Running on Fumes: 7 Tips to Prevent Making Mistakes When You’re Exhausted
by Jake Wengroff
Making a dumb mistake sucks. Making a dumb mistake that you know you could have avoided if you were concentrating better sucks even more.
We promise: this won’t be a burnout blog. But any list of tips wouldn’t be complete without a list of the benefits of staying focused at work (even when you’d rather just collapse under your desk):
Reduced burnout: When you are more alert and making fewer errors, you are more connected to the work and tasks at hand. You can see them through to completion, feel more positive, and avoid feeling worn out.
Increased productivity: When you’re focused and energetic at work, you can meet your deadlines and other goals with fewer requests to see the managing director in her office.
Fewer residual errors: Accuracy in reporting, writing, editing, calculating, and other tasks will help you anticipate error traps, improving your overall accuracy moving forward.
Improved professional relationships: Producing stronger, error-free work can allow you to build stronger bonds with your colleagues, which can improve your collaborative efforts.
Demonstration of leadership: Showing your boss that you can stay focused and make fewer mistakes during long hours shows a high degree of self-control and personal management. This creates an air of authority and confidence, and can increase your chances of a promotion.
Now that you’re convinced, let’s go through a list of some strategies to stay focused and alert, deliver more quality work, avoid mistakes, and get ahead—which is why you took this job anyway.
1. Print out Your Work and Review it Manually
Go old school: print out a document, report, or presentation and review it manually with a pen or highlighter. This old-school hack will force you to focus differently, enabling you to find mistakes or make enhancements that weren’t obvious when staring at the very same content on a screen.
We do realize, however, that this can be a bit more time-consuming, as you’d have to copy your edits back into the original, digital version. But a print and manual review every so now and then can really change the game.
2. Make a List and Check it Twice
Not just a cheesy Christmas reference, but building a list of tasks and checking or crossing them off as you go along can be a huge help.
You probably already have several reminders set on your browser or phone. However, too many can make you hesitant to check each time, especially when you’re burned out.
Some analysts will write out each task on a separate piece of paper (think Post-It’s, another old school office supply), and then as each task is completed, will simply throw out each piece of paper. Job done!
3. Prioritize, and Prioritize Again
As a corollary to the #2 tip above about list building, it’s important to rearrange the tasks ahead of you in order of importance. After all, when you’re exhausted, it’s easy to forget which project needs to be completed before another.
Additionally, you might also be unaware of which one is a fire and which one is just a fire drill.
Order and re-order your priorities so you can put your energy — whatever you have left after working a 17-hour day — to good use. Concentrating first on the more complex tasks can work in your favor.
4. Switch Between Right and Left
We’re talking about the sides of your brain here.
Sure, you went into M&A because you’re good at numbers (the analytical or left side of your brain). However, to give that side of your brain a break and prevent burnout, try exercising the right side of your brain — the creative or artistic side — every so now and then.
No, we’re not suggesting composing music or painting a watercolor in the office. But try switching it up, by blending in writing or editing tasks alongside the number crunching, for brain variety.
5. Technology to help, not hurt.
Spell-check tools abound across the Microsoft and Google productivity suite universe. (Does your Managing Director also have you use Grammarly?) Those little squiggly or red lines can alert you when you have a typo or a double space.
But just because these tools are available for your use doesn’t mean that you are using them properly.
Get comfortable on ALL of the editing and tracking features. Use Ctrl + F to do searches on repeated mistakes, such as on double spaces and replacing them with a single space.
6. Third-party sharing platforms can ease the pain.
The advice given above in #5 about office and productivity tools is for internal use. However, you might be having to review documents provided to you and your team by a third party, such as from the prospective client’s law firm or accounting firm.
In these cases, you will access shared documents externally via a virtual data room (VDR).
A VDR, such as that offered by Caplinked, has a user-friendly interface and activity-tracking capabilities built in. As such, you can see how many times a particular document has been viewed by someone on your team.
Additionally, you can mark up or annotate the document in-app with tools that are probably easier than you’re used to. That means fewer chances to make mistakes — a win-win for all.
7. Socialize More with Colleagues
Extroverts, unite: talking to others can actually make you more productive.
Taking time to connect with your teammates and manager can give you a boost of energy and make you more focused on and excited about your work tasks, notes online recruiting site Indeed.
If you work in a physical office, consider coming in a bit earlier to chat with your colleagues (assuming they are in the office early, too). Companies often hold optional social events, and we all know that “optional” means mandatory, especially when trying to get face time with the higher-ups, so take advantage of these opportunities whenever possible.
It will help your focus and concentration, and boost your networking skills along the way.
8. Health is Wealth
You might be making mistakes or losing your cool because your body is forcing you to. You may have heard of these hacks somewhere along the line, but a few quick healthy check-ups might be in order. (You can also check out our article on how to manage long hours without losing your mind for additional tips.)
Don’t Overeat (Especially at Lunch)
Eating can be a reward (love = food, food = love), especially after sprinting through a 50-page report.
However, the happiness of eating your favorite food, and a lot of it, at lunch, can horribly backfire. Your body will need to use up a lot of energy digesting that big meal, leading to sluggishness. Indeed, eating a big lunch can also lead to a post-lunch energy crash right when you need to be getting on with your day.
Instead, graze. Eat small meals continuously throughout the day to the avoid crash, burn, and fatigue cycle.
Drink More Water than you Think you Should
One of the oldest pieces of advice to combat fatigue during the workday is to simply stay hydrated.
Start your day off with a glass of water, and be sure to drink water regularly throughout the day. You could bring a bottle of water with timestamp labels to ensure that you drink enough water over the day. For those who just can’t live without their phone telling them what to do (including when to drink water), you can even set a phone timer to refill the bottle from the water fountain at regular intervals.
Your water habit wouldn't be complete without splurging on a high-end model, such as the self-cleaning bottle from Larq; however, Wirecutter offers several lower-priced options for those wishing to demonstrate thriftiness in front of co-workers.
Strategize Sugar and Caffeine Intake
This piece of advice also comes from Indeed, which explains that coffee and energy drinks consumed when first starting the workday can give you an initial boost but excessive amounts can cause you to actually lose energy, especially late in the day.
As an alternative strategy, consider reducing your caffeine and sugar intake or scheduling your coffee breaks in the morning. Wake up naturally, then have a cup of coffee or energy break when you get to work or soon thereafter, allowing you to maximize the effect of the caffeine on your productivity.
And of course, you will want to avoid caffeine and sugar late in the evenings in order to help you sleep better — even if it’s just for a few hours.
Exercise in Short Spurts
Everyone knows that exercise can make the brain function better — probably something to do with all of that blood rushing to the brain. According to the National Library of Medicine, incorporating exercise into your daily routine is helpful for fighting mental fatigue.
Since you may or may not consider yourself an athlete, you can start small, suggests American Express. Find a short workout class (it can even be online or on your phone) or take a brief walk outside. Every small dose of movement can help, and the short burst can be just what you need to recharge.
Use any or all of these suggestions. Basically, you should hack the hacks to figure out what works for you. It will make you more confident, and help you deliver stellar work.
Now get back to work so you can stop making dumb mistakes.
Jake Wengroff writes about technology and financial services. A former technology reporter for CBS Radio, he covers such topics as security, mobility, e-commerce and the Internet of Things.
American Express - 7 Tips for Fighting Mental Fatigue
Wirecutter/The New York Times - The 8 Best Water Bottles