Reduce Your Cognitive Load in the next 5 Minutes and Finally Get Things Done

This isn't a hack. It's not a trick. It's not even all that inventive, or crazy, or mind blowing. It might just be life changing. Or maybe that's hyperbole.

It's just something simple that you know needs done, yet you continually put it off. As a result your brain is overworked. You're stressed out. Frustrated that you can't get ahead. That you're never making progress. After a long day at work you reflect back on it (you do that right? You should do it, but only at work; after work you should leave work well enough alone), and you feel like you accomplished nothing.

This is because you did accomplish nothing.

Instead you stared at the pile of emails in your inbox. The hundreds of browser tabs spread across a dozen Chrome windows. The multitude of articles you feel like you need to read. In fact, most of the emails are lists of more articles that you haven't even gotten around to opening in your Chrome windows so that you can add to the list of articles you need to read. Let's not even start on the spreadsheets you started to organize the links you want to check out. You dump on them when your computer can no longer handle all the Chrome tabs running or you need to restart.

I know, I have over 5000 links in my spreadsheet. I've had 400 tabs across two computers and my phone. 800 articles in my Wallabag queue. If you want, add in all the books I have yet to read, the movies and shows I own and have yet to watch, the music I want to listen to, my Netflix queue, and the spreadsheets I keep for all of those that I don't yet own.

It's overwhelming. It's crippling. Some days I spend hours trying to pare things down and at the end of the day it feels like I'm right where I started, only a little more despairing.

The first step is acceptance.

The next is separating work from play. These should be distinctly separate. Use different devices, or multiple service providers, or different Chrome accounts. Whatever it takes. If you don't keep them separate you'll find yourself spending all your work day reading about different cheeses, and places to travel, and which Star Trek captain was the best; and you'll call it work because in the mix of those articles you listened to a few minutes of a business podcast or read a snippet of an article about pricing; and you're not really fooling yourself, but you're really trying, and the result is this sinking depression that you just can't make any progress on your business even though you're trying hard; and this pit just gets deeper and deeper every day.

Almost every article I've read from some person about their experiences working from home talks about separating work from the play. Have a separate workshop. Or work from a coworking space. Or use different computers. Delineate your working day from your non-working day somehow - by some ritual. Take a walk, or go outside and tend the garden, or cook.

Do something. Anything. You're probably not an exception, so find a way to keep the two separate.

Go through all of your browser tabs, your emails, your lists, and with each one ask yourself if it is business related or play related. If it's play, move it to a different list. Or move it to a folder if it's an email. Once you're done, close the play list. You can reopen it when you're on your own time.

Go do that now. Don't finish reading this post, or move on to other things.

Right, now you should only have work related stuff open. If you got to this point and have any play items open, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Move back 1 step and go again.

Finally, go through your current workload - this is your inbox and your browser tabs and your reading list - and cut out all the crap that doesn't affect you right now. I can't tell you how many articles I read about pricing and LTV and how to be a great CEO and how to set the company culture, all the while was sitting there barely making money off consulting, not running a SaaS business, not having employees.

Yes, someday the lessons learned from those articles might become valuable to me. Not if I don't get stuff done now. Not if I get bogged down reading articles about it instead of taking some actual, real action.

Go right now and do that. Start a third list for 'someday' items. You should now have a play list, a someday work list, and a much, much reduced list of actual work stuff that matters.

Now any time you come across a new link or a new email, your first question to yourself should be "can this thing possibly help me right now, where I'm at, to get to where I want to be?" If the answer is not a loud resounding YES! then put it somewhere out of mind. Save it if you want, but by all means necessary keep it separate from your workload. Let those backlogs pile up but don't give them a second thought - they'll still be there when you need to learn about how to maintain the company culture.

Until then, keep your cognitive load light and breezy, and go out there and do things that matter.