According to psychologists the human mind can only work with 7 things (+ or – 2) at any one time. So when we say that we have a hundred things on our mind it just isn’t the case, in fact, that would be impossible even for Einstein. However, this may explain why we feel so overwhelmed at times as the mind battles to rearrange thoughts in order to manage space in its processing area (working memory). Some topics need to be let go off or put on the sidelines in order for thinking to happen but if we are constantly trying to remind ourself about taxing the car and the finance meeting at the same time as thinking through our next client interaction its going to feel a lot like a 1980’s children’s game show where prizes were piled into the arms of the contestants along with booby prizes of cabbages. The name of the game was not to drop any prizes but inevitably that is exactly what happened on most occasions. ‘Crackerjack’ was a personal favourite I was convinced that I could have held many prizes along with at least 5 cabbages at any one time.

Fast forwards 20 years and I am still juggling things with cabbages only now this takes place in my mind and I am not nearly as good at it as my 12 year old self would have me believe.  This muddle of things does a great job of clouding my thinking and I am in danger of focussing on the wrong thing and dedicating my precious 7 thinking spots to cabbages rather than prizes with the important stuff competing for a processing spot as soon as one becomes available.  

On days like these it is common to spend many moments feeling like we have forgotten something. Sometimes we have indeed forgotten something and the cold sweat ensues as we come to the realisation that it is in fact a birthday or an anniversary. Sometimes that feeling is just a feeling that doesn’t turn into a frenzied shopping drama but rather just haunts us throughout the day. In both cases these feelings can be linked to overwhelm which is never a good place to be if we want to remain calm with focused clear thinking.

In addition, research on the effects of stress on the mind and body are enough to send us all scurrying to the nearest meditation retreat. Mindfulness as a concept is growing rapidly, so much so that in places it is now being prescribed as a solution to stress by medical professionals. Thinking drives it all. If our thoughts are messy then our emotions will follow and that is simply a whole world of pain.

As a business owner however it is tough to get the time to calm our thoughts. Someone telling us to calm down is likely to have the opposite effect and the word ‘prioritise’ drives us nuts because it is all a priority, isn’t it? 

We have, as I say 7 spots + or – 2 to dedicate to things on our mind, thinking that requires processing. A noisy radio could easily occupy one and a car journey across a busy city will take up at least two at the same time. A frustrated mental wrangle with the economy or the political situation will steal resource from us and an unpaid parking fine and an upcoming school play will see us almost full to the point of overwhelm. That is all before we attempt to manage our business.

A habit that I find useful to adopt is to write down absolutely everything buzzing around my mind first thing in the morning. I really try not to leave anything out at all and then I consider which items on that list can wait until after 1pm that day. I cross these items out and write them up on another list which is then put in a drawer with a promise to myself to return to this list after 1pm. I usually find that there are only 4 or 5 things left that absolutely must have my attention. This has worked so well that in recent years, slightly by accident, I have kept 7 coffee beans on my desk. Its a reminder to myself that I only have so much thinking energy available to me and causes me to be mindful as to where I spend that energy each day.  

Energy beans are an important finite resource. Choose to spend them wisely each day and discover a mind free of pointless political argument and cabbages.