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What is Cognitive Load and How Can You Manage Yours?

What is Cognitive Load and How Can You Manage Yours?

Cognitive load is a term that refers to the amount of mental effort and energy used to process and store information. It’s the capacity of your brain to handle a certain amount of information at one time. As we all know, our brains can only take so much before we start to feel overwhelmed. Taking control of your cognitive load is essential for productivity and overall mental health.

Cognitive load is important to understand because it affects our ability to learn, recall information, and make decisions. When our cognitive load is too high, it can lead to feelings of stress, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. On the other hand, when our cognitive load is too low, it can lead to boredom and a lack of motivation.

So how can we manage our cognitive load on a daily basis? The first step is to become aware of how much information we’re taking in. It’s important to limit the amount of new information we’re trying to process at any given time. The second step is to prioritise and focus on the most important tasks. This will help us to stay on track and avoid becoming overwhelmed. Third, we can take frequent breaks. Taking breaks gives our brain a chance to rest and recharge, which can help us to stay focused and productive. Also, we can practice mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us to stay in the present moment and be aware of our thoughts and feelings. This can help us to manage our cognitive load and make better decisions.

I try and take control of my cognitive load by making comprehensive lists and delegating tasks.

Begin by jotting down in a notebook or on a piece of paper, every single task that is currently taking up space in your head. As you compile the list you will probably begin to think up more and more. Make sure to include EVERY single task. Today my list might start a bit like this: Put white washing in machine, Hang white wash on line, empty dishwasher, load dishwasher, Clean breakfast things away, fold washing, put washing on children’s beds, make the children’s beds as they have forgotten, make a note to remember Harriet’s flute for tomorrow’s lesson, pick Sophie up from afterschool club, prep and make dinner, answer work emails, call my mum to catch up, return a friend’s text, take the rubbish out, walk the dog, drink water, remember to eat lunch etc.

Starting to make sense? The quick list I’ve compiled above is only the immediate tasks I need to complete. It’s also important to add tasks that are taking up space in your brain but don’t need to be completed immediately. For example, book dentist appointment, post Dad’s birthday card next week, research summer holiday destinations, book car MOT, clean washing machine filter.

Once you have written all these tasks down it is time to take control of them and start breaking them down into manageable chunks. I like to use highlighters to categorise my tasks and I start with my favourite category; tasks I can delegate. Which tasks on your list can you hand over to someone else? I know it’s annoying to have to point out tasks to your significant other as it can feel like they should know they need doing too, but that is a whole other blog post!! Are there work tasks you can delegate to a colleague? Which tasks can your children take control of?

The next set of tasks I highlight are tasks I need to complete today. Which tasks are time sensitive? My advice here is to try not to include too many tasks on this list. Be realistic. Is it life or death if you don’t clean the oven today?

Then highlight tasks you need to finish by the end of the week (this exercise is great done on a Sunday night when you’re planning your week). These tasks can be tagged on to any day where you have a moment spare.

Finally highlight tasks that are long term and don’t really have an immediate need for completion. For me this is tasks that have a month or so grace such as holiday planning or certain deep cleaning tasks.

Now take a deep breath and breath out… feel better? It’ so much easier to see a way through the overwhelm with a clear plan.

Final word from me: Don’t forget to take regular breaks during the day and plan in time to eat/shower/get some fresh air. You’ve got this!


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