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You start the workday off with the best intentions, hopeful that you'll finally be able to tackle a difficult project that's been looming over your head. But by mid-afternoon you're stressed, tired, and can't seem to focus on much of anything -- let alone dive into work that requires intense concentration.
That big project? It'll have to wait until tomorrow.
If you've found yourself in this self-defeating cycle, you're certainly not alone. It can seem nearly impossible to make time for cognitively demanding tasks, what author Cal Newport calls deep work.
How do some people make room for creativity even with a crazy busy schedule while others get stuck in brain fog and procrastination?
Doing less, not more, is the secret to achieving mental clarity so that your creativity can thrive. Instead of adding more goals to your plate, you have to limit inputs coming at you.
Here are a few small changes that can yield big results.
1. Limit the energy drain of constant updates
Social media is like a black hole that sucks you in with endless updates, wasting your time and zapping your focus. Use a tool to quiet your news feed or remove it all together.
This will allow you uninterrupted serenity to think and create - two essential elements for happiness at work. You'll be amazed by how much you can accomplish and how much better you'll feel without the deluge of posts cluttering your screen (and mind).
The mind is like a muscle: it requires careful maintenance or it'll eventually burn out. Focused thinking free from distractions and social media is essential on days when you feel scattered.
2. Keep tabs on your well-being
Your physiology affects your psychology. Put simply, if your body isn't properly rested or nourished, you'll have a harder time focusing. Ask yourself:
This self-care practice, known as HALT, is a great way to monitor your well-being so you can keep your attention optimized.
For example, if you find yourself struggling to write a simple email, check-in with yourself. Do you need a to take a walk outside and clear your head? Maybe a snack will do the trick. You might find a quick break renews your focus and clarity.
3. Build in reflective time
In our frenzied, jam-packed modern lives, it's incredibly difficult to force yourself to just stop. But periodically carving out time to pause and absorb the sights, sounds, and sensations of your surroundings is paramount to performing at your best.
When I'm feeling overwhelmed or uninspired, I first shift something in my surroundings. There's science behind this seemingly simplistic approach: Research shows a change of environment stimulates creativity.
A simple way to include time to decompress throughout your day is to avoid scheduling meetings back to back. Book in buffer time, say 15 to 20 minutes between meetings, so that you can get organized and re-center yourself.
At the end of the day, it's up to you to optimize your time, working space, and schedule. You have to be responsible for putting practices in place to safeguard your mental energy so that your creative juices can flow.
Melody Wilding is a coach and licensed social worker who helps ambitious high-achievers manage the emotional aspects of having a successful career. Her clients include CEOs and C-level executives at top Fortune 500 companies such as Google and HP, as well as media personalities, startup founders, and entrepreneurs across industries. She also teaches Human Behavior at Hunter College in NYC. Get free tools to grow your career confidence at melodywilding.com. A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.
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