Marshaling Mental Agility

I’ve benefited from the many voices sharing their thoughts and experiences, and it’s become clear that being in a new, never-before-experienced situation means bringing agile thinking to the circumstances. We are being forced to pivot and process in new ways. I’m finding that I need to let go of my expectations of productivity and work, and to re-assess.

What is useful? What matters most now, today, this week?

Pressing ourselves to be productive or to be able to get things done as before doesn’t serve in an environment in which information changes by the hour.

Agile thinking is even more urgent for those on the front lines in essential fields. Among them are many lawyers dealing with innumerable emergency situations while managing their own changes in circumstances, safety, and families.

So here are some thoughts.

Slow down

Thinking slowly is essential right now, as it often gets us to the right outcome more quickly.

Thinking slowly doesn’t mean taking a long time to figure things out. It means pausing to assess your thoughts. The resolution can happen in moments.

Unuseful thoughts cloud decision making. Is your thinking useful? Stop and question your thoughts and senses. They are there to guide us, not decide for us.

Assess

What matters most right now? When are you focused on work and when are you focused on managing your new circumstances? Which items truly need attention, and which can wait? Assign a time for each. Alternating between the two—checking news or social media while working—is exhausting, confusing, and drains our brains of mental resources, agility and clarity.

Monitor expectations. We’re trying to work from home at the same time that we’re adjusting to new, never-experienced, information.

Focus on one experience at a time

Allocate chunks of time to focus on yourself/family, work, to monitor news. Use a timer. This helps to sustain focus for that period of time.

Some people like working in shorter sprints, such as 25-30 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break. Others have found their ideal work:break ratios to be closer to 45:15, or 60:30.

While working, place your mobile phone out of sight or in a drawer. Research shows that just the presence of a mobile phone causes us to self-interrupt. It will be there when the time is up.

Tasks such as email, phone calls and social networking can also be allocated to a chunk of time. Then even those tasks become more efficient and effective instead of a multi-hour rabbit hole.

This may take some getting used to and there will likely be interruptions. Continue to assess. Is this an interruption that requires attention now or can it wait?

Eliminate distractions, notifications or other interruptions.

For this too, setting a timer is superbly useful. It helps us focus for a discreet period of time during which we know that we can address the situation in front of us without checking email, answering the phone, swiping on notifications, etc.

Take breaks, short and long ones.

When the designated chunk of time is up, take a break. Designate how much time the break will be as well.

Make breaks count by doing something noncognitive, like jumping jacks, cleaning your workspace, or checking in on someone. Nondirected or noncognitive thought reboots the brain for the next task and leaves us less fatigued at the end of the day.

Resist going down a rabbit hole of news; designate a separate time for that.

When your mental mojo is slowing, even if your designated time isn’t up, listen to your brain. Take that break and make it count.

Schedule longer breaks, at least 30-minutes to an hour every three hours, and anticipate interruptions so that you can adjust for them.

Keep in mind that breaks are productive too. Begin to notice how often solutions to complex problems or new ideas arise on a walk to the kitchen to refill your water bottle or to pick up the mail.

Don’t deprive yourself of these genius pauses.

Drink water

Dehydration is one of the quickest ways to lose focus and muddle our thinking. Even minimal dehydration, as little as 1% to 2%, causes brain fog and difficulty problem solving, because water literally conducts the electrical energy we need to think. Stay hydrated by sipping water regularly.

Be flexible and forgiving

Be ok with the shifting sands and do your best to surf the sands in each moment.

As with anything, these aren’t hard and fast rules. Adapt them to your needs and style. Doing what serves you is always best, regardless of the “expert advice.”

If the past hour didn’t go as planned, begin anew. It’s alright. You may need to re-prioritize as circumstances change.

Come back to what matters most now.   

I hope this helps. Share your tips in the comments if you’re moved to do so.

Stay safe. Stay sane. Stay hydrated.