It’s about 2 p.m. when I’d begin to notice a significant decrease in focus and productivity. I’d begin a task, and about two minutes later I’d be mindlessly browsing Instagram, Facebook, or the news. It’s been long known now that mental fatigue is as real a #struggle as physical fatigue. What is the main culprit of mental fatigue? Choices.
Yep, the more choices we have to make throughout the day, the more fatigued our brain becomes. Intuition might tell us that the more choices we have, the happier we are; however, some studies have actually shown that we become less happy when we have more choices (Source/Source).
Side Thought: How many choices are you offering your potential clients?
Need more proof? Think about the last time you tried a strict diet. When were you most likely to cheat on the diet? For me, it’s always harder to eat clean at the end of the day. It’s easier to choose the less healthy, easier option at the end of the day because you’re worn out from making decisions all day.
Successful CEOs and other leaders have known this for a while now. Popular examples include Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and President Obama wearing the same outfit (or type of outfit) each day to limit the amount of trivial choices they have to make.
And while choosing outfits in advance is certainly a way to preserve mental energy, that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Creating a strong daily routine is the best way to preserve mental energy for the important decisions that you need to make throughout the day.
The key is limiting the amount of trivial choice on a given day, in order to maximize energy for more important decisions.
Great daily routines provides a framework for your day, week, and month that take a lot of the thinking out of the day. Here are three considerations to help you create a killa’ daily routine:
When are you most productive?
Me? I’m a morning person, and my most productive hours are from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. During my “peak hours” I’m sure to tackle my most daunting or least appealing tasks because I have the mental fortitude to do so. If I’m stressed about something towards the end of the day, I try my very darndest to shelf that issue until the next morning when I can examine it with a fresh mind.
After you determine your most productive hours, guard them. Mark them off in a calendar… yes, in writing. People are more likely to commit to something when it’s in writing. Make sure that time is used to get things done, and don’t sacrifice it for appointments or social calls that take less mental energy. We’ll make time for that later.
Bonus Thought: For most people, the beginning of your day is easier to control than the end. Why? Because “things come up.” Create a daily routine that takes this into account, and don’t schedule uninterrupted work time at the end of the day, when it’s most likely to be interrupted.
When are you least productive?
Let me paint you a picture. This is the time that you start a task and then subtlety begin staring into social media space without noticing the transition. Or maybe you peer longingly into the refrigerator–not even hungry–just bored, but with things left to do.
Combat this by recognizing what time of day this usually happens, and scheduling something that will give your brain a break. I do this twice during the day: at lunch and around 4 p.m. I know that around 12 p.m. I become far less productive, so I stop for lunch and take the dogs for a walk. It gives my mind a break, and the physical exercise helps stimulate brain activity. Side bonus, it’s a great opportunity to spend some time with the wifey.
This will look different for everyone, but there a few ways you can’t go wrong: 1) Eating a healthy meal; 2) Exercise (even 10-15 minutes will do the trick); 3) Nap. No, not a three hour nap–more like twenty minutes. Don’t feel like you have to incorporate all three into your routine at the same time. Simply try being intentional with one or two.
What are the tasks you have to do everyday?
For most humans a daily routine will include at minimum eating, drinking, and dressing yourself. For others it might include a daily quiet time, working out, studying, or journaling.
Bonus Tip: The latter list (daily quite times, working out, etc.) are often seen as non-necessities, and as a result they often do not get done. Treat these items as necessary by blocking time off for them into your calendar. When people try to schedule tasks into that time, tell them you’re not available. You don’t need to give them a reason why. Quiet times, exercise, and reflection are IMPORTANT. Treat ’em that way.
Schedule these things into your day after determining your most productive and least productive hours. It’s best to schedule these items last because they provide natural breaks in the day.
These tasks are great bookends for larger segments of the day. And bookends will help you transition from one task to the next. I plan for about 30 minutes to wake up in the morning. I use this time to read a newsletter (TheSkimm–it’s dope so sign-up for it here), and catch up on social media that I may have missed that night. Krista and I have separate quiet time routines in the morning that we do with while drinking a cup of coffee. And then we use working out in the afternoon to bring our work day to an end.
Important: Make these tasks as mindless as possible.
Prevent these tasks from becoming a distraction by removing the guesswork. It’s not enough to pencil in some time for the gym. Determine what you’ll do at the gym from the outset; otherwise you’ll get there and do a lot of moseying. This is why I love Crossfit–show up, read workout, and complete with class. No guessing.
It’s also why we use PrepDish, a meal-planning subscription service. We receive a grocery list, prepping instructions, and cooking instructions. We spend Friday grocery shopping, Sunday prepping, and then it takes 15-20 minutes to cook the meal when we need it. We know what the meal that night will be, we know it’s healthy, and we know it’s delicious. No guessing.
Set-out your clothes the night before so you’re not staring, half-asleep into your closet. Eliminate the morning guesswork.
See a theme? These “bookend” tasks have the potential to propel your day forward or destroy them.
A Last Warning: Don’t become a slave to your daily routine. It’s created for you, not you for it. It might take a couple weeks to figure out. Make the changes as necessary. And be ready for it to change as time goes on.
So, what does your daily routine look like? How do you prevent yourself from turning into a brainless zombie by the end of the day? Share your tips, tricks and questions in the comments below!