Read once, act, or don’t

anxious young woman cover wing ears with hands sitting on chair

Cognitive load. The concept of holding an increasing number of threads in our minds, to be handled at a later date. Cognitive load has never been larger than it is today, yet is still something we can manage individually, if we have the correct tools.

As we scale the work we do and the projects we take on, how might we manage our cognitive load more effectively? Calendars, task lists, and delegation are all fantastic and useful tools for managing load. That said, there is one which I’ve found recently to work well when managing cognitive load specifically around communication.

Read once, act, or don’t.

When you receive a message, do your best to read it once and then to act. The action can be either a reply, take the action (if it takes 5 minutes or less), a delegation, adding the action to a calendar or task list, or to do nothing.

Reading a message more than once adds to one’s cognitive load. The new thread added to your mind is “respond to Jane”, or “do the thing Jane is asking for”. At some point in the future, you’d then go back to re-read Jane’s message, only to repeat the same process.

This post was written as a practice of minimizing cognitive load, as the post took less than 5 minutes to write, and arrived as an action which needed to be taken (reflect on the idea of cognitive load, and the practice of reading a message only once).

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