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Thinking Directions

Don't Let Pressure
Sabotage Your Thinking

Pressure can sabotage your thinking. By pressure, I mean an issue weighing on your mind as you try to concentrate on something else. Perhaps it's an imminent deadline or a desperate desire to do a fantastic job. Maybe it's a highly-charged emotional situation you haven't had time to resolve. Or maybe it's just that other project you're working on. To keep the issue from distracting you, you heighten your vigilance, redouble your effort, and try to plug ahead anyway.

Unfortunately, this well-intentioned strategy is sabotaged from the start. To hold an issue at bay takes up valuable mental attention. You must split your mental resources, with only part focused on the task at hand. The rest is devoted to holding the weighty issue in the limbo of peripheral awareness.

There are very few thinking tasks that need only part of your brain. You need to clear that pressing issue off your mind so you can use your full intelligence on the other topic.

How do you do that? One way or another, there is always some step you need to take to address the issue for now, so you are free to drop it from your mind.

For example, suppose an undone chore is pressing on your mind. Write down a reminder to yourself--that's usually enough to clear it off your mind.

If a more complicated task is distracting you, you can get if off your mind by thinking it through to the next *physical* action (as David Allen teaches), and then putting that item on your to-do list.

Here are some other ways to address an issue that is weighing on you:

The key in each case is to use just a few minutes of targeted thinking to address the weighty issue. Maybe you can settle it in a few minutes. Or, maybe you will use those minutes to figure out how you'll deal with it later. In either case, you resolve the issue for the time being. You eliminate the urgency to think about it more right now--which means you can devote your full attention to whatever you were trying to concentrate on in the first place.

It helps to know specific tools to quickly address each type of issue. A large portion of my class on Thinking Tactics concerns such tools. But common-sense logic will get you rather far. Just keep in mind that the goal is to clear the load off your mind in a short time.

Pressure is an important warning signal. When you feel pressure, clear the load; free up your mental resources so you can concentrate 100% on your main task. There is no better use of your mind at that moment.

—Jean Moroney

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