Leader’s Guide to Cognitive Budgeting

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Actions are a product of our thoughts. Amidst the pandemic, leaders tend to overthink rather than take necessary actions in the workplace. Instead of focusing on leading, a leader’s mental energy and time is often consumed by ruminations— negative cycles of thought that lead to nowhere, and can affect how the leader performs.

On today’s podcast episode, we interview Jordan Birnbaum, Chief Operating Officer of BEESY, Industrial and Organizational Psychologist and Behavioral Economist. Today’s discussion is locked-in on his article published in MIT-SMR (Sloan Management Review), “Building the Cognitive Budget for Your Most Effective Mind.” It focuses on topics related to creating a cognitive budget, infusing reflection, eradicating rumination, and building mental practices that can help create powerful employee engagement.

The Cognitive Budget

In Jordan’s article, he discussed the importance of having a cognitive budget. In an organizational setting, time is a finite resource that everyone has. Since a leader has only a limited amount of time to think, it is important to have a plan to determine where a leader should prioritize his or her mental energy for the day. Cognitive budgeting functions as a filter to identify topics of reflection vs. ruminations to eradicate. 

Reflection vs. Rumination

Reflection is beneficial thinking without an agenda, allowing one’s mind to make connections, open up to creativity, and go to a place of genuine curiosity. Reflection is not all about concentrating only on the positive; rather, it is about thinking of the issues that will lead to beneficial outcomes. 

Rumination, on the other hand, is riding down a negative thought cycle which leads to nowhere. According to psychologist Amy Somerville, ruminations can be compared to a cow’s digestive system wherein it chews food, digests it, regurgitates it and continues chewing on it even though there is no nutritional value .

In essence, leaders should focus more on thoughts that  maximize their mental energy for better results in terms of overall team performance. 

Leading with Cognitive Budgeting

Team leaders are responsible for a lot of things. They are responsible for employee engagement, strategy development and execution management. It is often late when they realize the most important role to play— bringing out the best in their team. 

According to Jordan, one application of cognitive budgeting in leading a team is by reflecting on the needs of each and every team member, and then creating an action plan to build on those strengths and needs. This helps team members stay motivated and engaged in their work while bringing the best possible performance that is expected of them. By creating a cognitive budget based on each employees’ needs, the leader focuses his own attention towards beneficial outcomes, not wasteful ruminations on what can go wrong.

Jordan’s Display of Leadership

In Jordan’s organization, he does not “force” anyone to do something. Instead, he encourages team members to think intentionally on things that lead to beneficial outcomes. That way, his employees are more cognizant and resistant to ruminations. He also points out that a leader who can demonstrate vulnerability, exhibit accountability, and become a role model that willingly helps can pass such traits down to their team.

Jordan trains  team members who have trouble with common workplace ruminations because such thinking can greatly affect overall performance. When all team members keep a cognitive budget, the resulting supportive climate fosters the prioritization of goal-focused thoughts and the elimination of wasteful thoughts. 

Who is Jordan Birnbaum?

Jordan Birnbaum is COO at BEESY, a behavioral-science-based market research agency. Jordan was previously Chief Behavioral Economist at ADP, where he developed and brought to market Compass, an award-winning behavioral-science-based leadership development tool. 

Prior to ADP, Jordan was the Owner/Operator of The Vanguard, a hybrid media production company and live music venue in Los Angeles, as well as SVP, Juno Online Services, which he helped take public. Jordan has a BS in Policy Analysis from Cornell University and an MA in Industrial / Organizational Psychology from NYU.

To learn more about Cognitive Budgeting download this episode now.

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Cognitive Budgeting Quotes

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