Do you want to discover the secrets to training your lazy brain to accomplish more in less time? In this episode of Get Unstuck & On Target, Mike O’Neil interviews Brad Cochrane to learn how you can stop being too busy to get anything done.
Brad is a consultant, published author, and a TEDx speaker coach who helps train our brains to work more efficiently in the current digital age of information overload.
In This Episode, You’ll Learn…
- How your brain works against you
- How to do more by doing less
- Actionable tips for making your brain more efficient
- What task switching is and how it works
- Why multitasking doesn’t work
- How to help your brain conserve energy
- What heuristic patterning is and how to leverage it to accomplish more
- “We have all this information coming to us all the time and we have to do all of these tasks. Did you know that we tend to make 35,000 decisions every single day? Some of them are small. Some of them are big. But that takes a toll. So, with all of the stuff coming at us, we have been taught that ‘Gee, in order to get more done, I just have to work harder.’” – Brad Cochrane
- “Basically, our brain has 20 Watts of energy to work with every single day. You’re not going to increase that 20 Watts. Actually, it’s not about increasing that 20 Watts — it’s about using that 20 Watts most efficiently. And the brain is always looking for a way to use that efficiently and the brain actually wants to be lazy.” – Brad Cochrane
- “But actually it turns out that the more we try to get done, the less we’re going to do. It’s like the Alice in Wonderland, right? And the Red Queen? It’s like the faster that you run, the more you stay in the same place. So we have to change how we look at that.” – Brad Cochrane
- “Every time you’re interrupted, you just lost 22 minutes. Now, if you’ve ever had a really busy, busy, busy day, and at the end of it, you say, ‘Wow, I was busy, but I didn’t get a single thing done.’ It’s most likely because you’ve been interrupted throughout the day.” – Brad Cochrane
- “Multitasking is really, you know, multitasking doesn’t work that scientists have proven this — they’ve done studies.” – Brad Cochrane
- “What happens with people that do a rapid test switching is they never concentrate on anything.” – Brad Cochrane
- “They’re just staying up at that top level, which is why the brain scientists have looked at this and they’ve looked at the quality of decision-making for multitaskers. And it’s absolutely horrible. It’s horrible. They make terrible decisions.” – Brad Cochrane
- “Well, I think it’s because we live in this world of information overload. We’ve got this, we’ve got that. We have our emails coming in all the time, right. Asking us to do all of these different things. So we really feel like the production belt is moving faster and faster.” – Brad Cochrane
- “This is really the key and the way around all of this is if we understand that. Task switching, right? It takes a lot of energy. We can also understand that the next task we choose, if we make that as similar as possible to the previous task, then we’re not going to use that much energy switching to the new task.” – Brad Cochrane
- “So similarity. You know, really breeds contentment. Familiarity breeds contentment is what I say now.” – Brad Cochrane
- “What your brain has done is recognized a pattern and it kind of puts you to sleep. It said I’m just going to pay enough attention to stay between the white lines and to stay away from the cars in front of me. This is how the brain saves energy. So we can use that same mechanism of heuristic patterning to make ourselves more efficient.” – Brad Cochrane
- “Right. I look at myself and I know that I’m creative in the morning and I’m not creative in the afternoon. So, what does that mean? That means I do my creative tasks in the morning and my non-thinking tasks in the afternoon. My errands, if you will.” – Brad Cochrane
- “When I look at my email, if I see something that asks me to be creative, I don’t work on that unless I’m in that creative mode, doing other creative things.” – Brad Cochrane
- “If we want to expand a little bit, there’s also something called trigger cues. Now a trigger cue is as your brain is trying to figure out how to do this task and build all these rule sets. You can trigger the brain to find that ruleset really quickly. And how do we do that? Through the senses. There are ways of setting things up so that when you see something, you get into a thinking mode.” – Brad Cochrane
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Mike O'Neill: Hello, and welcome back to the Get Unstuck & On Target Podcast. I'm Mike O'Neil with Bench Builders, and we're speaking with thought leaders to uncover tips to help you break down the barriers that are keeping you or your business stuck. Joining me today from outside Seattle is Brad Cochrane. Welcome Brad.
Brad Cochrane: Thank you, Mike. It's great to be here on this beautiful day.
Mike O'Neill: Well, it's beautiful here. You on the West coast, I'm here on the East coast for those who don't know Brad, he's a keynote speaker. He's a consultant, he's an author, and he's a TEDx speaker coach. And one of the topics that Brad speaks on as a keynoter is entitled "The Lazy Brain. Stop being too busy to get anything done."
So I've asked Brad, if you kind of explain how we can do more by doing less. So Brad, let's just jump right into this. You entitle your keynote as "The Lazy Brain. Stop being too busy to get anything done." What do you mean when you refer to the lazy brain?
Brad Cochrane: Well, Mike, the thing is we live in a world of information overload, right?
We have all this information coming to us all the time and we have to do all of these tasks. Did you know that we tend to make 35,000 decisions every single day?
Some of them are small. Some of them are big, but that takes a toll. So with all of the stuff coming at us, we have been taught that "Gee, in order to get more done, I just have to work harder."
Right. "I have to make my brain more efficient. I have to do this. I have to do that. I have to do this."
That's exactly the wrong way of looking at it. Basically, our brain has 20 Watts of energy to work with every single day. You're not going to increase that 20 Watts. Actually, it's not about increasing that 20 Watts — it's about using that 20 Watts most efficiently. And the brain is always looking for a way to use that efficiently and the brain actually wants to be lazy.
Mike O'Neill: So you're kind of saying that what your brain wants is to be lazy, but we have a tendency to overload. Do we not?
Brad Cochrane: Absolutely. Absolutely. It's about, get it done, get it done, get it done.
But actually it turns out that the more we try to get done the less we're going to do. It's like the Alice in Wonderland, right? And the Red Queen is like the faster that you run, the more you stay in the same place. So we have to change how we look at that. And when I say lazy brain, I don't mean not doing anything.
I just mean understanding that the brain wants to save energy. So how do we help the brain save energy?
Well, it boils down to something that I call task switching. Here's what happens when you need to do a new task. You have your brain working. You're working along. You need to move to the next task and your brain has to drain out what's called the rule set. It's how we balance everything together.
It balances, it drains out that rule set. It searches into the memory for the new rules set for the new task. It has to build everything back together and put it into action. So really what it's about is every time that you start a new task, you have to build a new rule set, which takes energy away from that 20 Watts of power that you have to work at any given time.
Now, if you're working away and you're in, you're focused and you're in the zone and you get interrupted. You have to drain out what you've done, rebuild a new rule set to deal with that interruption. Deal with that interruption. Drain out that old, that interruption rule set, rebuild a new one and get going again.
Do you know how long that takes you to do?
Mike O'Neill: No, how long?
Brad Cochrane: 22 minutes. That mean every time you're interrupted, you've just lost 22 minutes. Now, if you've ever had a really busy, busy, busy day, and at the end of it, you say, "Wow, I was busy, but I didn't get a single thing done." It's most likely because you've been interrupted throughout the day.
And, and it's all about that rebuilding of those rule sets.
Mike O'Neill: I can see already. We got a lot to kind of dig into here. I don't know this describes you, but sometimes I convince myself that I'm much more effective if I do more than one thing at a time — multitask.
Brad Cochrane: Multitasking is really, you know, multitasking doesn't work that scientists have proven this — they've done studies.
Remember I talked about the draining out of the old rule set. If you feel like you're a good multi-tasker, it means that you're only really good at rapid task switching. Okay. So you're good at draining it out and bringing it in and draining it out and bringing it in.
It's still not the most efficient and effective way of using your brain's energy.
Mike O'Neill: So, let me see if I heard you correctly. If a person says they're good at multitasking, what they're implying is they're good at switching, but what you're reminding us — every time you switch it takes 22 minutes to get back into the right zone.
Brad Cochrane: And you're in the zone. It takes you 22 minutes. What happens with people that do a rapid test switching is they never concentrate on anything.
They're just staying up at that top level, which is why the brain scientists have looked at this and they've looked at the quality of decision-making for multitaskers. And it's absolutely horrible. It's horrible. They make terrible decisions.
Mike O'Neill: So why do we convinced ourselves that multitasking works? What's so hard about stopping multitasking.
Brad Cochrane: Well, I think it's because we live in this world of information overload. We've got this, we've got that. We have our emails coming in all the time, right. Asking us to do all of these different things. So we really feel like is that the production belt is moving faster and faster.
And so we need to keep working faster and faster. But here's the interesting thing.
This is really the key and the way around all of this is if we understand that. Task switching, right? It takes a lot of energy. We can also understand that the next task we choose, if we make that as similar as possible to the previous task, then we're not going to use that much energy switching to the new task.
Right. So similarity. You know, really breeds contentment. Familiarity breeds contentment is what I say now. Let's look at email for a second. You say, you know what, I'm going to sit down and I'm going to schedule myself for an hour to work on email. And about 20 minutes into that email, you're just totally exhausted, right?
Why it's because every email that comes in is different. Some of them are asking you to respond. Some of them are asking you to absorb the information. Some of them are asking you to help out a Nigerian Prince. Right? And so we've got all these different things coming at us and our brain mode has to switch back and forth.
So, what I do with my email is I basically go through and I saw it and I start thinking, okay, is this an email that needs an answer? Is this an email that I need to archive? Is this an email where I need to think? And I sorted that way first and I have similar kinds of emails with similar kinds of emails.
Mike O'Neill: Okay. I'm already beginning to hear a little bit of a pattern.
Brad Cochrane: It's absolutely a pattern it's called heuristic patterning. Now the way this works without getting into the brain science too much is that your brain is always looking for patterns, right? Because if it can figure out what that pattern is, it saves energy.
Simple example, driving down the freeway, long distance, driving on a straight interstate. Have you ever driven on an interstate? And about two hours later, do you go, how the heck did I get here?
Mike O'Neill: Yes.
Brad Cochrane: Right? Cause you stayed in the straight line and you've gone to the thump, thump, thump, what your brain has done is recognized a pattern and it's kind of puts you to sleep.
It said I'm just going to pay enough attention to stay between the white lines and to stay away from the cars in front of me. This is how the brain saves energy. So we can use that same mechanism of heuristic patterning to make ourselves more efficient.
How? We do all our interstate tasks at the same time, right?
Is we start putting all of our tasks together so that we fall into that pattern of being efficient.
Mike O'Neill: So you're advising in this and we're going to be spending most of our time. Less on the brain science and more of the, what does it tell us to do? What are the practical things? So the first thing you've come out of the shoot describing is if you're going to work on email, you need to be dedicated to work in email.
But what you're also suggesting is what you do with emails. If you can do like tasks with that email, is that what I'm hearing?
Brad Cochrane: That's exactly what you're hearing. And actually I break out, break it out even more. One of the things we shouldn't understand about ourselves is that we have a bio rhythm to the day.
Right. I look at myself and I know that I'm creative in the morning and I'm not creative in the afternoon. So, what does that mean? That means I do my creative tasks in the morning and my non-thinking tasks in the afternoon. My errands, if you will.
When I look at my email, if I see something that asks me to be creative, I don't work on that unless I'm in that creative mode, doing other creative things. If we want to expand a little bit, there's also something called trigger cues.
Now a trigger cue is as your brain is trying to figure out how to do this task and build all these rule sets. You can trigger the brain to find that rule set really quickly. And how do we do that through the senses? Right.
There are ways of setting things up so that when you see something, you get into a thinking mode.
Now let's start with the most simple, which is where are you right now, Mike? You're in a very beautiful office right now. Right. And you've got it set up and I'm sure that when you sit down at your desk, you start thinking, okay, this is where I do my work. This is where I do my desk work. I don't know if you remember back in the old days, but there's something called Starbucks coffee shops.
Mike O'Neill: I do remember.
Brad Cochrane: You remember that? So anyways, with Starbucks coffee shops is that a place where people go to specifically be creative — to work on things, maybe to meet people? Right. And that's one of the designs of a Starbucks coffee shop. I have two or three libraries that I visit and I have certain desks at those libraries, and that's where I do my work. And of course I have my home office.
Mike O'Neill: You know, I'm sitting here listening to you and realizing, hopefully I've already begun to kind of embrace some of these suggestions. We're speaking and recording this podcast and I've decided to create dedicated space in my office.
And that space is really for this very purpose. So when I stand and I'standing now. Stand here, I'm in the mode of podcast. For me, I do better by standing. I think better typically on my feet, but this is the only time I really use this space. So it's set aside for that very purpose. So it sounds like I may be on to the right thing.
Brad Cochrane: You're absolutely onto the right thing, which leads me into another thing is your physicality, right? Your standing and your, what your body is telling your brain is that when I'm standing here. Right. I'm on the air doing this podcast right now. Some people they think better when they walk that's me.
If I'm trying to solve a problem, I go for a walk. Some people, they do morning stretches, right? This is another trigger cue that gets you into the right frame of mind to do what you need to do.
Now, Mike, I noticed that you're wearing a very nice shirt there. Right. I'm wearing a nice shirt. Of course you don't know what I'm wearing from the waist down, doesn't really matter.
This is one of the shirts that I wear when I do podcasts. Clothes are a fantastic trigger cue. I know that a lot of people, they love working from home because they can, you know, they can wear their pajamas all day long, right. They call them their morning pajamas, their afternoon pajamas or their night pajamas.
But I know people that work from home. And the first thing they do in the morning is they fix themselves up shower, shave, makeup. They put on a nice set of clothes, and then they make that terribly long commute from their bathroom to their office, to their home office. Right. And it's a five step commute, but because they've dressed up, they're dressed for work.
That's another heuristic pattern or another trigger cue.
Mike O'Neill: Noe thus far. Okay. If I might interrupt you for a moment, I'll make sure I'm caught up to you. You describe the value of trying to do light tasks at the same time. You have describe being aware of your own energy level and keep that in mind.
So if you can plan these things you want to do it, whereas you're using the right time of the day to do certain tasks. And then you described something that's very, very practical. And that is to kind of get into the mindset of at work.
Even if you're working from home, you're suggesting that there could very well be the cue of literally putting on certain clothing to kind of tell you and your brain it's time to get to work, or it's time to do a recording of a show like we're doing today.
Brad Cochrane: Absolutely. I have been working from home for decades and the biggest decision I have every day is do I do work or do I wash the dishes? Right.
So now what do I, what have I learned to do is that when I work in the kitchen, I put on an apron, it doesn't matter what I'm doing, because that lets me concentrate on that kitchen task.
I take it off. I sit down in my office, right. And, you know, I put on the right clothes and that puts me into that heuristic pattern of working and concentrating.
Mike O'Neill: Excellent. Let me ask, keep going. These are great tips.
Brad Cochrane: Okay, well, Mike, do you have a cup of coffee in front of you?
Mike O'Neill: I don't have coffee, but I do have some water.
Brad Cochrane: So here's an interesting thing is smells and tastes are some of the most powerful trigger cues that you can use. Now I was working with somebody and she said that she always gets teased at work.
And I say, well, why? She says, because the first thing she does at work is she makes this really nice latte. Right. She gets teased because she only drinks half a cup of this beautiful, expensive latte. And she said, what my coworkers don't understand is that it's not the coffee that gets me going in the morning. It's the smell of the coffee. It's the taste of the coffee. It's the ritual of the coffee.
And the caffeine and the coffee is irrelevant at this point because it is a very strong trigger cue that puts her, gets her brain concentrating.
My wife, she's working from home now. She is using candle smells. Right. And she's given me this beautiful log cabin candle. And I can smell that. And it puts me into that mood of working.
The other thing I do is music. A lot of people use music, right to concentrate, and I really recommend this and I recommend using the same music. Now, here's the one cautionary note about music, however, is don't use music that has words to it and less, you really know the song so well that you don't need to listen to the words.
It should just be instrumental or you can use sound effects. What I use is I have a little sound, a track that has birds chirping, light rain, some thunder. And that puts me in the mood to work and to really concentrate. Why? Because when I was a kid, I used to go out with my older brother birdwatching and we'd get up before the sun rose and we'd hear the world come awake through the birds and that always gives me such a charge of energy. Right.
So you've got taste. You've got smell. You've got sounds. You've got sights, right? That's why I am looking out through a picture window, because that puts me in the mood, in the working mood.
Even touch, right? How your fabric feels, you know, the warmth of the coffee, all of these triggers cues can really get you going and above all.
I do recommend props. Right. Maybe you could wear a hat, clothes, whatever it is that puts you in that mood is really going to trigger that pattern cue.
So why is that important? Because again, as you're switching tasks, if you smell that smell, your brain says, "Ooh, it's time to work!" And it builds that rule set really, really quickly.
Mike O'Neill: No, you started off by stressing the importance of doing like tasks because every time you change it can, if you're in the zone can really set you back 20 plus minutes is what you said.
So let's begin to kind of pull this together. You said that if you attack the senses and you kind of be mindful of how the senses are triggered. and that those triggers can help you stay very, very focused. Is this your way of suggesting that if you were to do these things, might we be less inclined to turn to the next task or to try to do more than one thing at once?
Brad Cochrane: Oh, Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. First of all, yes, if you understand all the energy you're spending doing tasks. And then you understand that this heuristic patterning, then it gives you the power to choose when you're going to do something.
In other words in other, instead of feeling like you're always on call and you have to do the next thing and you have to do the next thing you can say, "Wait a second, I'm in a creative mood right now. You asked me to do basically some other kinds of work. You know, I'm going to put that off 'til later."
Let me tell you a personal story is when I realized that my creative times were in the morning and that my errand time was in the afternoon. Saturday mornings, right? What happens Saturday mornings? I know I'm creative. I start working. My wife says, "Hey honey, I have a bunch of chores for you to do."
And I say, "Well, honey, I'll love to do them, but I'm going to do them this afternoon."
Now, what kind of look did I get from her? She's like, "Yeah, right pal, you're going to do them in the afternoon." Right. And I said, "No, I really will." And I followed up on that and she has learned that, "yeah, I'll do what I say I'm going to do, but don't expect it in the morning."
When you're working with other people and you understand your own daily energy as you go along, guess what? You can set down some of those parameters, some of those barriers that sort of block off certain tasks that are going to interrupt you and kind of destroy your concentration.
And at that time to let those tasks in.
Mike O'Neill: You know, Brad, as we kind of work through these practical tips, I want to make sure that we don't leave unaddressed important points that you want to make sure we get. Is there anything that we've not discussed that you want to make sure we do get out there on this show here today?
Brad Cochrane: Just one last thing. Understand that when we get overwhelmed with tasks, certain chemicals in our brain. Right. Start flooding our brain. Now there, our amiglydia, which is basically its our little sentinel for fear that gets triggered right away. What happens as we get filled with all these hormones, like adrenaline, a cascade effect happens, right?
Which means that some adrenaline creates, or excuse me, stimulates, more adrenaline, stimulates more adrenaline. And pretty soon we're overwhelmed and we go through the five F's, right? We can either fight what's going on, which means work harder or flight, which is, which means, I'm going to go do something else or we can freeze where we go "well, I don't know what to do, but I'm just gonna sit here and I'm gonna stare really hard at the screen", right?
Until something happens or there's a fog where we're just sort of like, we're not firing all cylinders. We're just forcing ourselves to do a task and it's really not coming together. But what we really want to do is focus.
And to do that, we need to take a deep breath. We need to let that adrenaline drain out of us and then start over. And as we take that deep breath, let it all go. This is really where the trigger cues are very, very helpful. We smell that coffee and that gets us refocused.
Mike O'Neill: Could you quickly, so I didn't write these down because, but as you went through the, I think it was the five F's again, what are those, what are those in order?
Brad Cochrane: There's fight and there's flight and we all know fight or flight. What we don't realize is there's freeze. Right. It's the Armadillo effect. We just stop what we're doing, or there's the fog where our brain is so overwhelmed with stuff that we don't really give a time to relax. We just push on through that perseverance. Right.
And a lot of our multitasking takes place in fog. Believe it or not, which is why those decisions are so terrible, but it's really about focus. And that's the final F is that focus. Let yourself drain out, focus on the next task. Don't let yourself get interrupted. Use your trigger cues and relax.
There's plenty of time to do everything.
Mike O'Neill: So Brad, I've had the opportunity to go back and watch elements of your keynotes. And so if someone was listening to, or in attendance at a keynote on this very topic. And you want to make sure that they heard certain things. What takeaways would you want to make sure that they heard?
Brad Cochrane: So basically it's these, if you want to do more, do less. If you want to do more, do less.
If you try to do everything, you're going to accomplish nothing. Doing everything, accomplishes nothing. One at a time will save your mind. Don't try to do everything. Just concentrate on what's in front of you. One at a time. We'll save your mind.
Familiarity breeds contentment. Do like things with like things be in the same familiar space. That's how you're going to be most happiest and most productive. And just remember the final one is the lazy brain gets more done.
Mike O'Neill: This is excellent. For those who are listening and wanted to write this down, we will be including these key points in the show notes. So fret not with that will be included there. Brad, if folks want to reach you online, what's the best way to do that?
Brad Cochrane: Well, first of all, I'm not going to put you into any sales funnel or anything like that. I want to have a conversation and the best place to have a conversation with you is on LinkedIn.
So go to LinkedIn splash in Brad Cochrane, and I believe that'll be in the notes in the chat, Brad Cochrane. I do blogs on communication. I have some upcoming webinars, some free webinar. But I really want to connect with you and I love communication and I love how we can make people really do what they want to do in the world and take charge of their own lives.
Mike O'Neill: So Brad, that's exactly how you and I originally connected through LinkedIn and I'm richer because of that. And I think our listeners also are richer by you sharing what you have with us today. So thank you.
Brad Cochrane: Thank you. Uh, this has been a wonderful, wonderful day and of course I love talking about this stuff and I really love what you're doing. It's really a good thing that you're doing in the world.
Mike O'Neill: Thank you. I sure appreciate you saying that. And I also want to thank the listeners who have joined us for this episode of get unstuck and on target. We've lined up great thought leaders like Brad, that I'm sure you'll enjoy getting to know.
We upload the latest episode every Thursday, and I hope you'll subscribe, be it on Apple, Spotify, or on any of the podcast platforms. But if you've been listening to our podcast and you're realizing that's something's keeping you or your company stuck. Let's talk. Visit unstuck.show and schedule a call.And on that call, we'll explore what has got you stuck and perhaps what could you do to overcome it. So I want to thank you for joining us. I want to thank you for the opportunity to bring folks like Brad into the discussion. I hope you've picked up some tips that help you get unstuck and on target. Until next time.