I think this is a question that plagues nearly everyone: “How do I maintain that mental edge when working?”
It’s a difficult thing to answer and ultimately everyone will have slightly different takes on what works for them. The below is my framework for staying focused on deeply technical topics.
I think it’s incredibly important to reduce the number of decisions you make daily. I’ve noticed that on days where I have to make many little decisions I find myself too drained to think deeply. You can achieve this through many means, here are some examples:
- Prepare your clothes for the following day before you sleep. This reduces some morning anxiety if you need to enter a workplace.
- Following on from the above, establish a morning routine that defines how you’ll exercise, what you’ll eat, and your route of transportation.
- Try to reduce your eating frequency – I’ve found that eating twice a day or even once a day seems to improve mental clarity throughout the day.
- Accept failure and accept mistakes. Problems are a part of life but they rarely pull you away from well-defined goals. Accept them.
Beyond setting the stage for a good, clear mind. There are some activities you can do to get unstuck when you can’t seem to make headway.
- Go for a walk. I can’t stress this enough – going for a walk, even for only 5 minutes is the quickest and most reliable way I’ve found to unblock the mind. Quell your worry by telling yourself it’s only a 2 minute walk. After you step outside you’ll likely walk for longer. Don’t be afraid to do multiple loops.
- Read some fiction. Immersing yourself in an alternate reality for a while can let you stash some of your mental blockers. Really focus on imagining what the author wrote to make use of your left brain faculties.
There are several patterns you can implement at work to help free your mind of unnecessary churning.
- Schedule times during the day to handle email. Most email doesn’t need to be answered immediately. This means not opening the mail app at all because even subject-line snooping will be enough to occupy your mind.
- Establish a protocol at work for urgent messages. Let people know that urgent requests should include an expected response time and should ideally be formatted in a y/n format so you can reply quickly.
- Delegate where possible to people you trust. Empower people to make decisions on your behalf.
- Reduce “get-started” anxiety by letting people jump start their own ideas in a form light of requirements. This is called MVP by some, MVC by others, but empower people to propose things without worrying about having to define a completed product.
- When you leave the office, imagine yourself placing all your troubles into a bag or a container and dropping it at the entrance. Know that you can collect them the following day. Really imagine the load being reduced as you physically drop them.
Do you have other techniques for keeping your mind fresh throughout the day? Let me know!