Remember the Two Systems – Fast and Slow Thinking – Every Day.

This Article was originally posted on the Gen-I Blog.

In my previous article, The Two SystemsI discussed Daniel Kahneman’s ideas of fast and slow thinking. For more information on that, follow the link. Here, we’re looking at HOW we can make the most of them in our daily lives.

The Two Systems is the name given to the processes of thought identified by Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking, Fast and SlowThese systems define the different ways in which we make decisions, choices, and judgments.

We humans, he says, think primarily in two ways. There’s that sort of neutral process, which he calls fast thinking. When we are thinking fast – in system one – we are reactive, associative, generally lead by our emotions, and act intuitively and instinctively.

The vast majority of our decisions are made by system one – as this is where our habits generally reside. It is also much easier to think with system one.

However, system two is where we are when we are thinking seriously, slowly, consideredly. This requires focus, concentration – and an awful lot of effort too. But it is also the moment in which we gain some distance from our emotional, quick-fire prejudices, and it is here where a lot of our important decisions should take place.

Here, I want to show you five ways to take control of these two systems, fast and slow thinking. Because we have them to optimise our daily performance – yet we don’t always use them as well as we could.

Follow these tips, and you’ll be making the most of your brain’s two systems.

1 – Remember the Times that are Best for Fast and Slow Thinking.

I discussed in my article on protected time how there are different moments in the day in which we are better equipped for different types of task.

In the morning, for example, we are much better at analytical tasks than we are after lunch, when our energy general slumps. Towards the end of the day, our creative capacities increase – as we have more space in which to think.

Plan and organise your weeks well, carve out time for system two thinking in your busy day. Batch the system one style thinking into the period after lunch – when we are much better at administrative tasks. Meanwhile, everything that needs slow thinking, schedule that for the early morning or late afternoon – when it will be much easier.

2 – Categorise Your Emails into Fast and Slow.

If you are happy to batch your tasks into fast and slow thinking, do the same with your emails.

Not every single email needs to be thought about. In fact, dealing with many of them is just a case of pure and simple reaction – perfect fast thinking material.

Anything that needs more full consideration, needs collaboration with your team, or regards more strategic thinking, leave it until later. This needs your system two brain.

3 – Force Yourself into Slow Thinking.

Slow thinking doesn’t come easily. It’s an effort – and we avoid it as much as we can.

To ensure that you give everything the full consideration it deserves, schedule in time for slow thinking. This could be protected time. But, as a manager or business owner, you need to force yourself to tackle those big questions of strategy, problem-solving, and long-term planning.

It may be immediately painful, but you need to. Consider doing this first thing in the morning, or at the end of the day when everything else is done.

4 – Consider How to Prepare for Optimal Slow Thinking.

As I said, your brain will look for any excuse at all to return to fast thinking, that easy, reactive system one.

But you have had your fair share of slow thinking in your life. Think about these times when you were really in the zone. Those times when you came up with great solutions to difficult problems.

Remember these times – and reflect on the things that made them really possible. Were they in the morning? Were they straight after you’d been for a walk or a workout?

Or were they particular tasks? Do you find yourself perfectly able to nail down grand strategic plans but can’t get yourself to think straight when you need to solve a particular thorny problem? Maybe this is just not in your zone of genius – and that’s completely okay. Maybe you think best with others there to discuss it with?

You just need to be aware of it.

5 – Remember the Significance of the Two Systems.

System two is really like a serious workout for your brain. It’s tiring. It requires serious effort, focus, and concentration too.

So, don’t take it for granted. You wouldn’t do a marathon on four hours’ sleep – and nor would you think of doing it dehydrated. Think about, then, the things that might be affecting your performance – sleepexercisestress/burnout, diet, hydration, mindfulness all play their part.

For those things that require thought, you need to make sure that you are at the top of your game. And you’re going to have to want to do it too.

You can do so much in how you organise your day to ‘set you up for success’. Spend the next week being mindful of when you are in System one and two. Work out what helps you get into system 2.

This Article was originally posted on the Gen-I Blog.


  • Nicola MacPhail

    Change Expert, Author & Facilitator


    A consultant, writer and facilitator. Based in Cumbria I coach clients across the UK and internationally. I write extensively on ‘The HOW Skill Set’ in addition to offering workshops, training and consultancy. Born from a passion to help others ‘Make Change Happen’, I help people make effective implementation plans, be more productive and leverage habits to implement vital changes and thrive in life and work!