How to Know Exactly Which Task to Start First

How to Know Exactly Which Task to Start First

I like to think about conventions and challenge them. I ask questions like, “But what if…?” or say things like, “Yes, but just imagine…” That natural curiosity has gotten me far in life.

Then I get guest posts like these.

I sat there for a long time after I read this post, thinking Tim Brownson had completely lost his skates to think I’d accept it. And I’m sure he thought I’d turn him down – in fact, he hinted I might want to.

But that natural curiosity got the best of me. In the privacy of my office, I put a finger to one side of my nose and gave a cautious sniff. I tried the other side, sniffed… and squinted at Tim’s post. Just as he’d suggested, air flowed through one side more easily than the other.

“Nah,” I thought. “Can’t be.” And I dismissed the idea… only to spend the rest of the day wondering, “But what if…?” What if Tim were right? What if the theory was sound? I walked around the house skeptically blowing and sniffing throughout the day to test it.

I have no idea yet if this idea holds water. But maybe it does – try it yourself. And if it were a sound theory… well, just imagine.

You’re sitting in the departure lounge bar with a good book in one hand and a cold drink in the other, looking forward to a week of some serious, well-deserved relaxation. You hear the beep of an incoming text message, and you put down your book with a sigh to reach for your phone.

As you pick up the phone, you see the text is from your assistant. You unexpectedly and inexplicably sense something isn’t right – it’s a gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach suggesting you won’t welcome the incoming missive.

Nevertheless, you click the view button. “Sarah needs the report by 7:00 A.M. tomorrow; they pulled forward the meeting!”

A wave of nausea hits you, and you panic. Sarah is your most important client. She has a major presentation to deliver—the one you’ve been working on with her for the past month – but it wasn’t due until after you returned from vacation. In your haste to leave for Cancun, you’d pushed aside Sarah’s project, intending to finish it by the pool in the sun.

Frantically, you start to calculate what you need to do to finish it. If you start now and work through the flight, you might just complete it in time.

It’s a big task though, and what if you can’t get into the flow? The work requires a split between the creative stuff you love and the linear spreadsheet stuff that quite honestly isn’t your forte but doable at a push.

You reluctantly lower your book and drink, and you power up your laptop. If only you had a way of knowing which task to undertake first – the spreadsheet or the creative part?

Suddenly, you remember listening to a lecture series by world-leading psycho-neuroimmunologist Dr. Nick Hall. He’d explained how you can tell if you’re in a creative mindset. At the time of the lecture, his theory had seemed a bit weird, but it has to be worth a shot now, right?

Creative work requires use of the right-hand side of your brain, and linear tasks such as math and language require use of the opposite hemisphere. Where blood flows heaviest determines the brain’s efficiency. Simply put, the more blood there is, the more efficient that part of the brain becomes.

The autonomic nervous system, located somewhere right in the middle of the brain, controls vascular constriction. Vascular constriction causes air to pass more readily through areas where blood vessels are more constricted.

Therefore, if your right nasal passage has constricted blood vessels, so does the right side of your brain, which means the opposite hemisphere of your brain doesn’t and it’s in control.

Everybody switches back and forth approximately every 90 minutes, which means that artistic types are even more so at certain times of the day (and vice versa, of course).

Dr. Hall demonstrated determining the side of the brain in control by closing his mouth and holding down each nostril in turn while inhaling.

So pretending you’re looking for something you dropped on the floor, you lean over, hold down your left nostril and take a deep breath. Nothing much to report there, so you do the same with the opposite side.

Immediately it’s apparent. Air flows up the right nostril much more easily than the left.

Even though you’re skeptical, it must be worth a shot, so you decide to set aside the creative stuff and work on the spreadsheet.

An hour later, as you’re sailing through the work with uncanny ease, you get the call to board the plane. Once in your seat, you turn your laptop back on and pick up where you stopped when you boarded, but this time, the spreadsheet work is like running through molasses.

Frustrated with your progress, you take a bathroom break. As you wash your hands, you try the nasal exercise again – and you laugh aloud when the air flows up your left-hand nostril unencumbered.

That’s why you slowed down: Your brain had flipped sides.

You rush back to your seat and after saving the spreadsheet, start to work on the creative writing portion of the job. “This is easy and enjoyable,” you think to yourself.

Less than 6 hours after starting and a few program switches later, you close your laptop. You’re relaxed because the report is not only done, it rocks.

And it’s on its way to the client with time to spare.


Note: There’s a belief that exists among scientists that claims it’s possible to switch sides of the brain intentionally by forcing your breathing through one nostril while closing the other. This is still conjecture, however, and to the best of my knowledge, no hard date exists to support the claim.

It may be worth trying out, though – as long as you don’t have a heavy cold, that is.

Post by Tim Brownson

Tim Brownson is a Professional Life Coach, NLP Master Practitioner and Author from England now living in Florida. He is currently involved in a project to give 1,000,000 copies of his latest co-authored book, How To Be Rich and Happy, to good causes.