Updated: Oct 12
Daily demands on our attention leave us mentally exhausted and emotionally drained. By mid-afternoon, decision fatigue and willpower depletion send us crashing to social media or bookmarked websites desperately seeking a break. After work, we binge eat our favorite snack feeling guilty for skipping our planned workout (again). Short-tempered with loved ones, we wonder, “What’s wrong with me? Why am I exhausted all the time?”
Research from the Society for Human Resource Management reports that 48 percent of U.S. workers feel mentally and physically exhausted at the end of the workday, while another 41 percent report feeling burned out from their work.
We don’t have to live this way anymore.
More Energy More Productivity
The promise of reduced fatigue and improved productivity lies in understanding and managing brain energy. Understanding our brain’s energy flow allows us to design daily schedules that optimize productivity by incorporating intervals of rest.
1: How the Brain Uses Energy
Executive Mode functions that occur in the prefrontal cortex require vast amounts of energy. Decision-making, focused concentration, driving, impulse control, multi-tasking and stress consume energy at alarming rates. Six to seven hours after waking our brains flash, Charge Battery, yet we’re conditioned to ignore the signals.
Consider your behavior seven hours after waking. You become disinterested in your current assignment. Your eyelids droop. You get a caffeinated beverage or eat a sugary/salty snack. You check email or texts while stifling the mother of all yawns.
Rather than powering through these low energy periods, recognize these behaviors as symptoms that your brain needs to recharge.
2: Recharging Your Brain
Recharging your brain involves switching the type of thinking from Executive Mode activities to Creative Mode activities. Creative Mode activities include walking (especially in green space), meditating, talking with friends and loved ones, doodling, playing, listening to music, and napping.
Consider scheduling your day with specific times for brain-charging activities. Choose activities in advance so you don’t spend mental energy deciding in the moment. Experiment with rest intervals noting the following intervals have proven effective in maintaining the brain’s energy flow.
Executive Mode Creative Mode
Option 1 90 minutes 30 minutes
Option 2 (Ideal) 52 minutes 17 minutes
Four rounds of 25 minutes of Executive Mode followed by 5 minutes of Creative Mode with the fourth Creative Mode session lasting 20 minutes.
Start with micro breaks consisting of 3-4 deep belly breaths every thirty minutes or a quick walk to the office lobby and back. Remember, any length of break helps!
3: Not Just What But When
Be intentional when you do tasks with your brain’s energy flow in mind. The time after waking is your brain’s best time for focused thinking.
Avoid scanning email and social media sites upon waking. Do deep thinking work instead.
Prioritize attention-demanding and emotional tasks (deep thinking, staffing issues, conflict resolution, practicing an instrument, decision-making) in the morning or immediately following a Creative Mode session.
Do one thing at a time. Work in batches. Frequent switching between tasks requires a greater expenditure of energy.
Schedule specific times to check email then close the tab. An open email tab lowers IQ by ten points - our brain burns energy wondering about unread emails!
Make to-do lists. Like turning off an app draining your phone’s battery behind the scenes, writing down a task closes the mental loop your brain created for it and conserves energy.
Keep a to-Done list. At the end of the day, review what you accomplished and celebrate it! Your brain receives a dopamine jolt and increases willpower.
Take a nap! Naps lasting 20 minutes or less do not cause sleep inertia upon waking. You’ll awake able to accomplish more with higher quality.
4: Make Brain Energy Management a Habit
Developing a brain-energy management approach requires new thinking and habits. It’s hard. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Take a few minutes at the end of each day to prepare the next day's "What When" schedule. Start small. Make one change this week and build from there.
Practice self-compassion when things don’t go as planned. Daily schedules vary and the unexpected happens.
Seek an accountability partner who’ll text a 3:00 pm break reminder.
Understanding our brain’s energy flow empowers us to live life with more energy and improved productivity. Celebrate daily achievements and, above all, experiment with intervals and activities to discover what works for you.
Your days no longer need end in exhaustion and frustration. Scheduling tasks with your brain’s functioning in mind will free energy for you to pursue goals worthy of your life. Contact me if you'd like to work together building a plan suited for you.