The average human generates at least 50,000 thoughts per day.
That's an average of 30 thoughts a minute.
The human mind can juggle an amazing amount of information, but there is a limit. At some point, everyone’s brain reaches a critical mass. When mental energy is low, people forget commitments, avoid tasks, and make poor decisions.
Regardless of how “mentally fit” they may be, people can't survive the day without their brain paying the price.
Science confirms the human brain has a limited amount of focus. Consider these three research-based concepts:
Cognitive Bandwidth suggests we have a limited amount of mental capacity when we rise each morning. As we give our attention to numerous influences such as social media, text messages, and emails, we leave very few bits of focus for actually doing our work.
Attention Residue is when previous thoughts persist and intrude while performing a new task. Those lingering thoughts use up important brain processing power that can’t be devoted the ongoing task. When burdened with attention residue, employees function with reduced cognitive capacity.
Decision Fatigue is a declining ability to make quality decisions after a long day of decision making. Decisions such as what to eat, which shirt to wear, which website to visit, and which email to answer are constantly being made. The more decisions we make, the more our mental energy is depleted.
Now that we know our mental energy is limited, what can we do? Here are three ideas.
Automate Decision Making
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was once asked “Why do you wear the same T-shirt every day?” Zuckerberg, who is known for always wearing the same grey t-shirt and black hooded sweatshirt responded, "I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible. I feel like I'm not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life.”
Zuckerberg suggests small decisions like choosing what to wear or what to eat for breakfast wastes energy that should be used on more important tasks. Other great thinkers such as Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Michael Kors are also known to intentionally limit decisions.
Think about your life for a moment. Do you spend a lot of your energy choosing what to wear or what to eat during the day? While they may seem trivial, decisions add up. Consider streamlining simple decisions to free up brain space for more important tasks.
Another way to conserve mental energy is by focusing attention on your most challenging work at the start of the day. While some people knock out smaller projects first and save difficult assignments for later, consider attacking the important or challenging tasks first thing in the morning.
The Law of Least Effort states that when deciding between two similar options, people naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work. When you postpone an intimidating project until later in the day, there is a good chance your mental energy is already depleted.
Think about how you organize your work. Do you constantly put off your more challenging assignments later in the day? Fight this urge and realize the start of the day is when you are on top of your mental game.
Most people believe they are strong multitaskers. Truth is, 98% of the population doesn’t multitask very well.
The problem with shifting back and forth between tasks is that our brain isn't adept to refocusing. While refocusing feels instantaneous, transitioning between tasks reduces productivity by as much as 40%.
Do you attempt to multitask in meetings? You may feel energized knocking out emails while participating in a meeting. Not only are your actions rude to your teammates, you probably aren’t getting as much done as you'd like to believe.
Effective educators realize they must stay focused on the bigger picture. In this time of overwhelming distractions and overflowing schedules, effective educators conserve mental energy for the purpose of producing high quality results throughout the entire workday.
Top performers realize they need space.
It's ok to respond to your emails later in the day.
It's ok to answer your friends' texts at night.
It's ok to be a season behind on your Netflix show.
You only have so much energy for your work. Guard your energy carefully.