"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." —John Bay
Those of us who are busy all the time can experience burnout, exhaustion and fatigue from spending long periods of time in focused concentration. I call this syndrome "Brain Drain." I used to call it "SAT head" because many students report after taking the SAT tests, they feel an odd mental exhaustion caused by too much focused thinking. Brain drain, if gone unchecked, can result in depression, stress and even anger if you push after the drain has set in. So even though you need to keep your project going nonstop, you would be much more productive if at the first sign of brain drain, you took a break and did something about it. Here are some of the signs you might be suffering from brain drain.
- Mental exhaustion.
- Irritation or drowsiness when thinking about what you have to do.
- Putting off certain tasks because they are "too hard to think about."
- Snipping at others who are not moving fast enough.
- Feeling as if the harder you work, the farther behind you get.
- Feeling depressed, stressed out, or as if you can't keep up mentally with your task list.
Here are 10 ways you can beat brain drain.
- Meditate By meditate, I mean sitting and closing your eyes for 20 minutes or so. Sit still and simply observe the thoughts that come into your mind. Don't try to solve any problems. Just watch and let go.
- Take A Walk A brisk walk outdoors—especially in a park or someplace you are not familiar with will take your mind off your main task so it can relax. Pay attention to the scenes as you travel. Stop and smell the roses, as the cliche goes. Take a minute to see the beauty of panoramas.
- Listen to classical music Sitting still with relaxing Mozart or Bach playing through headphones can transcend the brain drain. It will relax you while coaxing your mind to think about other things. (Editor: Here are some free classical music downloads.)
- Read something entertaining There is nothing like a chapter of your favourite book to take your mind off the causes of your brain drain. Reading is an interactive action, so you keep your mind active, while relaxing at the same time. Tip: Use reading for 10-20 minutes as a reward for 30 minutes of focused work. Use an egg timer to keep track.
- Reboot your brain with a caffeine nap. University studies show that drinking a cup of coffee and then immediately taking a 10-15 minute catnap gives you an energy boost. This is called a caffeine nap. I've found it works equally well for brain drain. (Just make sure you have something to do when you wake up, because you are going to be ready to rock and roll.)
- Go to a movie. If you can fit in a two hour movie, at the theater, it is worth the time and money just so you can get away mentally and physically. Sitting in front of the big screen is a great way to take your mind off everything.
- Listen to motivational CDs This is a tip I picked up from Steve Pavlina. When he's tired from intense thinking, he pops in a motivational CD. Although it might seem like this would be more work, it isn't. By listening, you can relax, and become almost passive, as the ideas and strategies gradually break the drain.
- Play a sport Studies show that people who do a competitive sport such as tennis, basketball, golf, martial arts or football are happier overall. To compete the sport may make you tired physically, but will wake you up mentally. When you wake up mentally, brain drain stops to be as big a problem.
- Break down your project into bite-sized chunks Rome wasn't built in a day. Maybe you are trying to move your mountain in a day too. Take a half hour or an hour to take a close look at your projects. Are you trying to write a novel in 1 day, when it would be more practical to shoot for 3 pages of a novel a day? You might be in brain drain because you simply don't have sensible objectives.
- Play a game Halo 3 players rejoice! Playing a game that gets you away from your draining thoughts is an excellent way to get past the sluggishness. You might prefer crossword puzzles or sudokus if you don't like video games. Either way, playing a game lets you know life doesn't always have to be so serious and focused. Make time for play too!
Remember, the good news is brain drain means you are using your brain at maximum capacity. The bad news is you are not giving your brain needed periods of rest. Rest is important for creative thinking and problem solving. Thus a series of short breaks between your work is necessary for you to work at a high level. So in planning your next intense project, be sure to scatter in several scheduled periods where you can take a break and give your brain some time to incubate.