7 Secrets for Preventing Mental Fatigue

If your brain is always working overtime to make it through your never-ending to-do list, it may be time to give it a rest. These 7 tips can help you back off and be even more productive.
President and Founder, Clarion Enterprises Ltd.
October 10, 2014

Do you ever feel overwhelmed just thinking about all you have to do? Do you find yourself snapping at others who seem to be too laid back? Have you given up too many things that you used to enjoy because you're too focused on work? You may be a victim of mental fatigue.

Mental fatigue is the result of brain over-activity. It can happen when you expend too much mental effort on a project or task. You may pride yourself on your laser-focusing ability, spending long hours on a task, day in and day out. But every strength, taken to the extreme, becomes a liability. Your overdrive eventually catches up with you, and you deplete your mental gas tank. The result is mental fatigue.

Research shows that mental fatigue results in an inability to concentrate and an increase in simple mistakes. Unchecked, mental fatigue leads to feeling stressed, irritated that you can't keep up and even depressed. What's more, being in a state of mental fatigue not only affects your well-being, it also spills over into your interactions with family and others you associate with. It's draining for them to be around someone who is continuously mentally exhausted. 

If you think you may be mentally fatigued, here are seven tips to help you prevent and combat it.

1. Stop Low-Yield Activities

Be ruthless about how you spend your time. Instead of mindlessly moving from one task to the next, focus on activities that grow your business. Stop burning away hours reading Facebook updates or answering useless emails. Instead, keep those activities for a scheduled, timed break, then move away to something more worthwhile. Don't meet with acquaintances who want to get together for coffee—these are often people who have time to waste and want to waste it with you. 

Use the time you've saved to learn new things, and pursue activities that increase your well-being and the quality of your life. Focus on strengthening your bonds with family, friends and associates. Do what fuels your mind and fills your heart. If you rescue wasted time consistently over the course of a year, you'll be richer for it and will feel more energized.

2. Use the Timebox Technique

Timebox is a term that originated in the software development industry. It's defined as a period of time during which a task must be accomplished. Entrepreneurs like Steve Pavlina use timeboxing as a way to manage work projects. Because timeboxing forces you to limit the time you allot to certain tasks that run the risk of taking far more time than they're worth, it counteracts any perfectionist approaches to the wrong tasks and ensures that you do the best job you can within a set time frame.

3. Try Focus@Will

Focus@Will is a music service that's based on the latest research in neuroscience. The selected music helps you focus, reduce distractions and retain information. As the company behind this intersection of art and science explains, most people can only concentrate for about 100 continuous minutes: "The focus@will system makes it easier for you to get into the concentration flow, and then keeps you there. It works in the background by subtly soothing the part of your brain, the limbic system, that's always on the lookout for danger, food, sex or shiny things."

By staying focused, you can get more done in a shorter amount of time, so you can free up more time and reduce your chances of mental fatigue. Entrepreneur Sean Ogle described the program as "magic." You can try it out for free for 30 days and see what happens.

4. Be Kind to Your Eyes

Staring at a computer for long hours while you work causes eye fatigue, which can tire you out and negatively affect your ability to focus. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to avoid this. For example, every once in a while, look away from your computer screen and focus on distant objects or take a minute to stare out the window. Also, lower the brightness of your monitor—research shows that when you lower the brightness, the reduction in your ability to focus drops by half and you feel less fatigued.

Check out "How to Combat Eye Fatigue Right Now" for other ideas. If you have employees, also consider the computer workstations advice published by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

5. Don Your Sneakers

Research reported in Science Daily reveals that a bout of exercise makes the brain more resistant to fatigue. According to the study, "These findings could lead to the enhancement of athletic performance through reduced mental and physical fatigue." What works for athletes can also work for you.

6. Learn to Do Nothing Once in a While

We're a nation of doers—continuously on the go, rushing from meeting to meeting, project to project. Even when we're on vacation, a large number among us spends more time surfing the Internet rather than surfing the waves. John Lennon once said, "Everybody seems to think I'm lazy. I don't mind, I think they're crazy. Running everywhere at such a speed, till they find there's no need.” Planning for a little idleness in your week is a smart move if you're trying to refresh your spirit—it's a powerful antidote to mental fatigue.

7. Reduce Your Sleep Debt

Sleep debt is the difference between the amount of sleep you should be getting and the amount you actually get. It's not uncommon for professionals to miss several hours of sleep for a few days in a row. This is a surefire way to invite mental fatigue.

Research shows, on average, Americans lose one hour of sleep each night—more than two full weeks of slumber every year. This has a negative impact on our health. As the research shows, you can't train yourself to be a "short sleeper." What's more, a study found that the more tired you get, the less tired you feel, which makes you think you're not shorting yourself. It's time to earn back your lost sleep: Make it a practice to go to bed when you're tired and give your body the rest it needs so you can stop mental fatigue in its tracks. 

"The energy of the mind is the essence of life," Aristotle said. Energy is everything. Mental fatigue saps us of our most precious life energy. These seven strategies will help you guard against this.
 

Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd. and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.

Read more articles on productivity.

Photo: iStockphoto 

President and Founder, Clarion Enterprises Ltd.