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.
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.
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.