Mind Management (Not Time Management)

October 16 2012 – 03:45pm

An audio version of this post is available here.

Productivity is less about time management than it is about mind management. We all have the same number of hours during the day. How effectively we spend those hours really depends upon how well we can manage and harness our fragile mental energy.

Productivity is less about time management than it is about mind management.

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— David Kadavy (@kadavy) May 1, 2012

For example, when I was writing my book, I admittedly had a difficult time managing my mental energy. The project seemed to consist of 12 hours a day banging my head against the wall, only to get maybe 15 or 20 minutes of real “flow” – writing that really took a smooth path from my brain to my fingertips.

Imagine if I could have sat down for 15 or 20 minutes a day, did my writing, and then enjoyed the rest of my day. This seems unrealistic, but certainly I could have employed a strategy that could have made the process less agonizing.

Three Important Questions of Mind Management

Throughout the process of writing Design for Hackers, I did start to gain an intuitive sense of what was going on with my brain, and how to navigate my own mental landscape. I found myself consistently asking myself a few important questions:

  1. What kind of work do I need to do right now? Is there anything extremely pressing, or can I let my mental state guide the work that I decide to do right now?
  2. What kind of mental state am I in right now? Am I in the mood for draft writing, outlining, researching, exploring, or polishing? (Throughout the process, I began to codify the different types of work required to produce my writing.)
  3. Is there something I can do to get myself into the right mental state? Over time, I realized there were different “hacks” or rituals that would help me switch mental states. Exercising, massages, different types of music, different types of teas, epsom salt baths, and neurotransmitter-supporting amino acids all eventually served their own purposes. I also had different venues to do different types of work: for example, a cafe in a skyscraper high above the city was better for higher-level brainstorming, while a dark, small room in the public library was better for polishing or research. (Which is consistent with academic findings.)

The goal of mind management is to align your mental state with work that needs to be done, while also allowing your mind to do the work that it wants to do.

Key Takeaways of Mind Management

I didn’t have much time to think about what was going on during the book writing process, but once the smoked cleared, I began to get more fascinated by what, exactly, my brain was doing throughout all of this.

I picked up a few armchair neuroscience books, the most powerful of which, by far, was David Rock’s Your Brain At Work. This book basically explains the brainwaves, neurotransmitters, the different regions of the brain, and how they all work together throughout your day. I highly recommend it.

By really understanding how your brain works, you can have a framework with which to understand what is going on with your mind, and thus, you’ll be better equipped to know how to better use your precious mental energy.

Here are a few takeaways and tactics that I’ve developed from my research and experimentation:

Mind Management in Action

With the above in mind, here’s a few actionable tips you can use to manage your mind effectively.

This is just the tip of the mind management iceberg, and as more great research is done, we’ll have more to go on in discovering how to manage our minds. If you’re into this content, I hope to expand on some of these ideas, so what sticks out to you? How do you manage your mind?

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This post is filed under Best-of, Productivity.