Do you tackle challenges as soon as they arise, or do you procrastinate until the deadline is near? If you’re a procrastinator, this blog post offers a new perspective.

Instead of the “Eat that Frog” method, which involves completing difficult tasks immediately in the morning, I recommend a flexible strategy. Start your tasks early, whether they’re obligations or personal goals. After some progress, you can set them aside. This method uses the brain’s background processing power for deeper insights and solutions.

Starting early gives your brain time to effectively handle challenges. This often leads to better outcomes than rushed, unplanned efforts.

In this post, you’ll discover how our brain’s problem-solving abilities can be enhanced. Learn to use your brain as a “search agent” for insights, improving your efficiency in tackling tasks.

 

A Perception Test

Try this: Look around your room for thirty seconds, then close your eyes. Without looking again, list three green items. Challenging, right?

Now, open your eyes and specifically look for three green items for thirty seconds. Then close your eyes and list them. Easier, right?

This demonstrates the power of focused attention. Directing your mind to seek something specific, like green items, markedly improves your notice and recall ability. This visual exercise mirrors how focused task engagement enhances brain processing.

 

The Car-Buying Phenomenon: Extending Focused Attention 

Imagine choosing a car to buy. Once you’ve decided which one you’re interested in, that model seems to appear everywhere. This is your brain focusing on details relevant to you.

Starting a task early has a similar effect. Even if you don’t finish it immediately, it sets your brain on high alert for related information, leading to deeper insights and creative solutions.

 

Harnessing Your Brain’s Hidden Potential

There are many ways to use this unique brain feature in your work.

Test-taking:

I previously discussed Professor Barbara Oakley’s “Hard Start” approach for exams. This method is based on her learning science expertise. As soon as you get an exam, skim all questions. Identify and tackle the toughest one first. If you get stuck, switch to easier questions. After working on the easy ones, revisit the hard question. You might make some headway. If stuck again, try another round of easier questions. This process could help you solve the difficult question before time’s up. By starting early, your brain works on it subconsciously, like a dual processor.

Writing:

Many writers, like John McPhee, use a similar method. They start with a rough, often imperfect draft. After the initial draft, they let their brains work on it passively. This often leads to fresh ideas and draft improvements.

Producing Great Ideas:

James Webb Young, an American advertising executive, talked about this in his famous 1940 book, “A Technique for Producing Ideas.” He stressed the importance of stepping away from a problem after intense work. This pause allows your brain to process the information subconsciously and generate insights or “a-ha” moments.

These examples illustrate how starting early can enhance cognitive processing.

Maximizing Insights Through Walking and Sleep

I’ve personally benefited from this approach. For instance, I used to fill my walks with podcasts or audiobooks, constantly feeding my mind with new information. However, I discovered that walking in silence, without any distractions, allows my mind to wander and ponder the challenging questions I had earlier. This simple change often leads to valuable insights and solutions.

This phenomenon isn’t just limited to waking hours. Solutions that were elusive at night often become clear the next day. This clarity comes from the brain processing and consolidating the day’s information during sleep. 

To enhance this effect, make it a habit to write down any insights you gain during the day in relation to your question or challenge, right before you go to bed. This practice not only helps you maintain a record of your insights but also primes your brain to continue working on the issue while you sleep.

 

The Importance of Immediate Note-Taking

Capturing moments of insight as they occur is equally important. Our brains aren’t always reliable at storing important thoughts, and insights can easily fade away. Therefore, it’s essential to record them immediately, whether on your phone or in a notebook.

Regular note-taking helps you retain fleeting insights and better organize your thoughts. By consistently recording your insights, you develop a habit of “noticing.” This makes you more attuned to capturing valuable ideas as they emerge.

This practice of recording is crucial for insights that come during sleep as well. As soon as you wake up, make it a point to jot them down. These early morning revelations are often the most valuable, offering fresh perspectives and innovative solutions.

 

Call to Action

Start engaging with your challenges early to set your brain in motion. This early engagement, even if brief, activates your brain to work in the background. 

This approach is especially beneficial for habitual procrastinators. Early engagement helps you overcome delay and unlocks your brain’s potential for innovation and efficiency.

Embrace this method and observe the transformation in your problem-solving and creativity. Let’s embark on this journey of discovery and self-improvement together!