Insane in the Membrane

The average human generates at least 50,000 thoughts per day.


That's an average of 30 thoughts a minute.


While the human mind can juggle an amazing amount of information, everyone’s brain reaches a critical mass. Regardless of their "mental fitness", people can't survive the day without their brain paying the price. When mental energy is low, people forget commitments, avoid tasks, and make poor decisions.


Consider the medical field. A growing body of research suggests going to the doctor late in the day results in lower-quality care. For example, patients with afternoon procedures are more likely to experience complications with surgeries and colonoscopies. Furthermore, patients with late-day appointments are less likely to receive recommended cancer screening tests and more likely to be prescribed the wrong medication.


We take pride in selecting the best professionals for personal and family needs. Incidentally, many service-related outcomes depend more on freshness of the mind than abilities of the individual.

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When it comes to the limited focus of the human brain, there are a few concepts to consider.


The amount of mental capacity we rise with each morning is called cognitive bandwidth. Given our brain power limitations, important work must be prioritized. Unfortunately, external influences such as email, social media, text messages, and television news quickly drain mental reservoirs.


Throughout the day, we make countless decisions. Decision fatigue describes the declining ability to make quality choices after a long day of decision making. Stressing over "basic" decisions - such as what to eat for breakfast or what to wear to work - accelerate these symptoms.


Finally, although shifting from one activity to another feels instantaneous, lingering affects called attention residue deplete our processing power. Individuals who constantly transition focus from one task to another drain cerebral reserves resulting in reduced cognitive functioning.


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Given the mind's limited daily capacity, it is imperative we take steps to preserve brainpower. Here are five ideas to consider:


Automate Decision Making: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is known for always wearing the same grey t-shirt and black hooded sweatshirt. By eliminating trivial decisions from his life - such as outfit choices - Zuckerberg saves energy for more important tasks. Do you waste a lot of energy over agonizing every little detail of your day? Although minor in isolation, decisions add up. Consider streamlining simple decisions to free up brain space for more important tasks.


Prioritize Work: As was previously discussed, morning hours are typically best for complex work. Unfortunately, many people choose routine tasks in the morning while saving challenging tasks for the afternoon - meaning mental energy is depleted when it's needed the most. Do you constantly defer difficult assignments to later in the day? Fight this urge and realize the start of the day is likely when you are at your mental prime.


Limit Multitasking: Most people believe they are strong multitaskers. Truth is, 98% of the population sucks at multitasking. 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%. Rather than haphazardly switch from one activity to another, batch similar tasks together for completion during a dedicated block of time.


Capture Tasks: Do you have a long list of tasks that need to be done? If so, where is this list stored? If you are like most people, this list is accessed through memory. Unfortunately, asking your brain to keep your "to do" list drains precious battery life. Rather than memorize unfinished tasks, dump them into a notebook or electronic document. Having a trusted system for capturing obligations improves cerebral processing and reduces underlying stress.


Disconnect: Without question, technology is the main culprit when it comes to depleting precious brainpower. Shifting between email, social media, and phone notifications takes a serious toll on our mental energy. Carving out time in the day to disconnect from all devices helps your brain recover twice as fast: not only are you avoiding further exhaustion of mental reserves, you are also giving the brain a valuable opportunity to recharge it's batteries.


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The number of important decisions school leaders make each day is extraordinary. From sunup to sundown, school leaders are faced with a barrage of scenarios requiring full mental focus.


"So what's the big deal?" you may be thinking. "Isn't this true of most professions?"


Unlike most professions, school leaders face intense public scrutiny ... meaning one poor decision can leave school leaders without a job.


To ensure they make wise decisions, school leaders must understand brainpower is a limited resource and look for opportunities to conserve mental energy throughout the day.

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