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“Work smarter, not harder!”  How many times have you heard that phrase? We all want to work smarter, to do things effectively with no wasted effort. In tough businesses with small margins like farming, working smarter can be a real competitive advantage.

To work smarter means to think clearly, make good decisions, and keep learning. Having a clear head is essential in working smarter.

But we all have times when our head isn’t clear—when we’re foggy and slow and are making careless mistakes or poor decisions. Why do those times happen?

Well, sometimes it’s because we’re sick (many cold medications can make you really fuzzy-headed!), or we’re really tired. Sometimes, though, it’s because we are under too much stress.

Stress and Your Thinking

Did you know that stress can affect your thinking in lots of ways? Doctors have shown that high stress levels cause us to have more rigid problem-solving strategies, so we don’t come up with creative solutions to our problems. Stress makes it more likely that we will make decisions that are riskier, we are less “risk averse” under stress. It makes our memory worse and makes it harder to learn new things.

During times of high stress, what can we do to stay sharp and work smarter, not harder? Well, like I’ve talked about throughout this blog, stress management skills are important to keep stress from wearing our bodies down—and our thinking too. So, during stress, remember the steps to be S.A.F.E.R. If you do these, it will help clear your thinking.

Strategies to be Sharp

There are also some other specific things we can do to be more mentally sharp. Here are a few ideas I’ve found:

Take a nap:              Studies have shown that taking a brief nap (even 10 minutes in your truck) in the middle of the day can help things that you’ve learned or need to  remember “stick” better in your memory.

Learn a language:   Second language learning can improve your attention and memory—so find      that free language app and spend 10 minutes a day learning Spanish, or  French, or Mandarin, or whatever language intrigues you.

Breathe:                   Breathing through your diaphragm (sometimes called “belly breathing”) can      improve your mood, increase your ability to focus and pay attention, and lower your stress hormones. If you’re not sure how to do it, you can learn  how here.

Exercise:                   People on the farm work hard and are moving all the time—but not necessarily working out all their muscle groups. And, lots of us don’t think to move when we’re worried or puzzling over a problem.  Try some of these farm-fit  exercises.

I hope this has given you a few ideas for staying sharp, giving yourself a competitive edge, and thriving.

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