By Dan Fries / 06.22.2017
It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional, a student, a stay-at-home parent, or a volunteer, every day can be summed up as a constant battle against stress and mental fatigue.
When our brains grow tired, we make poor decisions, work slower, and produce inferior work.
What’s more, there’s a good chance this mental fatigue is directly caused by some kind of technology.
Whether it’s your phone, computer, or television, from the moment we wake up, we are constantly bombarded by emails and texts and messages from friends, strangers and colleagues. Notifications from social networks pose a constant distraction.
What’s more, the news media has proliferated into so many different virtual spaces that we’re likely to encounter terror, tragedy, and disaster with every turn.
Instead of living with mental fatigue, it is in everyone’s interest to take an active stand against it. We have conducted extensive research on this topic and reached certain conclusions.
The main way to combat mental fatigue brought on by technology is to determine the kind of work that depletes you the most.
Sometimes this labour will be unavoidable, but when you do have options, it’s important to put these tasks aside and prioritize periods of time when you need to optimize your productivity and quality of work.
The next question, then, is: How do you determine which technology-related work drains you the most?
It varies with each person, and includes several other factors such as what time of day you normally do the work, how much exercise you get, how much time you spend out in the sun, etc. To figure it out, try to think about when you feel the most tired.
See if you can determine a pattern throughout your week, and whether or not your fatigue corresponds with certain types of work or technology.
The answer might be unexpected. The following are a short list of things that might make you especially tired:
- Transitioning frequently between different tasks
- Meeting deadlines
- Planning your schedule and sticking to a routine
- Quality control, editing, or fine tuning projects
- Cold-calling, generating business, or promoting yourself
- Sitting still and maintaining focus
- Broadening your network and connecting with others on a professional level
Most people will need to perform some or all of the above tasks on a daily basis. But it’s not about removing these tasks altogether.
Instead, strategize. Organize your day so that you leave your best working time for when you’re most alert and awake.
Many successful people have unconsciously arranged their schedules so that they leave a few hours open at a given point in the day when they can dive head first into a task, use the full potential of their creative imagination, and do some of their best work.
During these periods, they might lay aside technology completely, or use it only in very specific functions.
It’s important to keep something else in mind. Sometimes, when we think we’re relaxing, we’re actually tiring ourselves out. Maybe you like to get competitive with a friend or colleague after work with a game of pool or chess.
Maybe you compulsively watch the news and expose yourself to every new tragedy or disaster that occurs around the world every day. Understand that your whole day affects your mental energy.
No matter how you spend your day, you will probably want to spend at least a two-hour chunk completing something important, something that you need to do really well.
If you struggle with mental fatigue, try the following actions and see if they help you optimize your working hours:
1. Figure Out When You’re at Your Best
Everybody follows a different schedule. Cycles known as circadian rhythms dictate when we wake up, when we ‘feel’ awake, how much stamina we have, and how well we work.
Some are morning people while others are night owls. If you wake up in the morning and, right away, feel ready to go and get to work, you might want to do your most important work first off.
If, on the other hand, you feel like you’re not exactly a human until after noon, think about spending your morning doing easier or more mundane tasks and leave a chunk of your afternoon open to really take care of business.
2. Break Your Work Into Different Categories
Every job requires a variety of skills and tasks to get the job done. You’ll have to interact with colleagues or clients or strangers, organize, manage, craft, or initiate.
If you’re finding yourself yawning at 2:30 p.m. every day, one of the above categories has probably tired and stressed you out.
Try to break up your work into categories like “Networking and Communication,” “Planning Ahead,” and “Creative.”
It might just help you understand what’s using up so much mental energy. Consider planning a ‘technology-free’ hour or hours and use that time to do what needs to be done.
This is essential to achieving what Cal Newport calls “Deep Work” — work periods where we are totally focused and immersed in the task, in a state of flow.
3. Treat Your Brain Well
Many people don’t realize that increased use of technology has a real, physiological effect on our bodies.
Just as medicine has determined cures for chemical imbalances in our brains that stem from mental health diseases like depression or schizophrenia, supplements exist that can help us stave off mental fatigue altogether.
A group of chemicals known as nootropics have proven to effectively boost brainpower and stamina. While many of supplements make wild claims, likening their effects to those of the super-drug from the movie Limitless, some actually have very legitimate effects.
One such nootropic is Qualia, which is sort of like insurance for your brain in that it contains nearly all major nootropic herbs, and aims to curb a variety of mental deficiencies.
In all, it contains 42 different ingredients and has provided everything people need to make it through their day in an alert and energetic state. Research is still out on the effectiveness of “Smart Drugs,” but many athletes, entrepreneurs, and students are taking them with noticeable improvements to their quality of life.
4. Plan Ahead
Work can be totally overwhelming and can cause you to jump from task to stressful task without taking a minute to step back and evaluate. Try to wake up every day and hatch a general plan for how the next 16+ hours will unfold.
Make a to-do list. Organize tasks between essential, pressing, and casual. Crises will undoubtedly catch you off-guard and cause you to break from your plan, but these will become exceptions, and not the manner in which you regularly do business.
Make a few decisions the night before you have a big day, so you won’t have to make them on the big day.
They can be small (like what to wear or have for breakfast and lunch) or they can be large (like deciding what tasks actually matter to you to accomplish on the big day). Organize your to-do list based on those large decisions.
On a final note, if you’re truly struggling and you still have hours of work ahead, think about taking a quick nap. Countless studies prove that a huge amount of stress derives from sleep deprivation.
Your battery might just need a quick recharge.