Humans are not machines.
While your computer can generally run all day long without a problem, you can’t.
Even people who love their jobs and feel super-motivated during the workday (we hope that’s you!) will at some point hit a wall.
The solution isn’t to bang your head against said wall — i.e. force yourself to continue working — but to acknowledge that you need a break from whatever you’re working on and take it.
Below, we’ve rounded up seven non-obvious ways to deal with mental fatigue, all drawn from research and expert opinion.
1. Watch a funny video
Because we know there’s at least one lurking in your Facebook newsfeed.
Research suggests that humor can be a great way to boost your productivity when your mental energy is flagging. Specifically, taking a break to watch something funny after doing something tedious can help you persist longer on difficult tasks.
2. Sit alone in a dark, silent room
It’s not as creepy as it sounds.
Writing on PsychologyToday.com, Alice Boyes recommends reducing sensory input as a way to recharge. If you can’t sneak away to a dark, silent room right now, Boyes also says you can take smaller steps throughout the day to minimize sensory input, such as putting in headphones on the subway.
Presumably, when you’re feeling drained, you can simply sit at your desk, close your eyes, plug in your headphones, and listen to some white noise.
3. Think about the big picture
Sometimes it helps to take a step back.
In “The Happiness Track,” Emma Seppala, science director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, suggests remembering the big picture, or your motivation for joining this organization.
She writes: “Focus on the why rather than the how of a task or job. Understanding how your work connects to what you care about and to your values will restore your energy.”
4. Get up and move around
You don’t need to hit up an exercise class (though that would probably help) — simply walking around your office or jogging up and down the stairs can do the trick.
Interestingly, walking for five minutes every hour was linked to lower ratings of fatigue than walking for 30 minutes straight beforehand.
Those findings support something psychologist Ron Friedman previously told Business Insider — that physical activity gives you energy, gets your blood flowing, elevates your heart rate, and boosts your mood, all of which helps make you more productive.
So feel free to move around between the different workspaces available in your office.
5. Try brainstorming
You may feel like you can’t squeeze another drop of work out of your brain — but research suggests otherwise. The key is doing a different type of work than you’ve been doing all day.
One study found that mental exhaustion facilitates creativity, presumably because it lowers our inhibition and makes us more open to new ideas.
So after a day of filling out spreadsheets, or sending emails, or holding meetings, get out a pen and paper and start generating ideas for new projects you could spearhead. You could be more productive than you’d expect.
6. Look at the progress you’ve already made
“Small wins” can be motivating.
That’s according to Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer, authors of “The Progress Principle.” As they write in The Harvard Business Review, making meaningful progress on your work — even if it’s just accomplishing one task out of many — motivates people to be more productive.
One way to harness the power of small wins is to craft a “done list,” which features everything you’ve completed that day. Review it and see how far you’ve come — it could be just the kick in the pants you need to accomplish everything else left.
7. Take a break before exhaustion hits
This last strategy is more of a preemptive measure.
Although you might be accustomed to a 3 p.m. coffee run, research suggests that the best time for a break from work is early in the day. Specifically, breaks taken earlier in the day may be more likely to replenish your resources, including energy, concentration, and motivation — likely because those resources haven’t run out yet.
So go ahead and duck out at 11 a.m., in the interest of preserving your productivity later on.