Focus on what matters, account for what you can’t control, and allow a little fresh air

It’s easy to find yourself drowning in both life and business if you allow your attention and focus to be pulled from pillar to post in the ebbs and flows of daily life. I have just read a headline that explained that an ‘upgrade in UK growth predictions could dwarf the Brexit hit’.

I may be a little cynical here, but headlines are so often nonsensical at best to most of us lay people. It’s become common to read something like “the month on month rise is decreasing, representing a growth on the same month last year”. With an emphasis on the creation of drama, usually edging towards doom to attract our attention, we end up not really knowing what it all means, but just feeling that bad stuff is going on.

The problem is, this type of ‘bad feeling’ does have an effect. Like the constant dripping of a tap into a finite-sized bucket, this bad stuff can be cumulative, and can really start to have an effect on both your mood and effectiveness as you go about your daily tasks.

There are a couple of key principles at work

Firstly, think of your brain as broadly speaking split into two parts. The first is your short-term memory. This is where you do all of you current thinking, your calculations, your decision making. The second is your long-term memory; this contains all your internal databases; where you store all of the long-term information you like to keep so that you can call on it whenever you need it. This can relate to names, numbers, processes you need follow, and so on.

One of the difficulties we all have is that the short-term memory is limited; scientists say to around 6-8 units, where a unit is a piece of information. These could be anything from a name, a number, or an image, etc. Once we try to store more than 6-8 units, using the analogy above, the bucket starts to overflow, and we start to kick stuff out, often in a random fashion that leads to problems.

The trick is, you always need to keep some of these units free for current functioning. If you allow your short-term memory to completely fill up with ‘stuff’, you’ll find you have nothing left to think with, calculate with, and make decisions. There are all sorts of clever things around that relate to this simple idea of how our brains work. You will all be familiar with the instinctive way we store telephone numbers. If I asked you to remember my first ever phone number, 01482632123, you would struggle a lot more than if I asked you to remember the same number as 01482-632-123. This is a strategy they call chunking, where you take more than 6-8 bits of information, but make it less that this by splitting the information into collective groups. So, the first number asks you to remember 11 units, but the second only 3.

Another key area is time management. In my experience, many people who struggle with organisation and time management try to carry too much in their head through a failure to mechanise. If everything you are asked to do goes straight into a calendar with an alarm, you no longer have to carry it in your short-term memory, leaving more space to function, in addition to not forgetting key tasks.


So, returning to the daily struggle with doom related chaos. I’ve never been a marketer, but just observing the way advertising works over the years, it’s clear that any form of information we are presented with, even in the most superficial way, clearly sinks deeper and deeper into our souls in ways that are clearly neither conscious or within our control, with effects that are irrefutable.

I once managed a team of sales people selling into local pharmacies. When a pharmacy was considering lining their shelves with a product, the one killer blow was whether you could announce a TV advert for it. They had all clearly experienced the power TV advertising to the point where the other features and benefits of the product, the price and all that goes with it became secondary. If there was a run of adverts coming for a particular item, they would fill their shelves with it, and they knew it would fly off quicker than they could stack it.

So, when we turn on the TV, pick up the iPad or phone, or, if you are old like myself, perhaps a newspaper, consider what you read. The media has clearly decided that economic downturns; stories of commercial doom and tragedy are far better at attracting your attention. My question is what effect is this having on your daily lives as it all sinks down deep into your soul.

If simple TV adverts can seemingly trump all other logic regarding a product purchase and persuade us all to buy it in a pharmacy, what effect is the constant drip of doom having on your ability to function, your mood and approach to daily life?

It works both ways

The good news is, it works both ways. Science has actually proven that although we smile when we are happy, we also feel happier when we smile! What you feed your hidden subconscious on a regular basis is a usually a choice, so I say find ways to fill it with happy news and optimism. The Internet is great these days; you can watch anything you like at any time of the day now. Maybe five minutes of your favourite comedian is a better start to the day with your Cornflakes instead the usual Sky News feed.

More than ever today, the idea of any ‘quiet time’ can be a thing of the past. The Internet follows wherever you are. My teenagers can’t sit and eat a meal without a phone appearing out of their pocket to watch something (until of course we intervene!!). Remember the short-term memory; that bucket fills all too easily? If you want to remain sharp and effective, you need to minimise what you allow in. Time without a constant flow of information from phones, TV and so on, is crucial to allowing some of that bucket to empty and leave space to be more effective for the things that matter most.