You’re sitting in your office and you have a big proposal you need to present that afternoon.
There’s a lot that needs to be done: research, build spreadsheets, create charts and package this all together in a cohesive report that lands your company the job.
You’ve got five hours to get it done.
But instead of getting to work on it, you’re sitting there frozen, not sure where to begin.
In an effort to be doing something, you start answering e-mails or organizing your desk in the hopes that some divine inspiration will arise as you try to stay “productive.”
DON’T DO IT!
This is actually the worst thing you can do – using up any last bit of mental energy you might have left!
So why can’t you get going on the project you really should be working on?
Because your brain’s Prefrontal Cortex (PFC), the part you need for doing complex cognitive thinking and planning is incredibly fragile. When we are faced with a really big task, sometimes it can feel overwhelming. So much so that it causes our PFC to go offline.
Faced with a big project with too many variables or too many choices – say goodbye to your PFC and all the executive functions that go along with it!
So here’s the dilemma – you need your PFC to do the proposal but now it’s checked out. How do you get it back online?
1. Start writing down all of the things you need to do in order to complete the proposal.
Just bullet points – no other detail than that!
With each task that you put to paper the project starts to feel more manageable and this helps your PFC feel safe enough to come back out from under the covers. And when your PFC comes back out you regain your ability to focus.
Also, by writing the steps down you are now using less mental energy than when you were trying to hold all the different steps in your head. Our brains are only 3 lbs but use 20% of our energy resources – be careful how you use your mental energy – it goes fast!
2. From the list narrow your choices down to two things you can do now to get the project started.
Don’t think too hard about this – just pick two – ANY TWO!
The point here is to take some steps to narrow your choices down – remember too many choices and goodbye PFC. This is why I’m convinced shopping at Costco is a somewhat pleasurable (or at least not negative) experience – because they usually only give you one choice – the 1,000 pill bottle of aspirin or nothing! It’s less taxing on our brains when we have fewer choices or better yet only one!
3. Now pick one and start the task!
Whatever step it is – just take this one step to get the ball rolling.
If you can start the task then you are activating your brain’s dopamine MOTIVATION-REWARD circuit. Our brains are wired to get things done when we see a reward. The reward in this case is crossing off this one task. It really feels good to cross things off a list – thank the dopamine for that!
Once you’ve ignited the circuit you keep seeking more rewards – more tasks to cross off the list, leading to the ultimate reward of creating a great proposal.
This can apply to ANYTHING you want to do whether at work or outside of work. If you want to start surfing – write down a plan! What are the steps needed to make that happen? When you write it down and show the steps needed to get there it becomes a manageable goal – and because you’ve set the right conditions for your PFC to perform you are now very likely to reach that goal!
Remember your odds are 100% greater of completing something if you just start it!
And just one late note about this post. You might be reading this thinking, “great now I know what to do and I won’t get sidelined by a brain freeze in the future.” WRONG! You will forget this post in 20 minutes. Take out a post-it note and write down: brain freeze, 3 steps, ZenSmarts – put it on your computer so that you remember there is an easy path out of a brain freeze and into being more focused, productive and efficient.