I don’t actually eat Wheaties anymore, but their iconic cereal boxes – featuring exceptional athletes from every era and every sport – taught me something very important: fuel your body and you, too, can be a winner.
You may be wondering what on earth a box of Wheaties has to do with your legal practice, but consider this:
- When preparing the night before your last oral argument, how many Diet Cokes did you consume?
- During today’s morning rush out the door, did you skip breakfast in lieu of your favorite nine-syllable cup of joe from the Starbucks drive-through (or a 5-Hour ENERGY shot)?
- During your last trial or deposition, did you skip lunch altogether and work through the break?
We’ve all been there. Stressed out. Exhausted. Pushing hard to meet a deadline or wrap up the project de jour so you can make it home in time to tuck your kids into bed.
While it may sound obvious, I always encourage clients and witnesses to get a good night’s sleep and to eat a healthy breakfast before a big day. Roll your eyes if you wish, but it’s really not just a bunch of hooey. Our brains work 24/7 and, like the engine of a Lamborghini, require the right kind of fuel to function at its best on a daily basis. But when we’re stressed or on a tight deadline, it’s even more important to fuel up.
Here are a few tips – backed by actual brain science (and most likely endorsed by Mom) that may help keep you feeling sharp when you need it most.
Eat a snack.
If you’re suffering from a case of brain fog, eat something containing boron. An apple, a bag of mini carrots, raisins, prunes or almonds will do the trick. (And believe it or not, wine, but that’s probably best consumed after you’ve completed your tasks!) You might also want to have some handy next time your star witness is being deposed.According to a study done by the US. Department of Agriculture (Penland, JG), increasing your boron intake can boost your focus, short-term memory, and overall ability to concentrate.
Grab a power nap.
You may not want to pull a George Costanza and retrofit your office desk for optimal sleeping comfort, but research does show that a mere 10-minute cat nap can increase productivity, alertness, concentration and mental clarity. It even has the added benefit of reducing the amount of the stress-related hormone, cortisol. When you work in a business where the mere placement of a comma can completely alter the course of litigation, shut your door, mute the phone, and turn the lights out for 10 minutes. The world won’t end while you regroup. I promise.
A growing body of research shows that even a short 10-minute bout of exercise improves mental concentration, focus and overall productivity. If the task you’re facing requires a laser-focused mindset, get moving. Take a quick walk around the block. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you’re confined to a room and cannot break away, jump up and down. Jog in place for a minute or so. Walk around the conference table. Your peers may raise an eyebrow or two, but the mental reboot will be worth it.
This means good old-fashioned H2O, people. Sodas, coffee, and power drinks do not count! Without adequate water intake, your brain functions at a slower, less effective and compromised rate. Water consumption has the added benefit of improving the oxygen transfer into your bloodstream. Win-win, right? Make a concerted effort to drink at least half your body weight in water every day (seriously). Keep a few bottles of water in your desk drawer for times when you don’t even want to take the time to head to the kitchen. And always have a case available in your war room during trial.
Listen to some tunes.
While it may not be your jam of choice, research has shown that listening to classical music not only lowers blood pressure, but it also increases attention, retention, and focus. In fact, if you can tolerate some Baroque music (e.g., Bach, Vivaldi, Handel), it’s been proven to increase concentration. Dust off those headphones and tune in to Pandora for a while.
When you’re in gotta-get-it-done-yesterday or full-blown trial mode, don’t forget to fuel your brain for the activity at hand. You won’t make the cover of the Wheaties box, but you’ll feel like more of a winner.