Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.

–Carl Jung

Eventually, I will be writing a series of blog posts on productivity. To lead into those blog posts, I thought I would give a bit of background into why I use some of the systems that I will eventually be writing about. These reasons are all rooted in the unconscious. Our brains often do things without our realizing, and I thought I would talk about some of those things here.

Systems One and Two

One way of looking at brain behaviour categorizes brain activity into two different systems. Throughout the day, our brain will switch between using these two different systems. This can influence how we interpret and respond to our external environment.

Our first system is sometimes called the automatic, or fast, system. This is the system which is likely to operate if you notice a car suddenly swerve towards you when you’re driving or walking. It activates quickly. It seems instinctual. And often it comes with a wave of emotions.

The second system is sometimes called the deliberate, or slow, system. This is the system which is likely to operate if you’re heads down, thinking critically thinking about a problem. It involves clear, logical, intentional thought.

Discover/Defend Axis

Another way of looking at brain behaviour is called the Discover/Defend Axis. This is often detectable by the mood we are experiencing.

As we move towards the discovery end, we become more calm or cheerful. On this end of the spectrum, we tend to be more curious. We are open to the prospect of seeking out rewarding experiences.

As we move towards the defensive end, we become more fearful. On this end of the spectrum, we are on the lookout for danger. We are anxious, and often driven to using the automatic system.

Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik Effect refers to the phenomenon where your mind remembers unfinished tasks better than finished ones.

Unfortunately, we don’t control when we will be reminded of things. As a result, our mind often reminds us of these unfinished tasks when it is inappropriate. This is why we remember that we’re out of milk when we’re at work, why we remember to bring something to our friend’s house after it is already too late, and why we remember to prep for that meeting just before the meeting is scheduled to occur.

Decision Fatigue

Every day we make a myriad of choices. What should I eat for breakfast? What should I wear? Should I run for this train or wait for the next one? Should I head to my meeting on time, or should I quickly finish this task at hand before heading over?

However, an interesting observation has been made with regards to all these choices. As we make more and more decisions throughout the day, the quality of decisions that we make goes down. This is called decision fatigue.

Working Memory

I saved the simple one for last. Our short-term memory has a limited capacity. This is why we sometimes forget to buy something from the grocery store, to return that call or text message to that friend, or to follow through with that assignment at work.


In this post, I briefly discussed some things that take place in the background workings of the brain. Although I didn’t talk about these phenomenon as applied to productivity, I will likely refer to these things during future posts as much of the productivity system I’m currently using is meant to address each of them.

These ideas are all relevant when it comes to discussions about productivity. If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend the following:

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