Do you ever struggle with staying focused and being productive? Do you find it difficult to get through the day without feeling anxious and tired? There is a cost to hyperconnectivity, and this episode will help you find the best solution to this increasingly prevalent problem.
In this episode, you’ll hear some great tips for becoming more focused and productive, while decreasing stress and exhaustion. This is hugely important, as today we all face more hurdles than ever in the workplace. Consider this: a UC Irvine study revealed that the average office worker is interrupted once every 11 minutes, while another study from Loughborough University suggests that many workers check their email as often as every five minutes. Clearly, it’s a widespread problem, but this show will give you the tools to help you fix this problem yourself. We start by discussing James Hewitt’s “Cognitive Middle Gear” and how you can avoid it, the best solution for managing stress and delivering peak performance, and how to plan for “cognitive endurance.” I reference Cal Newport’s books Deep Work and A World Without Email (he calls email the most insidious interruptor and time suck/distractor) and explain why brief interruptions such as checking text messages and emails have such a massive negative impact (and how it is related to something called Attention Residue). I also discuss the psychological pain that comes from not being accessible, the real meaning of busyness, and the studies that have shown having a culture of connectivity actually ruins productivity.
Another book I recommend and mention during the show is Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, which draws some parallels between attention and happiness, and was written by Winifred Gallagher, who brilliantly says who you are is the sum of what you focus on. This show also emphasizes the importance of scheduling out your time every day, protecting your time, having distinct shutdown hours, and why you should never wait around for inspiration.
Let’s look at some ways to become more productive and focused. [01:27]
Just being an excellent athlete or corporate leader doesn’t necessarily mean anything except that you’re very competent in your narrow level of focus. [02:19]
We have tremendous potential to excel in one area of our life and then apply those peak performance attribute, but the potential to be distracted is ever present. [04:58]
It’s a good idea to get organized enough to establish a specific time to go deep with focus and get things done. [09:15]
Attention residue is where you lose a tiny bit of wattage of cognitive power every time you divert and then return to the original important task. [10:54]
Busyness is a very effective proxy for productivity. [16:43]
You are the sum of what you focus on. Be specific. Write down your goals. [20:10]
It’s okay to be annoying by being unresponsive. Keep track of your accomplishments. [23:18]
Keeping track of your goals, like diet and exercise, gives more structure. [27:29]
Protect your time to allow space for creativity. Brain needs down time. [28:17]
Try to schedule two 90 minutes focus times per day. Then takes breaks. [33:25]
Habitual checking on missed calls and messages can become addictive behavior pattern. [37:52]
As long as you prioritize that deep work, you’ll have more freedom to kind of relax during the other hours of the workday. [42:09]
You can learn to piggyback new habits onto habits you already have. [44:49]
- Brad’s Shopping page
- Deep Work
- A World Without Email
- Primal Endurance Online Course
- Good to GreatMark Bell’s Power Project
- Hewitt: Cognitive Middle Gear
- Microworkouts Podcast
- Atomic Habits
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Hey, listeners, it’s time for one of my favorite subjects to talk about if not necessarily executed in my own personal life. That’s right, becoming more productive, more focused, less stressed and less exhausted during your workday. And we are going to pull from an assortment of peak performance, focusing techniques from numerous shows and put it all together with another reminder, another motivator, another way to get focus and see if we can improve some of this disastrous and disturbing trends that we see across <laugh> knowledge, working society of becoming highly distractible and having difficulty focusing and becoming fatigued accordingly, especially with attempts to multitask, which we learned is literally impossible.
So we’re talking about the brain switching back and forth between all kinds of disparate us instead of focusing. And we have some great leaders these days doing great work, Cal Newport with his bestselling book. Deep Work now has a podcast called Deep Questions where he takes questions from, uh, real life listeners trying, uh, striving to, to do their best in the workplace and, and put his principles into action. So, uh, there’s some good content, uh, there, and I also love the article that I highlighted in an earlier breather show about avoiding the cognitive middle gear by a British researcher named James Hewitt. Uh, he’s a performance scientist and head of science and innovation at hints, a performance, uh, based in the United Kingdom. And he has a book on, uh, Amazon UK called Exponential Better Life, Better Performance from Formula One to Fortune 500 and looks like you can order a Kindle edition wherever. And who knows, maybe get something shipped from Amazon UK. I’ve never tried that. Little bio James het is passionate about investigating the potential for our high performance bodies and brains through scientific evidence and real stories from high performers in sport and business.
He’s a former pro cyclist racing on the European circuit, and now he works does consulting for Formula One drivers, corporate folks, the elite. They always call CEOs elite and rank. ’em right up there in the same sentence as, uh, great professional athletes, CEOs and other performers. So it’s like, okay, I guess you’re kicking ass in some way, if you ascend to the level of CEO, but, uh, a lot of ’em are running companies into the ground. Maybe they’re, uh, putting up good numbers, but they’re jerks in real life. So <laugh>, maybe you could say, uh, high performing well-liked CEOs, and that would be some good descriptors. Uh, same with athletes. I suppose if, um, some teammate is a, a real jerk off the court or difficult to play with, even though you’re winning games. And, uh, that has definitely happened at the highest level of sport.
Uh, I feel sorry for those folks because they should be enjoying and celebrating their life and serving as role models and all that great stuff. But instead we see plenty of stories of difficulties in regular, everyday life. Getting along with others, friends and family, uh, driving cars too quickly, crashing them all kinds of crazy stuff, getting arrested. Uh, so just being an excellent athlete or corporate leader doesn’t necessarily mean anything except that you’re very competent in your narrow level of focus.
Last, I think we have tremendous potential to excel in one, uh, area of our life and then apply those peak performance attributes to other areas. I talk about that some on the videos of my morning routine course, because for me, uh, it’s been a wonderful, uh, success catalyst to become more focused and disciplined for the rest of the day. Cause I know that when I get up every single day, I hit the deck and I get to work, whether I feel like it or not, I don’t even give myself the time to ponder, uh, an excuse, a delay, a procrastination.
And so it’s, uh, ascended into that vaunted category of habit. And I aspire to have many other things, uh, ascend similarly to where they don’t, uh, tax me with willpower, motivation, discipline, and so forth. That included the interaction with the machine during our day filled with, uh, what a lot of people call knowledge work or computer work, right? So, um, uh, the potential for distractability and the discipline necessary there is tremendous. So let’s hear what James Hewitt has to say. Oh my gosh, James Hewitt is the same name of the British military officer. Uh, back in the day, who was rumored to be associated with Princess Diana, he had red hair. Prince Harry has red hair. And I remember reading the scandalous stories about, Hey, how, what are the odds? This kid has red hair. It could be, um, uh, different father, oh my gosh, those, those Brits, they love their scandals.
Don’t they? Right there on the front page of the newspaper every single day, there’s something juicy and saucy to read about. Maybe there’s such an overwhelm with the, um, the hype and the, uh, uh, the high shock value media that they’re anesthetized to it. And they, they don’t really, um, pay much attention to it. I don’t know. What do you think right in if you’re from the UK. How, how do you guys do with all that, uh, that, that, that fodder that’s put up in your famous newspapers? Okay. James Hewitt says, here’s the deal. We’re never resting. We’re rarely focused and we’re always on in quotes, but we can’t always be on. And he says the solution is to manage your stress levels and deliver peak performance, uh, with a strategy that, um, stratifies the different levels of engagement that you are tapping into.
And he calls it, uh, low cognitive gear, middle cognitive gear and high cognitive gear. So we’ll get into, uh, the tight definitions of all those examples shortly. But the thing to remember now is that it’s way more cognitively stressful and way less efficient to drift back and forth from deep focus, into peripheral things, low cognitive gear, uh, daydreaming, glancing at a, uh, a video or, uh, doing something that’s a diversion. And then heading right back into deep cognitive focus, switching back and forth is very taxing on the brain. It’s such an important point. Uh, Cal Newport talks about it a lot and how he advocates for this highly organized life where you have these modules of time throughout the day that are spoken for and scheduled and defined. So that you’re this, um, peak performance mode high cognitive gear focus for a defined period of time.
Not very long duration, of course, cuz we can’t handle more than that. Uh, Andrew Huberman Huberman lab podcast has some great shows on peak performance and focusing and he advocates for two blocks per day of 90 minutes of intense, uh, deep work to borrow Newport’s phrase. Uh, so two times 90 minutes a day, can you handle that to get some major shit done and put aside all the potential distractions during those 90 minute periods ? Huberman has some funny anecdotes where he admits he’s he’s powerless over the, uh, the, the amazing force of the mobile device. And I think he talks about going out, uh, out of his house and uh, locking his phone in his car. I think he once got frustrated through the phone, onto the roof of his house, knowing he’d have to go get it later, uh, in order to, uh, get in and focus without distraction.
So whatever works for you, but organizing these wonderful times where you really are going deep and you know that it’s only going to last for a certain amount of time that’s, uh, sustainable and uh, productive, right? You’re not gonna say, Hey, I’m gonna spend all day Tuesday focusing on my, uh, fill in the blank book. I’m gonna work eight hours on my book. It’s gonna be great, cuz I fooled around all weekend. Guess what? That’s not gonna work too well either because you’re just physically incapable. Your brain is not capable of going deep and focusing that hard for that long, a period of time. Okay. Cal Newport’s book A World Without Email identifies email as the single most insidious interrupter time suck and distractor that we have in the modern workplace. It’s also, uh, one of the most wonderful innovations of the digital age, right.
And allows us to communicate so efficiently and thank goodness for email, uh, beating the days of having to head to the typewriter low to sheet in type on the keys, pull out, folded up, put it on an envelope, uh, forget about putting the sticky, uh, stamps on there. You gotta lick the stamp, apply it. And if you’re under what, 30 years old, you have no idea what I’m talking about. Loading a sheet into a typewriter. How funny! Anyway, so I love email, but I also wanna be hyper vigilant against it taking over my life. And I will contend over the past decades that it has been such a major part of my communication mode as a, uh, largely an independent, independent working self-employed person that boy, it it’s it’s insidious and it can always turn around and bite me if I don’t regulate it carefully.
So the reason I that this back and forth style, this flowing style of doing little tidbit, things like answering text messages and then returning to your important presentation or deep cognitive work, uh, has such a massive negative impact is due to something called attention residue. Attention residue is where you lose a tiny bit of wattage of cognitive power every time you divert and then return to the original important task. It’s just the brain fatigue factor of having to refocus, regain your mojo, your motivation and all that. And I think we can all reference this on a, a practical level, right where you get interrupted, maybe it’s a, a phone call doorbell, whatever, and then you return to your important work. And you’re like, what was I, uh, what paragraph was I on? Um, what was I doing? And it takes you a little bit of cognitive power to simply return to where you left off.
And a big question comes up, uh, for me and others is why do we, um, why do we indulge in this BS? We can all agree that it’s less productive, less efficient to be hyper spasmodic all day, instead of focused taking a break, returning to focus, doing some medium, medium tasks things. Of course you have to, uh, log into online banking and pay your bills and do stuff that’s low to medium cognitive demand. Uh, but why can’t we batch those, uh, as we’ve been instructed to, um, there’s some opinion on some of the important reasons and one of ’em is that we have this sense. We all have a, a strong desire to be needed and to be useful. So when someone sends an email asking for help or a text message or, or reaches out to you want to pounce on that because you get that instant gratification of being the go-to source for all things, the all powerful all-knowing, uh, person here in the ivory tower that can answer everyone’s needs.
And it is alluring to want to dispense knowledge and be an authority. And, uh, believe me listeners, I absolutely, uh, love and appreciate you taking the time to email me with questions, comments, feedback, the whole team appreciates it so much. And we talk about the interaction with the community so much and how important it is, and try to honor and serve you and answer your requests. But I do have a little bit of a meter built in a guide where the, um, the appropriateness or the depth of the question has to be put through a filter. And so if someone’s asking me to, Hey Brad, can you set up an annual training plan? I wanna do my first triathlon next year. That is an inquiry to have a one-on-one coaching relationship, which as we know, from being in the endurance world is a tremendous, um, tremendously time consuming and important relationship that comes with, uh, a, a relevant and respectable fee for all the information and the, uh, expertise that you’re asking for.
So those kind of questions are gonna have to, um, go through the filter and, uh, an answer that I might, uh, offer up is, Hey, I suggest you enroll in my Primal Endurance online course. It has, uh, hundreds of hours of interviews with the greatest coaches and athletes in the world. And you’ll learn a lot. <laugh> thank you for writing in, right. And I think for the most part, uh, people, those of us who are reaching out for help and guidance, very respectful of other people’s times and asking for things in an appropriate manner, but still, uh, the time that you roll up your sleeves and answer to the outside world needs to be carefully regulated because that’s not all you do in most cases, right? If your job is to, uh, get on email and answer email from customers all day long for eight hour shift, that’s fantastic.
You know what you’re doing, you’re focused and let’s just hope that at eight o’clock at night, after a long, hard day of answering emails for eight hours, uh, you’re not drifting into that mode while you’re trying to be present, uh, at your kid’s soccer practice. Right? So that was, um, one reason that we, uh, try to be constantly available and responsive. Is that a deep sense of being needed and useful to other humans, um, and, and associated with that as number two, uh, I think this is Cal Newport stuff. You, yeah. Um, it’s tribal wiring. So, um, when we are not accessible, we experience a bit of psychological pain because we are disengaging from the community and we’re being selfish and we’re being jerks and we’re being difficult to, to connect with, uh, don’t you get frustrated when you send emails to other people, people, and they don’t answer right away, or they don’t answer within two days.
I know I do because I’m expecting an answer and we have a working relationship, right. And so, uh, having to follow up with people politely three or four times, uh, is incredibly draining and frustrating. However, maybe those people are, uh, on a, uh, a life path, which is highly productive and ascending to the next level. Especially if you, are trying to in get a transactional relationship going where, uh, you’re proposing something and you’re following up on your proposal to see if you can get a new client, it’s fair for them to not, uh, respond on your timeframe. Uh, but you know, out of the gate is really nice too, instead of, uh, stringing people along, uh, by being noncommunicative. But there is some psychological pain associated with being, uh, less responsive than, uh, you perceive other people’s to be, or that you’ve been in the past perhaps.
And then finally busyness is a very effective proxy for productivity. So if you are doing a ton stuff in a very visible manner, especially in the workplace, when you’re actually, uh, in view and other people can see you, uh, with, uh, juggling the many plates and the many balls throughout the day, you appear to be, uh, a highly productive employee because of your super busy, uh, same with in a digital manner. So if you’re constantly pouncing on those group, CC emails with, uh, providing your input and information, uh, within minutes of receiving, uh, the email to the entire group, oh boy, you are the go-to person in the group, same with, uh, attending a ton of meetings. And, uh, you’re in and out of meetings all day long, in fact. And so my gosh, you must be incredibly busy, but we have to reflect on, uh, how, you know, the word proxy means like kind of stand in, right?
So, uh, a proxy for productivity is not the same as productivity. Uh, so those people, those of you listening, who are, in fact, in and out of meetings all day long, and I used to be that person, uh, at certain times, oh my gosh, it’s so helpful to sit there and reflect why am I in this meeting? Um, do I need to be, how is this meeting going? Can I help, uh, facilitate a more productive and dynamic interaction between the participants here, perhaps a faster moving interaction? Have you heard of that strategy? It was, uh, it came into Vogue in Silicon valley, uh, years ago when I was working there where, uh, they would remove the chairs from the conference room. So you’d walk into a meeting, whatever eight people, and there’s no chairs <laugh>. So everyone, uh, walks up to the conference table, uh, puts down your, your, your, and pad, your papers, your briefcase, whatever, and they’re all standing up.
And the thinking was that because it was a uncomfortable situation, you would have a quicker and more productive and more focused meeting rather than sinking into a chair. Uh, maybe there’s enough room in the, in the spacious conference room that you can have your laptop up screen in front of you with no one else looking what’s on the screen. So now you can multitask during the meeting. Oh boy. And then, uh, there goes our productivity, maybe even our, our, our passion for, uh, our career, because, um, what’s happening is, uh, if there’s insufficient, uh, feedback and guidance and direction in the workplace, in a team atmosphere, right? If you’re looking to your leader to have a clear focus every single day, and it’s not there, people will gravitate toward what Newport calls, the principle of least resistance, and that is doing the stuff that’s easiest to accomplish in the moment.
And if we can, uh, imagine the, uh, the effects of doing this in a group setting, where everyone is gravitating together and building more and more momentum for the principle of least resistance, we have the makings of a dysfunctional workplace that has fostered a wonderful culture of connectivity, even though it’s ruining workplace productivity. So that’s a vote for, uh, people taking more alone time, uh, passing on meetings less, absolutely necessary, or having at least conversations about it. And, um, instead of just, uh, you know, showing up and, uh, putting your, um, putting your pause on everything possible.
Now, um, this, uh, comes up to a, an insight from a 2009 book called wrapped R A P T Rapt Attention and the focused life. It was written by Winifred Gallagher and, Gallagher drew some parallels between attention and happiness. The skillful management of attention is the key to living a good life. And it transcends across all kinds of different endeavors, including parenting, friendship, family relationships, personal health, and fitness Gallagher argues that you are the sum of what you focus on. Oh, does this ring a bell to any goals that you’ve succeeded with or failed with? For example, a diet or exercise program and your ability to focus and have a clearly defined and focused plan rather than those vague goals, which the experts always contend are vastly less effective. So if your goal in 2022 to lose some weight or quote, get in shape or quote, fill in the blank of something general and, and high minded, but nevertheless nonspecific and highly ineffective accordingly, uh, let’s try to transition that and refine it and write down some specific and measurable goals, whatever it is in your area of interest. I wanna break the Guinness world record again and speed golf.
So I have to improve my time and by doing so, it entails that I work on, uh, an assortment of different golf skills and practice, as well as running training. I also have goals on the running track to break 60 seconds in the 400 meters and high jump 1.6 meters, which is around five, three. So I am highly focused on these measurable and specific goals. And I perform workouts that are predicated toward achieving those goals. That’s a lot different, and it gets me up in the morning, a lot easier and with more motivation than wanting to stay in shape as get older or, um, uh, prevent injuries, uh, by working out regularly, you know, stuff like that. Okay. So same with the workplace, right. So here are some, uh, some tips and let’s give out six of them right now. Um, one of them is to schedule your time, uh, with tremendous precision.
And it might be the first thing you do every morning is to get out. I, I forget what the term, um, Cal Newport uses, modules or, or blocks of time every day. And so you have these chunks or blocks and your early morning is going to be, um, personal time, a workout, family time, whatever. And then starting at 9:00 AM. Maybe you’ll jump into one of those, uh, Andrew Huberman, 90 minute stints of peak performance, where you’re, uh, not communicating with the outside world. You are totally locked in. And if that’s from nine to 10 30, that’s fantastic. My Australian life coach, buddy, Andre Obradovic, couple time guest on the podcast. He, uh, made a great suggestion to me when I was struggling to finish a book, having many other, uh, things happening and, and going on in the background besides the responsibility of writing the book.
And he says, okay, I understand that you can’t write a book all day and you have many other things going on. Can you at least spend two hours in the morning? First thing you do in the workplace, worked on your book for a couple hours and then put it aside and Hey, if you don’t get to it the rest of the day, cuz you’re super busy, uh, that’s not great, but it sure as hell, better than having a day go by where you really didn’t have that chance to get a chunk of time in there for peak performance goals. Number two on the tip list is be okay, annoying people by being unresponsive. So don’t, you know, take that, that burden that cross off, uh, that crossed a bear and, uh, be okay, uh, being less responsive, uh, being slower or being unresponsive to certain people that don’t warrant a response now.
It’s a popular style to, I’m just gonna opine here as an aside, you know, when you get those automated emails and it says, uh, thanks very much. I’m so super ass busy that I can’t respond to your email. Uh I’ll uh, I I’ll get to it in due time. Okay. Whatever I, it is a little bit off-putting. Now I have to say, uh, that like, Hey, I’m more important than most people who don’t use this little automated tool. I’m not sure it delivers the intended effect because now it’s been so overused, uh, perhaps way more badass would be to, uh, hit your email inbox for the appropriate duration. And you’re gonna do an hour of power or whatever you have scheduled and wherever that can fit in with your other work responsibilities, but give some thoughtful responses and say, Hey, I’m too busy to think about this right now.
How about April, uh, of next year or, or something that gives the person a sense that, um, you care rather than getting an automated response? Uh, my least favorite one is Tim Ferris’s email where at the bottom it says we get over 10,000 emails a day. So we have no, absolutely no chance in responding, uh, directly to your thing. It’s like, wow, let me clap for you. Congratulations, 10,000. That’s so many fricking emails and it’s been on there for years. <laugh> so, okay. Whatever, um, sorry, Tim, but otherwise, you know, keep up the good work. So that’s O that’s number two, be okay. Annoying people by being unresponsive. Uh, number three, and I’m not attributing these to Cal Newport because I think half of ’em are his, and then I threw in some other ones, one comes from, uh, Jim Collins, the, uh, mega bestselling author of business and, uh, productivity books, like Good to Great and many others.
And he, um, had some interesting insights in a lengthy podcast interview might have been with Tim Ferris <laugh>, um, where he says that his goal at the end of the year is that he wants to see 50% of his work time devoted to deep creative, uh, efforts of the highest cognitive power. And that is a huge chunk if you think about most people and how we fritter away time, uh, throughout the day. So if you think 50% is modest, uh, think again and track yourself for one week and let’s see how that number comes out. So this, you know, as a writer and a researcher, he’s talking about act actually, uh, typing on the keys or digging deep into research and, and reading and studying and carefully taking notes for half of his year. And then of course the other half is, uh, paying bills, dealing with employees, whatever else he mentioned during the interview with his particular example.
The other interesting thing about Collins is he is the ultimate numbers themed. And so he has a spreadsheet where he obsessively tracks this every single day. And I believe he gave an entire scale and some really good tips about, um, where he, he gave him score of plus two plus one zero minus one or minus two, like how the day went at a glance, uh, really quickly. So I think that’s, uh, really effective and I’ve been dabbling in something similar myself where, um, I’ll ask myself at the end of the day, uh, did I have a net positive contribution to my most important, goals uh, a neutral or a negative and just kinda keep myself in check, uh, in that manner.
And also recommending this technique to others, especially in the area of diet, if you’re trying to overhaul your diet, uh, you have a specific goal of dropping excess body fat or eliminating processed foods and emphasizing the right foods. You, you can in a glance at the end of the day, uh, get out your journal or your, your digital journal and ask yourself a yes or no question. Uh, today, did I make a positive contribution to my dietary transformation goals? Yes or no. And then, uh, we’ll check back in two weeks or a month. And if we see a lot of Ns together in a string or a lot of Ys, we know we’re keeping ourselves in check. Okay. So that was, um, tip number three, was Jim Collins setting a goal such as 50% of his time doing a creative peak cognitive task.
Number four is to protect your time, uh, such that you can, uh, allow space for creativity. So if you swarmed and swamped and slammed all day, your creativity is going to diminish to almost nothing. If you don’t give it space. So when you protect that time by chunking it, uh, turning off the phone during those periods of peak cognitive performance, being disciplined with your off hour. So you’re ceremoniously, uh, flipping that lap top li closed at a certain hour of the day. You’re powering down your phone and you’re ushering in leisure time and relaxation time. That’s going to make a great contribution to your productivity overall. And that would be number five as those distinct shutdown hours are so important because we have the ability to continue working. And then number six is a quote from Cal Newport. Inspiration is for amateurs, and I think he might be quoting someone else there. Uh, so anyway, what an awesome quote inspiration is for amateurs. Uh, love it. You get it,? The professionals get out the paintbrush and start brushing. Man. They’re not worried about inspiration, same with the, the, the greatest athletes that I had the good fortune to associate with during my time competing as a professional triathlete and the people that I’m continually inspired by today in all areas, not just athletics is there’s none of that, uh, waring in the, in, in the mind where, uh, the level of willpower, motivation and perfection of all things lined up perfectly.
Um, I is, is contemplated. It just happens. You just wake up and you get back on the horsey. Uh, you get back on the computer or you get back in the gym and you go to work Mark Bell, my friend, eh, a big figure in the power lifting and health community has a great podcast called Mark Bell’s Power Project. And, um, you can look at his Instagram contents, absolutely outstanding. And a lot of it talks about, uh, motivation focused goals, as well as, uh, the nuts and bolts of training and getting stronger. Uh, but I, I like his message where he’s not bullshitting around. He just wants you to get to it and, and not worry about the, um, uh, the nuances that we so often, uh, get caught up with. So inspiration is for amateurs people. Okay. Let me ask you, can you relate to the draining effects of flickering in and out of peak cognitive performance throughout the day or multitasking?
It’s extremely draining and I am really sensitive this now to this because maybe cuz I’m, uh, getting older, I’ve been working for many years and I just don’t have that, uh, battery power to sit in front of a screen all day long while working on a book and working on a presentation and answering emails and answering instant messages and just frying my brain accordingly. By the end of the day, this concept really hits home for me when I have an unusual day where I’m completely away from the computer from the, the workplace. And I often times feel less fatigued after, for example, hiking, the Cactus to Clouds last October in Palm Springs, where we went 22 miles with 8,500 feet of elevation gain in the first nine miles and a total hiking duration of 13 hours. I thought I wasn’t gonna make it.
I thought I was gonna be exhausted and I felt fine the whole day. I had a great visit, um, ate enough calories. Thank you, Paleo Valley for those awesome energy bars that I was chowing on all day long and drinking enough water and getting enough sunlight, but that massive physical effort that I was in no way trained for prepared for. I handled just fine. And I was by many measures, less fatigued, especially less cognitively fatigued than on a day where I was Puting around, uh, on the computer, uh, with this, uh, multitasking, uh, theme happening. Yeah, I got in my car and drove two and a half hours after the hike was over. No complaints, no problem. Wake up the next day, feel fine. So we not discount the incredibly fatiguing potential of the laptop or the mobile device. That’s with you all the time, while you’re, uh, racing through, uh, life.
Even if you’re, uh, running errands, standing in line at the bank. I actually love having my phone if I have to stand in line or waste time, cuz then I don’t feel like I’m wasting time, but again, the brain does not have any downtime and that’s the part that’s extremely fatiguing. So, um, as we get a little bit further into, uh, the objective of improving our focus and our discipline in the workplace, I want to, I want you guys to join me and be all in on this. I really want to get better at this. I’ve been talking about it for a long time. I know taking baby steps are okay. And I have seen a little bit of that in recent times where I’m able to, uh, take my finger, go across the track pad and close the window for the email inbox, the, the Gmail window and return to what I was doing when I catch myself and realize, gee, I don’t really need this window to be open all day long.
And so I’m getting there, I’m taking baby steps. You can come take the baby steps with me and uh, let’s, let’s learn more. This crazy stats that Hewitt spouts, uh, on his website articles, there was a study from the university of CA uh, suggesting that the average knowledge worker is interrupted every 11 minutes and workers check their email every five minutes. That’s a study from, uh, Loughborough university in the United Kingdom. That’s where Sebastian Coe went the great runner and head of the Olympic committee today. Okay. So we’re interrupted all the time. We interrupt ourselves all the time by checking email every five minutes. So let’s, uh, set forth the goal of, segmenting our time, especially when we’re talking about those high cognitive gear tasks that require our undivided attention and focus. And I’ve mentioned on other shows, how, uh, one of my success formulas is to, uh, jump in the car while Mia Moore is running around town, doing errands, or doing whatever, going to show real estate homes.
And I just sit in the passenger seat and work on my laptop away from an internet connection. And I’ll sit in some driveway or some parking lot, and it’s an uncomfortable and unusual work environment. Uh, but it serves to help me focus, uh, sometimes more so than in my comfortable office at home. <laugh> So whatever it takes, but maybe we can just get better, uh, in our, uh, in our routine environment that we spend hours and hours in. So, um, the high cognitive gear stuff, our creative tasks, problem solving tasks that require full focus and they should be done, uh, at the time of day when you naturally feel most productive for many people, that’s, uh, the first work block of the day. So there’s, uh, Huberman with his one 90 minute block early in the day. And then after a midday break is another good time for a second 90 minute block.
And if you can do that, I mean, that’s, uh, pretty fantastic accomplishment. Two 90 minute peak performance box. Everything else is just, um, you know, icing on the cake. It’s house cleaning, it’s taking care of your bills. Oh, gee, I gotta go buy this thing on Amazon. And you’re just plowing through, uh, the less demanded task because you’ve done such a great job. And then you can have devoted off times and enjoy, uh, a life away from the screen. Um, and, uh, let’s not forget, uh, 90 minute block for peak focus work, but inside of that 90 minute block, we wanna do a 25 minute work block and then a five minute break. So that’s three times 30 minutes, uh, right. Three 30 minute chunks where it’s 25 minutes on five minutes off. It’s not 90 minutes straight and yes, indeed you have to create a winning environment here.
So you have to close, uh, the email window. You have to put your phone outside of the room. Uh, you can throw it on your roof, like Huberman, lock it in your car and just do the best you can to avoid even the temptation to be interrupted. Because lot of times we are a two weak and we cave in, right. We don’t wanna be left out of the pack. Like I mentioned on those, uh, main reasons that we, uh, insist upon engaging all day. Uh, so low cognitive gear stuff is, uh, rest and recovery, uh, watching TV, uh, binging through your, your, your streaming entertainment, uh, resting, uh, chit chatting, uh, as you walk your dog down the street. So these are things where you’re taking a break and the best breaks are ones that are, uh, as disparate as possible from the peak cognitive to focus in front of a screen.
So you want them to be, uh, outdoors, fresh air, open space, sunlight, uh, perhaps social, right, cuz you’re in a digital world. So, uh, maybe taking, uh, a walk around the neighborhood with your coworkers and then return to the desk. Much, much better than announcing that you are now taking a break from peak cognitive tasks to go and play around on YouTube or on social media. A certainly is a break from your key work responsibilities, but not as effective as getting out and physically moving. And there’s so much content about the benefits of moving frequently throughout the day, doing the micro workouts. I have a whole show about microworkouts. So the essential need to, and not only take a cognitive break, but a physically, a physical movement, cognitive break is big. And then we get to the title of, uh, James Hewitt’s great article, and that is The Cognitive Middle Gear.
And that’s the thing we want to avoid because, uh, we will default and drift into this pattern where you are performing, what is not defined as a peak cognitive task. You’re doing things like email, uh, administrative tasks organizing your life, but these are, uh, drifting into the picture and interrupting those opportunities for peak cognitive focus and thereby draining the crap outta you. Okay. Um, here’s a quote from Hewitt habitual checking on missed calls and messages can become an addictive behavior pattern, increasing stress and even disturbing sleep. Even if our behavior is not addictive, spending our days in a persistent state of moderate cognitive exertion for morning until night has a physiological and psychological impact. In contrast, simply quarantining email with shorter periods rather than interweaving it throughout the day is associated with a number of benefits. A recent study found that checking email three times a day, as opposed to as often as we can, is associated with less stress and improved physical and psychological wellbeing.
So the solution presented is, I guess you could call it polarized work, uh, like polarized training that the athletes talk about, especially the endurance athletes and the great work of Dr. Stephen Siler, who came up with this, uh, increasingly popular concept. Uh, that’s people oftentimes refer to as the, uh, 80 20 concept of polarized, uh, endurance training. And this is research outta Finland. Siler is an American based in Finland. Uh, and he did some great work with leading athletes in virtually all the endurance sports. So the CrossCountry skiers, the professional cyclists, triathlete runners, and identified this trend where the elite athlete is typically training at a very, very comfortable pace, a predominantly aerobic pace, or they’re hitting it hard and doing some epic workouts that are really pushing and challenging and dealing with lactate threshold, competing, all those kinds of things. And, uh, he kind of, uh, pulled the data out that showed that around 80% of training was done at a comfortable pace.
And then 20% was done at an intense pace. And unfortunately this, uh, insight has been misappropriated like crazy because the casual competitor is now looking at this 80 20 ratio and thinking that, uh, they need to, um, organize their training accordingly where 20% of their training volume is performed at a fast pace. And that could be vastly excessive to what, uh, a, a common recreational enthusiast is capable of. So I wanna say that there’s no magic in this 80 20 ratio, but there is tremendous validity to the concept of polarized training that you’re either, uh, nurturing your fitness, without overstressing the body. And then when the time comes to hit it hard, you do an appropriately designed high intensity workout and listen to my podcast about how to design a sprint workout correctly. So that even when you’re going hard, uh, the workout is this exhausting ordeal that takes days to recover from, but it’s appropriately challenging and you walk away feeling, uh, energized and pleasantly fatigued, and maybe we should, uh, go right back into the topic of working and wanna achieve those same goals.
So the polarized work concept is again, back to those two 90 minute blocks of peak performance. So that’s your, that’s your heavy hitting stuff. Uh, Jim Collins going for 50%, but he’s definitely, um, you know, an outlier peak performer that can, uh, go to that highest level with devoted practice over time. Uh, but if we want to take those baby steps toward that and put those chunks of really disciplined, uh, focus, work into our workday, um, that would be a, a, a great objective. Okay. So that’s the polarized work concept is you’re either hitting it hard and kicking ass on stuff. That’s really important. A or you’re in the open season time where you have a window open to Amazon and you’re shopping, uh, maybe you’re at Bradventures.com ordering up some nut butter or some protein. And then you’re also, uh, have some emails open and also you’re, uh, going on a text string that’s live and you’re answering frequently.
Oh boy. Um, yeah, no big deal. As long as you get that, um, you know, the, the big rocks into the, uh, into the jar first, like Stephen Covey says, as long as you prioritize that, that deep work, um, you’ll have more freedom to kind of relax during the other hours of the workday. Um, more quotes from Hewitt. Uh, this polarized work helps us focus on what’s important and ignore what’s not many of us would benefit from creating more distinct periods of focused attention followed by effective rest and time for reflection, right? So this cognitive middle gear concept implies that we’re not getting even the low cognitive gear time because we’re carrying our phone on the, uh, the walking break that we’re taking from work. And, oh, the phone ringing. Now we’re taking a call because it’s so important. We don’t want to, uh, we don’t wanna miss it.
And so everything, uh, you know, the more, more and more time drifts into the middle cognitive gear, rather than boom crisp high gear time, boom, crisp, low gear time. And then the necessary time, right in the cognitive middle gear stuff. Again, that’s paying your bills, uh, doing your online shopping, answering emails, doing that medium type stuff. And what happens the polarized approach, rescues time, quote unquote from Hewitt thanks to reduced task switching, reducing stress facilitates better progress on tasks with strategic and long term significance. And then we can enjoy more downtime and better recovery.
Okay. What about you? How do you fare in this area? Uh, you can listen to my Brad’s day, multiple shows talking about my day around the clock and everything I do. And it’s clear that I, uh, admittedly suck in certain as including, allowing that middle cognitive gear stuff to float into periods of time when I should be, uh, going for, uh, peak cognitive demand tasks, uh, thereby minimizing any time that I can truly claim to be, uh, peak cognitive, performing time, thereby stretching my work day out too long because, uh, the, the workday typical hours went by with too much screwing around and middle gear tasks. And so then I’m extending the bookends instead of having those clear and distinct off hours, uh, in the evening or whenever you choose to have your off hours. So, uh, on the, on the positive side, as I keep mentioning, uh, but it’s so important that at least I start my day, uh, with tremendous discipline and focus and structured time for the morning exercise routine.
And so, uh, my immediate objective is to piggyback those positive habits. And there’s great research showing that once you’ve established any habit, it can be effective to try and piggyback other desired habits onto the, the back of the existing habit. And I think one of the examples this might have been from James Clear’s Atomic Habits, which I just noticed was the number one best selling book on Amazon and the Will Smith autobiography jumped up to number three <laugh> I guess, after the Oscars. Oh my gosh. Any publicity is good publicity for a celebrity, right? I don’t think so in this case, oh man, don’t get me started. That’s not the podcast to hear from, but not impressed. I’ll put it that way and pretty fricking sad too. I’ll put it that way. It should have been a time of great celebration for the William Sisters.
One of the great athletic stories and human interest stories we’ve ever seen. I mean, the probability of rising from, their low socioeconomic conditions to become tennis champions. And that’s a beautiful movie. I loved it so much loved the acting, and then we have to have Hollywood funny business, kind of spoiling it, or at least distracting our attention from what we should have focused on. Hey, that was my first Hollywood commercial. And back to the show relating to health fitness, diet, exercise, peak performance, longevity, relationships, happiness, health longevity. Oh yeah. Stick to your lane. Thank you, Brad. Okay. Anyway, um, I score really well in the morning there with the morning routine. And so the idea of piggybacking a habit onto something else that you desire to be a habit James Clear was talking about, I believe, uh, you head over to Starbucks every day, uh, in the morning.
And so I’m not sure many people can tout that as a super awesome health <laugh> promoting habit, but let’s say you do it every single day. So the idea would be, can you, um, uh, exercise before you head to Starbucks, knowing that you’re going to get outta the house, jump in the car and head to Starbucks. Uh, can you walk there? Can you stop, but the gym first, can you piggyback something onto your, uh, sure. Reliability that you’re going to engage in that habit at whatever category you call that one? Um, so that’s, uh, something for me to aspire to is to, um, piggyback that morning routine with a period of focused deep work, one of those 90 minute at blocks that Huberman talks about in the morning. So I’m working on it. We’ll check back. I’d love to hear from you about how you’re doing and what things here hit home for you and can be helpful. All right. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org to connect. Thank you so
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