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How to tap into creative productivity with Kognitive’s Ethan Glessich

Ethan Glessich
March 12, 2022
4 mins

Video transcript

Collarts Entertainment Journalism lecturer Michael Dwyer interviews Kognitive founder and managing director Ethan Glessich. Reproduced from Collarts Blog.

Focus and productivity are key for creative industries students, no less than any other career. But our days can be less structured and our work flows at the mercy of inspiration. We asked productivity expert Ethan Glessich, the founder and managing director of Kognitive, for some insights into how to maximise our time and productivity potential.

A boy holding magic creativity lights in his hand

Michael: Your approach to focus, time management and productivity is science-based. Can you describe the principles involved?

Ethan: If we strip away all the apps, lists and hacks around productivity or time management, we get to your brain trying to make an optimal decision about what to do next, and then, attempting to advance that task.

Your productivity system, in essence, is simply a tool to help you make better decisions—to help you filter the infinite possibilities and stimuli vying for your attention, and make meaningful progress towards your goals.

So instead of starting with the new shiny productivity gadget, tech or methodology, we start with how your brain makes decisions, forms habits and focuses.

Michael: As creative industries students and professionals, do our minds work differently?

Ethan: Several studies have found that creative individuals do have measurable differences in the way their brain’s work.

Rather than being a structural difference, however, they observed a difference in the way their brain networks functioned. The researchers noted that the creative people in their studies were better able to co-activate specific brain networks which usually work separately.

Specifically, the creative participants were able to better apprehend insights coming from three brain systems simultaneously, namely the day-dreaming system (known as the default mode network), the focus system (or more specifically the salience network) and the logical thinking system (known as the executive control network).

Michael: Musicians, writers, designers etc can have less structured work lives than those in other professions. Do we need to nurture different skills to remain productive?

Ethan: First we’d need to define what productivity means to the individual or role. Is it purely about units produced (i.e. songs, words or designs) or is quality, impact or influence important?

For example, if a designer is struggling with procrastination and consequently is only able to complete a few design projects per year, we would explore the root of that procrastination and implement strategies to more effectively overcome it, or even leverage it, to complete more projects. On the other hand, if a writer is submitting sufficient words per day for example, but the impact of those words is not at the desired level, we’d explore how they might be able better tap into more creative insights.

Michael: Social media poses particular problems for personal focus and productivity. Is there a cure for our addiction to distraction?

Ethan: Social media companies, now some of the most powerful in the world, employ a gamut of world-class neuroscientists and behavioural psychologists who have the specific goal of making us more addicted to their apps, as the more time we spend on their platforms, the more revenue they make. They are literally trying to hack our attention with almost limitless resources. It’s a scary predicament.

Some ways we can try and fight back are by turning off our notifications for social media apps, or if that feels too confrontational, turning off invasive notifications such as pop-ups and alerts and only leaving on non-evasive notifications such as badge app icons.

In the recent update for iOS, Apple released a new “focus” mode, which can be incredibly useful to turn on when we need to access deep, uninterrupted focus, and “scheduled summary” for notifications which can also help us improve our focus and productivity by batch processing notifications instead of being interrupted every time the app developer wants our attention.

We are incredibly passionate about helping others protect and improve their focus at Kognitive. Focus is one of the pillars we cover in our free productivity video series and free productivity ebook, where we dive into the science of focus and a gamut of tools to help people reclaim and improve it.

Michael: What's your key piece of advice for creative industries students trying to get the best out of their time, their talents and their brains?

Ethan: Simple: structure your practise in a way which aligns with your brain’s natural rhythms, and practice in a way which has been shown to achieve optimal improvements in performance — and get lots of sleep.  

We can get some important insights from a landmark study (cited by over 10,000 other studies in Google Scholar) conducted by Anders Ericsson at Florida State University with music students in 1993. The most important attribute which contributed to elevated performance was aligning practice to the brain’s micro or ‘ultradian’ cycles and dedicating at least 4.5 – 5 hours per day of “deliberate practice”. Intriguingly, sleep was determined to be the second most important activity when it came to improving performance.

These findings have since been reproduced in a plethora of other industries and environments. It seems everything in nature is cyclical, and our brains are no exception. When we work with our brain’s natural rhythms, instead of fighting against them, we can start to tap into our full potential.

Ethan Glessich is the founder and managing director of Kognitive. He is a former aerospace engineer and was the first person to represent Australia in the paragliding acrobatic world championships. His co-founder, Dr. Patricia Martos, is a neuropsychologist with a PhD in cognitive neuroscience. Check out these free productivity resources and learn more about Kognitive here.

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