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The Space Scribble Helps Conserve Brainpower

The Space Scribble Helps Conserve Brainpower

A Harvard MBA, New York Times bestselling author, award-winning blogger, and one of the most popular TED speakers in the world, Neil Pasricha is “a pied piper of happiness”* who dazzles audiences with ideas and frameworks that skyrocket happiness into the stratosphere. With infectious enthusiasm, heartfelt authenticity, and a “what works” authority, Pasricha draws on the latest research in happiness to increase individual performance and create a more positive and productive workplace. In this article for The Toronto Star, Neil writes about choosing what to think about, and what not to think about:

Go, go, go, Joseph.

You know what they say.

We’re buzzing, we’re busy, and sometimes we don’t know which way we’re going.

According to Baydin, one of the world’s largest email management firms, we’re getting an average of 147 emails a day. We check our cellphones more than 150 times. Want to hear something crazier? American research firm dScore says we touch our cellphones 2,500 times a day.

Yet our brains are the world’s most valuable piece of real estate in the universe. They produce world-changing ideas, create beautiful art, and explore the great mysteries of life. We allow trivial decisions and endless choices to buzz in front of our brains all day. They’re flashing lights. Preventing you from pushing deeper. How can — ding! — think about — ping! — when all you’re — ring!

Endless decisions steal our deep thoughts.

The Space Scribble technique can help one get better — it's never going to be perfect — at deciding what decisions require a lot of thought.

When tiny decisions squat on your primo lot rent-free, they don’t pay, they don’t apologize. They just steal brainpower. Sure, a lot of this comes from our increasingly connected world. Nicholas Carr, author of New York Times bestseller The Shallows, says, “The Net’s interactivity gives us powerful new tools for finding information, expressing ourselves, and conversing with others. It also turns us into lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment.”

In the research I did for The Happiness Equation, I found I made nearly 300 decisions on an average day. My brain was contemplating, weighing, evaluating, and deciding every minute I was awake.

But there is a secret. A secret to removing choice and making every decision at twice the speed.

After studying personal leadership traits among successful Ivy League grads, Fortune 500 CEOs, and bestselling authors, I slowly discovered the most successful people use a version of the same idea to rid their brains of all the extra weight of hundreds of decisions a day.

I call it The Space Scribble.

Every decision you make sits somewhere in this box.

It takes a little time . . . or a lot! It’s not very important . . . or it’s a big deal!

Let me explain.


Buying toilet paper and detergent. Paying the phone bill. Deciding your route to work. Picking your workout routine. If it’s low in time and low in importance, your goal is to automate. Outsource your brain completely and don’t think about it again. Set online refills to ship toilet paper and detergent monthly. Set up auto bill payments from your bank account. Download Waze and mindlessly drive down side streets and dark alleys on your way to work. Set a workout schedule and follow it. Free your brain. Just don’t mistake these smaller decisions for the more important decisions in which they reside. Deciding to work out every day is important. Picking which dumbbell to lift next is not. An example is that I’m making videos for every single one of these articles that are posted to and the Star’s YouTube channel. Do you notice I’m wearing the same thing in every video? I don’t want to think about what to wear every time I’m giving a speech or doing a spot on a TV show so I automate the decision.


Checking email. Managing your calendar. Doing chores. If it’s high in time and low in importance, your goal is to regulate. Make rules and follow them. Set an email window. A single calendar review meeting. A chores blitz once a month instead of painfully doing one or two a day. I’ll give you an example. My family and I live in an old house. Something breaks every day. A patio stone is suddenly wobbly. A wall needs a paint touch up. A toilet is making donkey noises. When we moved in it was driving us nuts! Then I emailed my wife Leslie an invite to a new recurring meeting. It was called “Old House Day” and it was slated for 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on the first Saturday of every month. Lucky for me, she accepted! But suddenly, by having a regulated time we did all the fix up chores, the other 30 days of the month were mentally freed up. Now we keep a list on the inside of our kitchen cupboard. When something goes wrong … just add it to the list and don’t worry.


Grabbing the kids from daycare. Eating dinner with the family every night. Saying hi to your team every morning. There are some things you just have to do. Effectuate is a big word with a simple meaning: Git ’er done. Nail it. Just do it. Execute. If it’s low in time but high in importance, your goal is to just do it. There is no decision to make. Simply effectuate.


Buying a house. Picking a spouse. Applying for a job. Moving. High-importance, high-time decisions are the ones to spend the most time on. Debate in your head, call trusted friends, list the pros and cons. Slow the decision down to molasses so you can engage in a proper debate. These are the life-changers that really matter.

Automate, Regulate, and Effectuate all remove decisions from your head.

What are you left with? Debate.

Deep thinking, questioning, wondering.

Weighing big decisions that matter in order to avoid making bad ones.

Every now and then, thinking about the decisions in your life and writing them down in this box will help sort out for yourself what matters and what doesn’t. What can you Automate so you never think about it again? What can you Regulate so you do it in set times and windows? What can you Effectuate as something you simply just do? And what can you Debate — what big thoughts can you chew on to make sure you’re doing the right thing?

Over time you will do this automatically, without thinking about it. You will have developed the muscle to automatically chunk out your decisions.

Now, the secret isn’t perfect. Sometimes small decisions will leak out and become big deals in your head. But that’s OK. Remember: The goal is not to be perfect. The goal is just to be better than before.

Automating, regulating, and effectuating free your mind and free your time.

Your aching brain will thank you.

Neil Pasricha/Toronto Star/August, 2017