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.

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  1. Good one Tim! It’s a common thing in some kinds of yoga, and yes, it works.

  2. Okay, let me get this right:

    You pretend you’re looking for something on the floor. You lean over, close your mouth and while inhaling a deep breath, you hold down each nostril.

    There is a difference. Who knew?

    I’m sure I’ll share this with my friends today. Even if it doesn’t mean anything it’s fun. Does Dr. Oz know about this??????

    • It’s actually not very far fetched at all. So many physiological functions are impossible to define by way of palliative medicine and standard scientific thinking.

      If you take a broader look at things, it is only logical that blood flow to or in the brain affects nether regions.

      Trying to remember which branch of yoga deals with this….

    • Just left everyone at the dentist’s office sniffing, holding their noses and talking left/right brain functions.

      Tomorrow at our holiday party, I’ll introduce this idea to my romance writer’s group. With a couple martini’s I’ll bet this will be rip roaring laugh fest you’ll hear from Florida to Canada–though we probably won’t have too many of our left logical brain cells working 🙂

      Gee Tim and James, who knew you could be such party animals?

  3. This is amazing… I never heard something like this before and I truly wonder if it’s an indicator of which part of the brain is currently more active because it also occurred to me that it’s always easier to breathe through one side of the nose than the other.

  4. OK- just tried it…and now understand why I’m sitting here staring at my screen unable to come up with anything worthwhile to write…moving on to number crunching for now :-).

  5. Um, hey Tim? What if both nostrils are the same, is that like divinity or something?

  6. I broke my nose 2 years ago and now I have a really hard time breathing through both nostrils. Does that mean that both sides of my brain are weak?

  7. Patrick Vuleta says:

    So mine stayed on my left until I started listening to music, then it switched to the right.

  8. I’m all for experimentation and have been amazed at how seemingly arbitrary solutions are often the most effective. Frankly, if a ritual like this helps me to make a decision I don’t want to make and move forward, then I’m sold. In that capacity alone, it works.

  9. Amazing way to test the brain strength and know which side is still awake or not..good stuff.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  10. Well, my brain definitely kicked into gear after reading this 🙂 I think the gentleman author meant that if your right nostril is clear, the left-side of your brain has kicked into gear. The hemispheres in the brain control the opposite sides of the body–they switch over. Your right hand is controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain, for example. Therefore if your right nostril is clear (and it’s more difficult to breathe through the left), then shouldn’t the vascular constriction be in the left hemisphere?

    Mind you–I just woke up and read the post and have been searching for Nick Hall on Google to confirm what I’m saying, AND my right nostril is clear… (grins) It’s still an interesting theory.

    • What you say is true EXCEPT for the fact that the autonomic nervous system is one of the few areas of the brain that doesn’t cross over Kari.

      • Hmm, yeah, I wondered about that. As I said, I had just woken up when I read this. 🙂 Thanks for clarifying! 🙂

        Is there a video of Dr. Hall’s presentation on this? I swear I’ve heard this theory before…

        I guess the obvious question is: does it work for you? 🙂 And, if it does, how much might be a placebo effect and how much not? And how do we know? It’s a very interesting concept.

        • Aftre I originally potsed about this a while ago on my own blog, I really paid attention to it and it did seem to work every single time. Is that placebo? Of course it could be, but I suspect not.

          Not seen a video, but it is part of his audio program called “I know what to do so why don’t I do it?” on Nightingale Conant. Possible the best self development audio program I own.

          • Thanks! I will definitely have to go check that program out. I think I ask myself that question more than once on a daily basis… always after the fact, you know? 🙂

      • I’m confused lol! If the ANS doesn’t cross, and (in the example) the right nostril isn’t constricted, shouldn’t Mr. Example Guy have worked on the creative stuff first?

  11. This is one of those tricks any of us would try even if there were no scientific studies to back it up. It’s easy, and hey, it might work. I’ll pray not to get a cold.

    Taking a nice hot shower and singing both activate the right brain for me.

  12. This is great! It actually explains (I think) why sometimes I’m feeling really creative, but by the time I’ve made it to my desk (having made a cup of tea en route), the inspiration has gone: things must have flipped in the interim!

    This is a good litmus test of where you’re at in any given moment, and has the HUGE benefit of not requiring you to actually think about it — because thinking in such circumstancesonly serves to confuse matters. After all, how can you think about whether you’re able to think clearly?

    Thanks for a brilliant tip.

  13. I’ve heard of this concept for another reason.

    Closing one nostril and breathing deeply in the other promotes relaxation, reduces anxiety. Breathing through the opposite nostril energizes you when you are in a tired slump. (Can’t remember which side is which!)

    I did test it for about a week a few months ago to help relax me into a deep sleep. Inconclusive report!

    Interesting stuff ;-))

  14. Holy cow Tim! I don’t know if the theory works but the air is definitely flowing better in one nostril. Testing the theory out is going to be so much fun!

    James, this post is awesome. Not because of the theory it presents. But because everyone who reads this post is going to try the breathing exercise – and wonder.

    How many blog posts can claim that?

  15. OK I must be divine at this moment! I have been doing this since I first read it on Tim’s blog – and with the last detox I was barely able to get air through the right side of my nose for about 2 weeks straight…I finished the medication yesterday and today I am like energized, down 7 pounds and equal intake for the nose.

    I have always had a halo and love…guess I am going for the wings?

  16. Whaaaa!! Whaaaaa!! :O :O :O There goes my day in pursuit of testing this theory! Perfect, as I don’t have much to do today hehe. Tim, what side was blowing up better when you wrote this? Language left or creative right? Both? Or did you stop breathing for a while ;)?

    • You hit on something there Tia that I have been wondering. Writing and language is left brained, but what about when creativity is needed such as writing comedy? I honestly don’t know the answer to that.

      • Writing – the skill, the construction, the understanding of language – is indeed a left-brain activity. (As is editing, for the curious). However, writing requires imagination, perception, emotion, feelings, etc… which are all right-brain related.

        I’d say there’s a very good change that both sides of the brain light up like Christmas when a good writer is on a creative roll.

  17. I’ve just crawled out of bed and can’t breathe out of either side properly – so that definitely corresponds with my current brain power. LOLOL!

    Someone earlier mentioned singing as a way to get their creative side flowing, I’m wondering if that would work. Something to try later when I’ve woken up!

  18. The emails I’m getting about this post are cracking me up. Sounds like everyone’s putting the sniff theory to the test… with results!

    • That’s what so funny about this post. I’m sitting here, midnight showing on my clock, no one awake in my house, and I’m making loud sniffing noises…..Even better, I suspect there has been an unusually large number of single-nostril sniffers around the globe on this Friday evening. 🙂

      All clear on the right side btw!

  19. Ok – I have got to try this one while working tonight! It seems like it’d be fun to attempt. However if my kid, husband and cat look at me funny cause of the technique it may be hard to keep a straight face while attempting it 🙂

  20. It’s hilarious to think about all of us sniffing all over the place today. I feel like I did when I first discovered kinesiology–I was muscle testing everything . Now I’m going to be sniffing all the time.

    I think this might unseat the 7 dwarves’ “whistle while you work.” Now it will be “Sniffle while you work.” 🙂

  21. I gotta say, I was skeptical when I read this yesterday. But, because I’m a man of great ideas and not-so-great public image control, I decided to try it out.

    Sure enough! Woke up this morning with a killer blog post idea out of the ether, checked the shnozz, and it worked!


  22. When I read Tim’s post about this over on his blog I thought it sounded cool but knowing what Tim can be like, I didn’t get too excited in case it was all just a big wind up and subsequently forgot all about it. That he’s back here harping on about it again I’m figuring it must be true. I just need to remember which side does which. Now which ear lobe to I pull on to remember stuff?

  23. Well. Now I know why I sit there throbbing with creativity while I feed my 2-year-old normally takes an hour and then can’t finish a sentence later on. I will be checking from now on. Right brain’s on? Sorry, baby girl, your oatmeal has to wait!

  24. Love your skepticism and your willingness to allow the “what if” to prevail. Thank you. I’ll be checking this out. Now if someone would come up with a way to use the time between 1 and 3 pm, when I feel tired and neither side of my brain wants to function, I could get more creative and linear work done.

  25. Wow, I’ve never heard of the breathing trick. I’ll have to try that out on my next project to see if it helps at all.

  26. lol, Will definitely have to try to nostril thing.. I actually heard this from someone else before..

  27. Wendy Alley says:

    OMG! This really works!

  28. Mark McGuinness says:

    I’m with Tim on this one. I learned this years ago on a hypnotherapy training and use it on and off, when I remember. Thanks for the reminder!

  29. Interesting very interesting. I am a multi tasker so I never have to think about what to do first because I can do everything all at once. lol thanks for this.


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