High Productivity for the Creative Brain

BrainI was fortunate to come across two articles on work and life about the same time. There are times when one concept combined with another becomes a powerful statement about life: a compounding result that leaves you feeling empowered and with a new level of understanding. That was my experience when two different friends pointed me to these articles independently. I am very thankful that they did. A shout out to Tony Hartsfield and Kyle Cordes for your help.

I have been told by numerous people that my brain works in an unusual way so these connections might not apply to you. I hope that they do. The first article Working Stupid(ly) by Jenn Steele speaks to our limited ability to constantly focus at a high cognitive level. I know this is absolutely true for me. If I try to work extreme hours, for the first n hours I am 100% effective. After that point there is a steady degradation that occurs. The difficult part is that without a longer than normal break I find it impossible to return to 100% capacity again. If I push myself too hard it takes many days of down time to recover. It is not sufficient just to go home and get a good night’s sleep. When I chart this out it is quite clear that I can accomplish so much more if I resist the urge to plow through, and instead take appropriate rests.

It is the second article that triggered the “aha” moment for me. This article titled The Myth of Focus by Vishen Lakhiani talks about how highly productive people need to work on multiple complex things to stay focused. I have found this very true in my career, when I have only one priority I tend to slog along. I am disciplined to still get progress made but I am not inspired and vibrant. When I have two or three major initiatives in play something clicks and I start to become significantly more productive. I have always associated that aspect of my character to some sort of undiagnosed disorder along the lines of ADHD. But reading the article immediately following the previous one brought a lot into focus.

Another piece of foundational information before I get to my point. As a Christian I believe we were created. (That sound you just heard was all my atheist friends’ brains exploding). I won’t get into the creation/evolution debate in this article, I have some strong opinions that I may write about at some point. They will likely be surprising to many who know me (remember that comment about strange workings in my mind). The Bible talks about man being created in God’s image, in other words, we were designed to create (work), as well as play. In other words, we will not be happy if we do not work. I have written previously about this topic here.

What I realized in reading these articles was that our definition of “rest” is way off. We equate rest with leisure, vacations, and relaxation. While these are very important, I have found transitioning from a hard day working in the Technology Industry to even writing this post very relaxing. I have also made the same transition from my job to hard physical or skilled work on the house or yard. I think the brain finds rest in the transition, and that makes me very curious about the chemical makeup of our brains. How does a brain get “tired”, yet I know that mine does. But if I jump into something unrelated to my hours of effort my brain fires up and keeps going without a hitch. In fact, I have cured headaches that were quite severe in this fashion.

Now I want to combine this train of thought with answering another question. I sent these articles to my son and a couple of other young men as encouragement. Too often we tell young people what not to do without empowering them with what they should do. I passed along these articles as principles that might advance their career arc substantially. Sam Pepose, one of these young men asked a very good question. He wrote:

“I had never thought of over-working as being detrimental. I’m also a little confused about it because I’ve always been told that those who go above and beyond the status quo are the ones that succeed. For instance, my dad usually works 60 hour weeks to keep things running. What are your thoughts? Does it depend on your position or field of profession?”

My answer may sound a little convoluted but please think it through before judging too harshly. We are all made a little differently, with different skills and talents. Some people are well equipped to work on singular tasks with great focus while others need three or four things in the fire to feel satisfied. Professions are also different in their requirement of cognitive engagement. Some professions your brain is operating at a fairly low level waiting for short periods of intense congnitive release. Others require you to be operating at a high level all the time. The amount you work depends on your personal abilities and the demands placed upon you. In applying the principles of the two articles I think it demonstrates how different we all are (+1 for creation). We have to find the balance of work that allows us to both be creative and find the joy that comes with accomplishment.

Ok one word on the whole creation vs evolution debate…Entropy! Q.E.D


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