Freeing Up Mental Resources
Happy New Year! This post follows on from what I wrote last week: Embracing Boredom, Demanding Respect, and Saying No to the Yes-Worthy.
That was mostly about elimination; saying no more often so you don’t get burnt out and are better able to focus on what’s important to you. Sticking with that line of thinking for a minute, here are three general things that most of us could do with eliminating from our lives:
- Mindless media consumption (e.g. mainstream news)
- Toxic personal relationships
- Specific streams of online communication
I’ve already got a pretty good handle on the first two. I could do a lot better with the third. So, for the entire month of January, I’ve decided to abandon Twitter and disallow comments on all new blog posts (starting with this one). Come February I’ll consider whether these actions did more harm than good and readjust if necessary.
The whole point of this experiment is to free up mental resources. I appreciate now more than ever just how finite and precious my energy and attention are, and I want to ensure I’m using those resources mindfully and effectively. Give this some thought yourself. Have you been consciously deciding where you focus your attention and energy?
So that’s elimination. The next step is automation1 There are many things you can’t eliminate, but you can apply a hefty dose of automation to them to ensure they’re not draining your mental resources. Some practical examples:
Instead of deciding multiple times a day what and where to eat, you decide in advance that you’ll eat the same few meals in the same few places. So you might have the same breakfast at home every morning, then go to the same place for lunch and dinner every day, rotating your order between a few select dishes.
Apparently Steve Jobs had a closet full of identical jeans and polo-neck sweatshirts. Why? Because he didn’t want to waste time and energy every morning deciding what to wear. Fashion extends to hairstyle, too. I like keeping my hair short because I never have to wonder how it looks or worry about styling it up.
Follow Ramit’s advice for automating this area of your life. For instance, you should have your credit card linked to your checking account and automatic payments enabled. That way you never have to keep your due date in mind or worry about being charged a late fee. Another example: My friend Danny gives himself a daily allowance while traveling. He puts X dollars in his pocket every morning and spends accordingly. If he has enough left in the evening, he’ll go out and spend it on something fun. No time/energy wasted each day worrying about his finances. He knows exactly how long his money will last.
I just moved to Bangkok and will be here for three months. I’m developing a workout schedule: weights twice a week, swimming twice a week, yoga twice a week. I’ll check the schedule each morning and know what to do and when to do it without having to think twice.
Regular travel and jumping around between hostels/hotels really takes its toll on mental resources. You’re always having to get used to a new neighborhood, figure out where everything is, how the public transport works, etc. This is one of the main reasons I like to stay in one place for several weeks at a time. Too much movement and I have less time/energy to work on personal projects.
One of the big appeals of self-employment is that you get to decide your own work hours. There’s a lot to be said though for the routine of regular employment. Sometimes the status quo is the the status quo for a good reason. I’ve noticed that I fall into a nice rhythm and get my best work done when I set myself regular work hours. Planning to do that again here in Bangkok.
Some of the above examples may sound unreasonable to you. And sure, if you’re a big foodie, you probably shouldn’t go automating that part of your life. Get out there and try some new eats every day. I personally don’t care much about food so long as I’m eating healthy. I’ll happily eat the same few meals over and over again so I can focus my mental resources on other things.
While here in Bangkok my priorities will be work, exercise and social. I’ll be experimenting with elimination and automation to free up more time and energy for those pursuits.
Consider what goals and activities are most important to you, then apply the principles of elimination and automation to ensure you have ample time/energy to devote to them.