Every office worker dreads the feeling: it’s 2 PM after a long day at work, and your brain feels like mush. But with several hours left in the workday, you know you need to be on your A-game. How can you keep your mind sharp at work, no matter what?
You aren’t alone in your struggle to stay sharp and engaged. 70% of employees say they feel disengaged when they’re at work. That disengagement leads to poor work quality, burnout, and career stagnation. If you’re struggling to make it to 5 PM every day, it’s time to adjust your workday habits.
The mind is a complex thing, but when you treat it like a temple, you’ll notice amazing improvements not only in your work but your life outside the office, too.
In this article, we’ll discuss how James River Capital founder Paul Sanders keeps both his mind and his employees’ minds sharp at work.
About Paul Sanders & James River Capital
Paul Sanders and his business partner acquired James River Capital in 1995, where Paul currently serves as Chairman and CEO. Through James River Capital, Paul uses his 30 years of finance experience to optimize investment returns for investors.
James River Capital has experience in alternative investments, across most asset classes, out of its Richmond, Virginia headquarters.
Five Ways to Stay Sharp at Work
Paul has led James River Capital for nearly 25 years. During that time, he’s had to keep his own mind sharp while managing a roster of employees. While he admits everyone has their off-days, Paul argues that most of your days at work should be positive and productive. Here’s how he keeps his mind sharp at the workplace.
- Forge Relationships
Humans are social beings. Every time we escape the inner world of our mind and connect with fellow humans, we’re giving our brain some much-needed interaction. If you’ve been sitting at your desk for 2 hours and haven’t said a word to anyone, it’s time to get up and chat for a bit.
You don’t need to spend 30 minutes chatting with Ben from accounting about your weekend. You don’t need a best friend at work, either. All this means is that you take occasional breaks for brief, 5-to-15-minute conversations.
In fact, Paul encourages his employees at James River Capital to have watercooler conversations and believes that some of the best innovations and ideas from casual conversations.
- Take Breaks
You’re at work for 8+ hours a day, but you can’t be “on” for that entire time. Experienced employers understand that workers need breaks to stay sharp. Consider setting an alarm on your phone to take a 5- or 10-minute break every hour.
If possible, try getting away from your screen during your lunch hour. You obviously don’t want to abuse the time and stay away for too long, but easting at your desk does nothing but compound the need for breaks. Stand up, walk around, grab a bite, eat outside, or even find a quiet spot and do a little guided meditation. Any time away from your screen is time well spent during the workday.
If you want quiet time during a hectic day breathing exercises are also a great way to take breaks. Use free guided meditation and breathing videos on YouTube, or meditation apps like MindSpace to enjoy a few moments of silence, sharpening your mind before returning to work.
- Structure Your Day
If you go through the day in a mad dash, chances are you’re going to feel drained by 2 PM. Paul advocates that James River Capital employees make a schedule and to-do list for their day, which reduces stress and allows one to plan their day according to energy levels.
For your to-do list, make sure you’re assigning yourself a variety of tasks. If your to-do list is all time-intensive, complex tasks, your mind isn’t going to be as sharp. That’s why it’s important to include less critical tasks, like checking email, on your to-do list. It will help you accomplish something that doesn’t require as much brainpower. Plus, it switches up what you’re doing, so you stay alert and focused.
Of course, when you have huge tasks on your to-do list, it’s best to break them up into smaller tasks. If the to-do “Make a presentation for Friday” sounds too big, chop it up. Give yourself tasks to pick a PowerPoint template or to outline the presentation first. It seems like a much more manageable task that way and keeps your mind from feeling overwhelmed.
As far as structuring your day goes, try to complete complex to-dos during your prime working hours. This is different for everyone. If you’re a morning person, you might prefer to “eat the frog” and tackle big projects at 9 AM. If you’re a night person, you might prefer doing big tasks at 4 PM.
Also, remember to space out your work. The workday is a marathon, not a sprint. If you get burned out by 12 PM, you’ve got to slog through another five hours. Stay sharp by spacing out your work. For example, tackle a complex to-do, then go to a meeting, and then take a break before getting back to complex tasks.
- Do Light Exercise
The mind and body are connected, and that’s why light exercise does wonders for mental sharpness at work. You don’t need to do a full CrossFit workout or anything, but getting your body moving and your blood pumping is immensely helpful to staying sharp at work. Light exercise, like walking or stretching, is enough, but don’t be intimidated by the standing desk or using an exercise ball as a chair. Paul notes that even a brief walk around the office can energize and refocus employees.
Try to get outside to soak up some sunshine. To stay accountable, you can even invite a coworker to join you. If a walk isn’t in the cards, try doing a little yoga at your desk when you have a few minutes between tasks.
- Learn Something New
It sounds corny, but learning is the key to lifelong happiness. If you want to feel engaged at work and motivated at home, learning is the answer. Plus, learning is important to your career, too. You can increase your skills, and therefore your value to the company, when you learn something new.
Is there a skill your coworker knows that you want to learn? Did your industry publish new software? Can you boost your chances of promotion with a certification? Learn something new to feel sharp at work and boost your value to your employer. Check out your employee handbook to see if you qualify for tuition reimbursement or education credits.
James River Capital is always trying to motivate employees to be lifelong learners. Paul Saunders believes that this is a win-win for everyone, and keeps the mind sharp at work.
The bottom line
Working 8+ hours in an office environment for five days in a row is extremely difficult. But if you want to have a successful career that you love, it’s important to keep your mind sharp, both when you’re at work and home. Paul believes that when we prioritize our mental capabilities, we’re more successful at work and at home. Try these five tips to sharpen your mind, acing the workweek in style.