Thursday, August 04, 2022

Setting Brain Boundaries

Here's an article by Stephanie Vozza about avoiding "self-inflicted stress" so we aren't "just reacting in panic mode all day long." Learning to "manage" our thoughts can help us work more efficiently because we won't feel overwhelmed. This essay, outlining principles set forth by Joe Robinson, author of WORK SMARTER, LIVE BETTER, addresses that "where did the day go?" feeling we often experience when we don't check off the items on our to-do list. If I'm at all typical, this sense of time running away, leaving the day's goals unaccomplished, is a predicament writers often face. The daily word count target isn't reached or the designated time set aside for writing drifts by without much to show for it.

The 4 Boundaries Your Brain Needs to Feel Less Overwhelmed

Small warning note: The above website apparently lets you read a page only once before insisting that you register. So, if you decide to read this article, finish it all at once. (I first encountered it in this past Sunday's newspaper.)

The four kinds of "management" to set boundaries for your brain: (1) Attention management, concerned with improving the performance of your working memory so you won't lose focus. (2) Interruption management, which is connected to impulse control. One point under this category suggests setting aside periods of time to be e-mail-free and phone-free, thus disposing of two big interruption sources right away. (3) "Barking" management, contrasting the brain with a barking dog. Dogs bark at disturbances such as another dog going by, but when the triggering incident stops, the dog stops barking. Our brains often keep reacting long after the stimulus ends. In other words, we get mired in "rumination." (4) Refueling management, giving your brain "a break so it can rest and refuel." Production goes up after twenty-minute breaks and even ten-minute breaks. This last precept feels counterintuitive to me. Granted, a few minutes of rest are welcome, but how can they increase production if you happen to be one of those people (like me) who takes a long time to get back into the flow after a lull? Marion Zimmer Bradley used to say that housekeeping was the perfect job for a writer, because it involves a lot of stopping and starting, and you can use the stopping bits for a few minutes of writing. Suppose you have ten minutes waiting for the oven to preheat, and you need most of those minutes just to re-start your writing brain? As important as refueling may be, this advice seems to contradict the second point.

One incisive quote from Joe Robinson: "We think because something's in our head, we've got to pay attention to it. We don't." Words to live by in dealing with both interruptions and pointless rumination.

Another article I happened to come across this past weekend offered suggestions for increasing efficiency by reordering the work day's priorities. To begin with, the author advises against checking e-mail and/or social media first thing in the morning. We can easily get caught up in the message stream, lose track of time, and glance up to discover prime working time has been frittered away. Another piece of advice, maybe counterintuitive for many of us, is to resist the impulse to "warm up" with easy tasks. I know I often take that approach. Instead, he says we should tackle the day's tougher agenda items first, while we're fresh. There's also a sense of accomplishment in getting them out of the way.

I find that if I put off writing in order to "clear the decks" of niggling little stuff first, I often don't get around to the current WIP until late in the day. In line with that article's advice, I do produce more words when I force myself to spend at least a few minutes writing (whether fiction, blog posts, or my monthly newsletter) before opening e-mail or checking off a list of routine, "easy" chores. Also, composing in fifteen- or twenty-minute chunks two or three times a day makes the process less arduous. Unlike the lucky writers who actually enjoy writing (such as Isaac Asimov), I find the first-draft stage slow and difficult, so any device to "trick" myself into generating prose helps.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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