After Hours optimize

10+ ways to be productive when you're brain dead

Cognition on the fritz? Here are some ways to salvage the day even if you're not hitting on all (or any) cylinders.

Ever have one of those days when you wake up but your brain doesn't? Come on; tell the truth. Hell, it happens to me all the time. There are dozens of causes: overwork, overstress, lack of sleep, too much fun the night before, temporary depression, sick of a never-ending project, or just plain lazy, to name a few. Sometimes the old noggin just doesn't want to work. Do you blame it?

On days like that, you essentially have four choices: Stay home, try to have a normal day and probably screw it up, exercise, or adjust. Since I don't consider the first two choices real options, at least not for me or most executives, and when I don't feel like thinking I sure as hell don't feel like exercising, I decided long ago to find ways to adjust, to make the most of those days when my brain's on autopilot.

As it turns out, there are certain types of tasks that most of us either have to do or should do, even managers and top level executives, that don't require you to be at the top of your game. Of course, you may have to crank up your willpower to get started, but the point is that, once you do -- get started -- you'll cruise right through these tasks.

Note: This article originally appeared as an entry in BNET's The Corner Office blog. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: Work on the graphics, special effects, or slide show timing of a PowerPoint presentation. Creative work that doesn't require intense thought.

2: Hold one-on-one meetings with your staff or peers, ask them how you can improve, and really listen to what they have to say.

3: Let your mind wonder and brainstorm. You see, when you're conscious mind is tired, your subconscious sort of kicks in and takes up the slack. You'd be amazed at what you can tap into. I get some of my best ideas when I'm half asleep or not even thinking.

4: Walk around, talk to people, let your guard down, be yourself.

5: If you happen to be writing something, do an outline. The final product always turns out better that way, and outlining is methodical work that doesn't require a lot of brainpower.

6: Check out what the competition is doing. Do a little digging. Call some contacts to get some competitive G2.

7: Try a change of scenery, like working outside for a change.

8: Schmooze with some vendors or partners. No, I'm not saying completely waste people's time, I'm talking about checking in and asking open questions you usually don't ask.

9: Take your administrative assistant or favorite employee out for a long lunch and really get to know them.

10: Do your expense reports. Yes, my least favorite too, but it is more or less brainless work.

11: Clean off your desk. Granted, this one really sucks, but you feel such a sense of accomplishment when you're done, it almost makes it worthwhile.

Other tricks?

Now, assuming that each one of you has a brain, which I sincerely hope isn't too much of a stretch, and that it's not always operating at peak efficiency, what do you do to make the best of it?


Steve Tobak is a consultant, writer, and former senior executive with more than 20 years of experience in the technology industry. He's the managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based firm that provides strategic consulting, executive coaching, and speaking services to CEOs and management teams of small to midsize companies.

17 comments
xxxtheo
xxxtheo

isn't it "let your mind WANDER"?

mjamal
mjamal

Well get me some 10 ways tooo I am very busy System Administrator who inherited a spagati Data Center and spagati Managment also

mmurphy
mmurphy

I catch up on my reading and research on items that I just can't figure out how to do on my own, GOOGLE it or BING it.

johnm
johnm

Being on the physical (hardware) side of IT instead of administrative side, there is nothing like going up into the attic or under the floor and pulling dead cables, or documenting the patch panels. But don't be so brain-dead that you cut the wrong cable.

mcrowe
mcrowe

Clean out your email box--sent and received. I am sometimes amazed at what I find.

Garden Gnome
Garden Gnome

Like it; good info. I used to sort out the stores. Every job I had from 1969 'til I retired last year, I left the stores better organised than I found them. Of course, you have to do little and often, or wait 'til there is a significant lull in the timetable. The latter doesn't happen often, but it does happen

santeewelding
santeewelding

You came up with this while you were brain-dead, didn't you? Brain dead is brain dead. You can't put no shine on it.

Ravi Nair
Ravi Nair

The BEST way is to go for a 10 minute relaxation- or Pranayama as it is called in modern parlance- there is nothing that can refresh you like that. This is my personal esperience.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

...it's day of the walking dead but with the brains doing the eating!

Realvdude
Realvdude

Great one. When I find my concentration slipping away, sometimes a few minutes with my eyes closed helps. Other times, I'll use some energetic music to help set the synaptic pace.

Madsmaddad
Madsmaddad

Have just finished looking over a newsletter that I write- That's easy enough. Necessary to do as the man says and go for a walk and watch the coffee brew for a few minutes.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

To all those "more harm than good" -people out there. You would too. And after taking out the transplantable organs it's a short step to dead-dead, which in turns leads to fertilizer. How's that for productive?

ginmemphis
ginmemphis

When I'm brain-dead I can't work on projects that need scheduling and coordinating. That's when I look at the monitor! It's easier to be productive when I don't have to deal with people or paper. Since I do many different jobs--graphics, editing, user support, server admin--I can usually find something. Oddly, when a critical computer issue arises my brain wakes up more.

NexS
NexS

There's a song by one Jonathan Coulton about having a medication for everything. I'm *sure* that's the best way to avoid being brain dead, right?

Bio Hazard
Bio Hazard

I usually go over TechRepublic articles... come on, you were asking for it... :)