Why you need an ‘on your mind’ list

Andrew Speer shares his weekly productivity tips.

At any given moment you are consciously able to process seven pieces of information at any given moment.

This is why you sing your phone number or clump it into smaller groupings of numbers. I bet even as you read this you are singing your phone number back to you.

However unconsciously it is estimated that we are processing millions (the exact number is unknown) amounts of data every single moment. That is a huge amount and helps us understand why we forget things, and where these gaps in knowledge can decrease our productivity.

Last weekend I was sitting and reading (one of my favourite activities) but found myself reaching for my phone unconciously, being lost in thought, and overall just distracted from what I was reading. If I’d stopped and acted on every thought I had, I never would have made it through the book.

How to stay focussed

Instead, I decided to write down everything that came to my mind during the time I was sitting and reading.

The amount of crap (and some useful thoughts) I wrote down was pretty incredible.

Anything from ‘taxes’ to ‘need to be more active’ to ‘how do I sell more,’ flitted through my mind.

In the end, I recorded 53 separate thoughts in a 45 minutes period. Extrapolate this by a work day, work week, or an entire life and you can see why we are all distracted.

This doesn’t even include notifications from my phone. I turned those off a while ago, but I know that if you add notifications on top of rogue thoughts then you are in for quite the roller coaster of distraction.

To counteract this I now keep a notebook open in front of me while I am working. Every time I think I have to do something, I pause, accept the thought, then make a note of it.

Just being aware of being distracted is a start—not acting on every single thought is even better.

It also gives you some space from the feeling of ‘I must do this now’. If it is truly crucial then I will do it, if not I’ll let it cool off for a while and then revisit it when I’m not mid-activity.

Start writing those thoughts down.