My Brain Has a Mind of Its Own – Literally

Today I had a few things I wanted to get done, some more important but more time consuming than others; some not as important but easier to get out of the way.

You can probably guess which ones I was successfully able to complete; the more important ones are still on my agenda for tomorrow.

While I am not proud to admit my lack of discipline, I do I have to admit that I was thrilled to come across an article in today’s New York Times by Tim Herrera, “Why Your Brain Tricks You Into Doing Less Important Tasks“, that offers evidence that your brain works against you. There’s even a term for it, “urgency effect”.

Herrera references a study where the researchers concluded that “people may choose to perform urgent tasks with short completion windows, instead of important tasks with larger outcomes, because important tasks are more difficult and further away from goal completion, urgent tasks involve more immediate and certain payoffs, or people want to finish the urgent tasks first and then work on important tasks later.”

Herrera offers some advice on how to give priority to those important tasks by using what is known as the Eisenhower Box, shown below (click to enlarge).

The key is to give your attention to those tasks you have identified as important, and then either delegate or eliminate those tasks that are not important. Once you have decided to start working on a task, Herrera suggests that it may be helpful to break the task down into smaller goals in order to make it more manageable.

So while maybe I can give myself a free pass for today’s lack of progress towards my most important tasks, it looks like I can’t use the excuse of my my brain having a mind of its own anymore.

Thanks, Dwight…

And I’m sure at some point as I go through my to-do list, I’ll be echoing Bob Seger’s words: “I wish I didn’t know now, what I didn’t know then.” Because sometimes it’s just easier to check my Twitter feed…

*Brain image from JWT and beyondblue

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