Problems to Solve to Save Cognitive Energy

Over the last 12 years (my adult life) I’ve experienced many great blessings that made life fall into place. But the problems that stir up trouble and compound unresolved issues were seen more and more. Adulthood became the time that I realized how easy I had it as a child.

One of the most valuable resources I have is cognitive energy. It’s important for everyone, but it’s definitely important for creative professionals. When I can’t focus, relax, or feel a sense of accomplishment, my willpower declines and fatigue sets in. This is when distractions and negativity take hold of my mindset and I feel lost in the noise of the day—facing challenges without clarity in the present that’s vital for getting things done.

Doing a little digging and reading online, I found a good article from yesteryear that breaks down the problems we need to solve to restore and support cognitive energy. In 2011, Sebastian Marshall wrote ‘[The Cognitive Cost of Doing Things]’ for Lifehacker. When distractions, cynicism, and ‘open loops’ creep into your life, the issues you’re facing pertain to:

  • Activation energy
  • Opportunity costs
  • Inertia
  • Ego/willpower depletion
  • Neurosis/fear/etc.
  • Altering of hormonal balance
  • Maintenance costs from the idea re-emerging in your thoughts

Maybe you’ve already been introduced to these ideas but you need a review to maintain sanity every six months or so. I need to stay focused and explore these issues to exercise the best productivity practices.

Sebastian doesn’t attempt to provide solutions, only awareness of the conditions that hinder cognitive energy. Identifying the symptoms and underlying causes is one part of finding satisfying solutions. One of the more helpful solutions I’ve used over the years is David Allen’s [Getting Things Done], but solutions to these problems vary on the individual level. My [personality] lends itself to introspection (journalling), project planning, focused social interaction, and diving into creative work. Anything that I can do to cultivate these practices is immensely helpful.