Don't Drink and Work

“Never confuse motion with action” — Benjamin Franklin

Did you know that mental fatigue and sleep deprivation can cause the same effects on your decision-making abilities as having a couple glasses of wine?

Study after study show that after you reach about 35 hours of work in a week bad things start to happen, especially if you’re doing more than just stamping out widgets on the factory line. Our brains require energy and focus, and we only have so much of it each day or week. We need to have the mental space and the ability to concentrate so we can make great decisions. When you reach six or seven hours in a day, you’re pushing the limits of your neo-cortex, which actually gets tired from doing all that thinking.

If you’ve ever run a marathon you know what I’m talking about. Everyone talks about “the wall” you hit at about mile 20. I experienced it myself and could actually feel my body starting to break down. Sure, I had the will power to force my legs to move on, but my pace slowed down, my legs were killing me (oh! my IT bands), and I was super grumpy on the course hating every minute of the last several miles except when I saw the finish line.

Imagine your brain running a marathon. It gets tired. It loses steam. And when it does, it stops working like my legs stopped working in the actual race. You could will your brain to keep pressing on, to keep plugging away at that problem you’re trying to solve or training program you’re trying to write. Get it done before heading home, right? Wrong. The problem is that you’re probably doing more harm than good.

Here’s why: when you’re tired, you make stupid decisions. Those decisions have consequences, and if the decision is bad then the consequences will be, as well. So, you’re actually creating more work for yourself by having to undo and clean up the effects of the dumb decision you unknowingly made. Other people are impacted by your decision-making, too, making more work for those around you. And so on. The ripple effects of one bad choice are endless.

Now, think about how many decisions your brain makes after about seven hours of work. It’s a lot.

Here are some quick things you can do to stop brain fatigue and save yourself time in the office:

· Work less

· Get the hard work done first thing in the morning

· Save the mindless work for the end of the work week

· Give yourself time to recoup your energy on the weekends

· Go for a walk in the middle of the work day

· Take 10-minute breaks after about 50 minutes of mental strain

· Create an office culture that rewards productivity rather than presenteeism

You may think you’re unaffected by hours of mental strain and can keep making good choices in hour 50 of the work week. If so, you’re probably the same kind of person who thinks they only need five hours of sleep each night. Sorry to break the bad news: you’re wrong. You might be able to push through for a few days or even weeks, but in the long run your mind will start to break down and you’ll succomb like all the rest of us.

Like life, work is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Don’t bonk.