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Outsourcing your Cognitive Overload

Like many others, I recently took off on vacation for a week. In the process I validated something learned earlier this year, that the most productive day of the year is universally the same day across the world: The day before you leave on vacation.

In order for me to mentally disconnect, I found myself in a very focused way, reviewing all of the short- and long-term projects and goals I have on my plate.

We are all carrying around a much greater “cognitive load” these days, and vacation time, even if it is just a long weekend, provides an opportunity to give ourselves a necessary breather. Our brains need the break to function optimally.

Most people consider their cognitive load in a traditional and linear format—like a to-do list. The challenge is this format does not lend itself to the complex and interdependent work we live in today.

Today’s world creates a lot of cognitive load, where our work and personal lives overlap and create even more complexities. We’re checking e-mails in the evening and on weekends, and making phone calls to resolve personal issues during the day.

One colleague from IBM said it this way: The issue is no longer work-life balance; effective work-life integration is the challenge!

So how can you lighten your load? One solution is to draw out a map of your cognitive load.

1. Take out a blank sheet of paper (or use a Walk-Around Pad), and map your cognitive load against the different thinking styles as depicted in th four quadrants of the Whole Brain® Model:

A Quadrant: Financial, technical issues

B Quadrant: Unfinished projects, plans, organizational issues

C Quadrant: People and interpersonal issues

D Quadrant: Long-term concerns, “big picture” issues

2. “Unload” by writing down the key areas that represent cognitive load for you, those areas that weigh heaviest in your mind, for both work and personal.

3. Now look at the list. Is there anything you can outsource or delegate?

Leaving for a business trip or vacation is the perfect time to do this review since we will be doing it anyway. I went through this process and realized that in some areas, I was holding on to items I could easily outsource to others. Some call this delegation. I do plenty of that, too. However, the concept of outsourcing clearly implies the ownership is actually with the other entity.

On my list I had several items that I could just drop or defer to later in the year. Those were unloaded from the list.

In addition, I had “worrying about the stock market and our position in it” in the A quadrant. We are all struggling with the volatility of the market, overload of information and the worries that can create. My husband usually manages our stocks in our household, yet I was still hanging onto the “worrying.” I realized that by officially outsourcing this to him, I could let go of the worry with it.

What cognitive overload could you drop, outsource or delegate?

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Tags: Productivity, Whole Brain Thinking

The four-color, four-quadrant graphic, HBDI® and Whole Brain® are trademarks of Herrmann Global, LLC.

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