A sharp mind is crucial in life and investing, and something I call “attention fatigue” can be a massive detriment.

My friend Adam O’Dell had a fantastic take on decision fatigue earlier this week.

He pointed to a study that found judges were a lot less likely to make favorable parole decisions late in the morning before lunch or late in the afternoon before quitting time. Hours spent making tough decisions had seemingly made them less rational.

All of us — even sober, stone-cold judges — are humans tasked with making thousands of decisions every day. Thinking is exhausting, and it wears us out.

Rather than focus on Microsoft’s bomb of an earnings release or the usual day-to-day noise of the market, I want to follow up on Adam’s decision fatigue concept today and expand into what I would call “attention fatigue.”

I think it can serve us well when investing and just in life in general.

In the modern workplace, it’s hard to get five uninterrupted minutes to just think because there’s always some new distraction.

A text … an email … maybe an actual phone call!

And every time our concentration is broken by some new interruption, we lose time and energy refocusing.

Over the course of a workday, the constant distractions add up and reduce our efficiency a great deal. We get less done, and it takes us longer to do it.

While it’s harder to measure, I would argue that the quality of our work suffers along with the quantity. Do you think Ernest Hemingway would have ever written The Sun Also Rises if after every two typewritten words, he was pulled away by a smartphone ding?

Let’s go over some ways to eliminate — or at least reduce — attention fatigue.

Control Your Phone’s Settings

I would love to throw my phone off the cliffs of Miraflores here in Lima and watch it break into pieces on the rocks before sinking into the Pacific Ocean.

But let’s get serious.

You can’t get rid of your smartphone. Like it or not, this is world we live in now. These monstrosities are part of daily life.

But I do have a few suggestions to make them less of a distraction.

The first is easy. Go to your phone’s settings and turn off almost all notifications.

Do you REALLY need your phone to ding every time someone likes a photo of your cat? Or when the Netflix app dings every time its algorithm finds a new series to recommend?

You don’t.

I would argue that even email is something you can check every couple of hours. I don’t need to rush to open my phone every time Starbucks emails me a coupon for a pumpkin spice latte.

I have a ridiculous number of apps on my phone: I counted 84 this morning. And there are four — just four — that I have allowed to disturb me:

  • The actual phone app.
  • The calendar.
  • And two text-messaging apps.

Even on the texting apps, I mute group conversations that tend to ding a lot.

The apps on the phone exist for my convenience. I am not at their beck and call. And you shouldn’t be either.

Don’t Waste Time Searching

I have 20 to 30 documents that I use in my daily life: PDFs, Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, etc. And each of these documents is filed away “where it belongs.”

But here’s the problem: I found that I still wasted almost a minute digging through folders to find the file I need.

While that doesn’t sound like a lot, it was distracting, caused me to lose my concentration and sapped concentration from far more important tasks.

Plus, every small window of time you waste hunting for a file gives you another opportunity to get distracted by something else in the process.

Here’s what I did to solve that problem.

  1. I saved all the files I use day to day on Microsoft’s OneDrive.
  2. From the OneDrive site, I saved each file as a bookmark in my web browser.
  3. When I need my spreadsheet that tracks stock prices, I can find it in less than three seconds.

Now I don’t have time to find a way to get distracted — even if I wanted to.

And I’ve found that it’s done wonders for my efficiency and fighting off attention fatigue. I don’t waste brain energy on stupid menial tasks … or at least I waste a lot less than I used to. I’m fresher and more energetic when I do actual thought work, such as analyzing new stocks for my portfolio.

If you’re overwhelmed with distractions and you feel like you don’t have time to “do it all,” you’re probably right. You don’t.

This is why you need to preserve your precious attention span for things that actually matter or things that bring you pleasure.

Do you have a few tricks of your own? I’d love to hear them! Write in, and I will include some of the ones I found helpful in a follow-up piece. You can reach me and my team at Feedback@MoneyandMarkets.com.

To safe profits,

Charles Sizemore_Sig

Charles Sizemore, Co-Editor, Green Zone Fortunes

Charles Sizemore is the co-editor of Green Zone Fortunes and specializes in income and retirement topics. He is also a frequent guest on CNBC, Bloomberg and Fox Business.