Our brains get tired. By the end of the day, “brain fog” and “fuzzy thinking” accompany irritability and lack of productivity. But it’s easier than you think (with your tired brain) to sustain mental energy with smart snacks, intelligent lists, and indispensable apps.
Routines are your friend. Recent brain science books, including Willpower, describe how making lots of decisions is to your brain as lifting lots of weights is to your muscles. President Obama recognizes this phenomenon and reduces the number of decisions he has to make with daily routines around eating, working out, dressing, and spending his evenings. This leaves him fresher for bigger decisions involving, um, leading the country.
Another source of brain fatigue is starvation. Eating every two or three hours keeps your brain humming, as long as you are also paying attention to what, not just how often, you eat. Sure, sugar jazzes your brain, but only for minutes before crashing it. Refined flour is like sugar — plus 20 minutes to metabolize. Caffeine improves brain function palpably and safely, but not if you consume it every day. And we’ve been treated recently to lots of press and books about how junk food is designed to be addictive.
The best brain foods are combinations of darkly colored vegetables, low glycemic fruits, protein, and good fats (olive oil, avocado). Be prepared with small but satisfying snacks such as celery with hummus, a Bosc pear with almond butter, or endive with guacamole.
One way you can relieve your brain of pesky details that fly around your head like a cloud of gnats is by putting them down on paper — or the digital equivalent. But lists alone can be overwhelming and off-putting if you don’t know how to do them. An important distinction to make is between projects and tasks. As David Allen’s excellent GTD (Getting Things Done) philosophy points out, you can’t “do” a project. You do the tasks that in aggregate amount to a project.
Allen’s group has also introduced an organizational app called SaneBox for organizing your emails. Your Inbox will only contain important emails from desired sources. If a new desired contact comes in through your “SaneLater” folder, you can drag it into the Inbox and it will be “trained” to show up there in the future. You can check SaneLater and other folders, like SaneBulk and SaneNews, only once or twice a day. Often, you can select and mark all of them Read in one fell swoop. Not having them mixed in with your important email is a big time saver.
It only takes a little time and effort to start saving a lot of time and effort. Begin with feeding your brain. That’s hardly onerous, and actually feels quite good. And it may just give you the energy to create more routines and get better organized. A good night’s sleep doesn’t hurt either.