For your brain, this takes tremendous concentration and "bandwidth." Bandwidth, as Mullainathan explains, is (a) your cognitive ability (your ability to think) and (b) your cognitive control (your ability to regulate impulses). After focusing on any kind of task for a long time, you run out of bandwidth, so much so, that according to his most recent research, the effect on the brain is significantly greater than several glasses of beer. "You wouldn't think of getting in your car after having three glasses of wine," Mullainathan says, "but if you've just used up all your bandwidth, you hop right in and grab the wheel. But you're equally as comprised."' '
Step 3: Plan Your Mistakes in AdvanceThe first step is looking ahead—the same way you would with drinking before a party. You know that there are certain tasks that take large amounts of focus and energy. For example, take packing up an apartment. After putting everything you own into boxes, you're going to have low bandwidth and be more liable to make small mistakes. In a perfect world, of course, you could give yourself some time to recover. But if you can't, just recognizing that you'll be "drunk" before, say, you hit the road in the van, will reduce the number of mistakes you do make, Mullainathan says, because your brain moves into a more conscious thought process about the problem.
Step 4: Identify Your RepeatersNow you know when you're going to make mistakes. But which mistakes? Shockingly, Mullainathan says, about 80 percent of the time we make the same handful of errors. Take leaving your glasses in your hotel room. You have done this before in some other form. You've left them at your friend's house. Or at the restaurant. Forgetting the glasses—or losing the car keys in the trunk of the car or sending an email to the wrong person—is what's known as a repeater. Once you've identified a time you'll be at low bandwidth, try making a list of specific things that will probably go wrong simply based on to your history of errors.
By telling yourself about a specific thing that may go wrong, Mullainathan says, it probably won't. Furthermore, you can also prepare yourself. One year before the move, Mullainathan had identified losing his glasses as a "repeater," and so he had bought two identical pairs the last time he went in for new ones—an act that allowed him to read the writing on his moving boxes and unpack once he'd finally arrived.
Next: A new (smarter) way to schedule a less taxing day