  • Birds of prey
  • Flightless birds
  • Swimming birds
  • Sea birds
  • Exotic birds

This group named 150 birds in two minutes – their brains recalling information so much more easily once it could be chunked into categories.

So, if you are suffering from a busy head, try using the same principle. Stop trying to remember everything, or work from one long meandering to-do list.  Instead, sit down and calmly “chunk” your life/work. You can write down headings and sub-headings. If you like diagrams you might prefer to be more creative.

It doesn’t really matter how you do it – the important thing is to give your brain something it can manage.

Starting with the “super headings”. For example:

  • Home
  • Work
  • Personal

works for some people.

  • Little things
  • Medium things
  • Large things

works for others.

  • Tasks
  • Projects
  • Problems

might help in a work context.

It’s important to choose categories that work for you. You can then chunk into smaller categories. Home might be further broken down into

  • Kids
  • House
  • Relationship
  • Money

And Kids might be broken down further into

  • School
  • Home
  • Activities
  • Friends

You will be surprised how much more in control you feel when you take the time ut to do this. The amount of things to do or think about in your life remains the same, but ordering them into chunks enables your brain to cope and to recall things so much more easily.

And when your brain can cope, anxiety reduces and that feeling of overwhelm disappears.

As time goes by

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Ways of thinking

I laughed out loud the first time I saw a sequence in a Young Ones sit-com where a character, Mike, checks his watch. As he does so, another says, “Gosh, is that the time?” To which Mike replies, “No, time is an abstract concept. This is a wristwatch”.

There’s wisdom in pedantic jokes. Time is an abstract concept. It’s really hard to get your head round. It doesn’t behave as you expect it to. Sometimes it flies, sometimes it drags. You can’t do anything to stop it, slow it or store it. It just goes on its merry, invisible, intangible way—an abstract concept quite out of reach. We know what it is, but like other abstract contracts—truth or beauty, say— we go to pieces if we try to define it.

Which puts a big question mark over the idea of trying to manage it. You wouldn’t try to manage beauty or truth. What makes anyone think they can manage time?

It’s a lot easier to manage things that are concrete. Change the vocabulary to something more tangible and you have something to work with. On the way you will have clarified something important.

That’s why I always encourage people I work with to push beyond “issues with time management” as a description. I ask for something more precise, something related to the individual and their activities. Once we’ve begun talking about workload management, or task management, relationships management or energy levels management, we’ve something concrete and coherent to work with. Keep abstract notions for the sit-coms.