Dear Ed ...

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Dear Dr Ed

Sometimes when I have deadlines, my brain goes into reverse, my heart beats faster and I can't think on even the most basic level. What can I do?


Dear Flavius

I'm not sure if you've read the name of this column correctly. It's 'Dear Ed', not 'Dear Dr Ed'. However, having received your plaintive cry, I'll give it a nudge. If I'm guessing right, the more you need your brain, the more it backs into a corner and snarls at you. So you sit at your desk and try to grind out some work, all the time getting slower and feeling stupider. Am I right? Tap once for yes. [Indistinct: muffled thud]

Strange as it may seem, I'm not an expert on the inner workings of the brain. I know, it's hard to believe. Luckily I have on hand Harvard Business Review on Managing Yourself, which has an excellent chapter on 'Overloaded Circuits'. This is a real book and it comes highly recommended for a variety of reasons, not least because I myself suffer from fuzzy-brain syndrome (FBS©). I know, it's hard to believe that anyone with such a logical, structured mind as mine could be afflicted with FBS, but read on and we can search for credibility together.

Everyone holding hands? Okay, here we go. FBS occurs when your frontal lobes, which do all your planning, organising and time management, get overwhelmed and start sending out distress signals that say 'HELP ME, HELP ME'. Your lower brain, which deals with survival, interprets this messages as 'I AM UNDER ATTACK!' and boosts your body's systems so that you can fight off a sabre-toothed tiger. Except you have deadlines, not a sabre-toothed tiger, and all of the adrenaline, palpitations and tensed muscles don't help one jot. And forget all about the coffee you think you need so that you can think clearly; by this time, your entire brain has turned into Espresso Bongo.

The trick is to avoid becoming overwhelmed in the first place. If you have large jobs, break them down into small, manageable chunks. Start straight in on your work first thing in the morning without checking email or going on the internet. Usually, the more addled you become, the more distractions you will seek, so avoid those distractions in the first place (otherwise you'll soon be seeking distractions to distract you from the old distractions that don't work anymore).

I hope this goes some of the way to freeing you from FBS. Do let me know how you get on. And if you're sitting there thinking I've gone all Lord Peter Wimsey on you, everything above about FBS - except the name - is true. Ignore it at your peril.

Muffled-thuddedly yours,