According to Jason Selk, Director of Mental Fitness at the St. Louis Cardinals:
1. Do 30 minutes of exercise three times a week. Selk points to reams of medical research confirming that exercise helps head off the slowing down of mental function that can result from stress (and from aging). “Schedule at least three cardio or weight-lifting workouts every week for three weeks,” he advises. “The productivity and energy that exercise brings will far outweigh the loss of a half hour from your workday.”
2. Plot each day in advance. “Organize each day before it starts, even if you have to get up earlier in order to do it,” he says. “Choose three daily tasks that will have the greatest influence on your performance and success.”
3. Do your top to-dos first. “Most people do this backwards. They focus first on the unimportant tasks and save the most crucial activities for last,” Selk observes. The problem with that, he says, is that “you’ll need the greatest energy and focus at the end of the day, when you’re already tired from spending hours on low-priority tasks. By getting the most important items done first, you create mental energy and momentum for the rest of the day.”
4. Finish what you start. “Unfinished projects leave us feeling self-critical and hassled. As you tackle a project, commit to concentrating on it until it’s done,” Selk suggests. “If it’s a large project, break it down into manageable parts that can each be finished in one sitting.” Avoid multitasking if you can, and shut out interruptions and distractions as much as possible.
5. Aim for small, continuous improvement. “One sign that you need to mentally detox is feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, or burnt out,” says Selk. “This comes from focusing on the end result, and how far away it seems, rather than looking for small signs of progress along the way.” So, for 21 days, “remind yourself to seek out any improvement in the situation, small or large. When you get into the habit of seeing improvement, you become more optimistic and less discouraged.”
6. Recharge your mental battery. “The overloaded brain needs rest in order to function optimally,” Selk notes. “The brain really is like a battery, and it only needs one full night’s sleep in order to recharge.” It’s okay to work hard and be mentally tired, even several days in a row, as long as you get one solid night of eight hours of sleep every few days.