We all know the feeling of that mid-afternoon energy lull. Slumped in the office chair, we find ourselves mentally checking out, and probably falling into the vortex that is social media. Research suggests that 2:55pm is the twilight zone of productivity, the time where nothing gets done except perhaps a bit of quality daydreaming. But as many successful people realize, pushing through this afternoon valley is crucial, and losing steam here could quickly snowball into sacrificing the remainder of the workday.
These 7 hacks will help you stay on track and carry you past the tempting dangers of the slump. Many of them even have long-term health benefits. Convert these hacks into habits and you’ll soar through the afternoons with ease.
Setting yourself up for successfully getting through the mid-afternoon slump starts much earlier in the day. By beginning the day with a nutrient-dense meal, you are ensuring your body and mind perform to their fullest potential. Food that you eat in the morning affects how you feel hours later based on how it is metabolized in the body. A good rule of thumb: check the glycemic index (GI) of your food. The glycemic index correlates a food’s carbohydrates and how quickly it raises your blood sugar, on a scale of 0-100. Lower GI foods are digested more slowly and do not produce rapid changes in blood sugar levels (think eggs, GI=0), while higher numbers are digested quickly and produce rapid blood sugar spikes (think donuts, GI=76). Avoiding sugar crashes earlier in the day and eating foods that can continually release energy regulates mood and focus for hours to come. Additionally, eating low GI foods can help in shedding those extra pounds, boosting productivity in the long run. A study conducted by the International Labour Office found:
“In wealthier nations, obesity accounts for 2 to 7 percent of total health costs. In addition to these costs, employers must understand that poor nutrition is tied to absenteeism, sickness, low morale and higher rates of accidents.”
Schedule a Meeting
Believe it or not, scheduling a meeting during the notoriously slow period of the work day helps provide the necessary spark for remaining fired up and focused. By giving your afternoon direction, and focusing on one project, meeting or conference, you are sending clear signals to your mind & body to essentially ignore the 3:00pm slump by powering straight through it. But be careful, staying on task is vital; the conference should be about something your colleagues are truly passionate about, and don’t let your coworkers steer the meeting towards non-work topics for too long. Begin with a clear agenda and goals to accomplish, and be ready to keep others and yourself accountable. By strategically scheduling meetings, you’ll blast through the afternoon and come out ready to accomplish even more.
Take a Walk
You (probably) know by now that sitting all day every day will slowly but surely deteriorate your health, and is linked to problems like heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and cancer. Remaining sedentary also has adverse effects on cognitive capacity to include your ability to think creatively, stay motivated, and problem-solve. A quick twenty minute walk makes all the difference in helping your mind spring back into action. How does walking do this? Walking as a form of exercise (even if it’s not rigorous) triggers your brain to release endorphins, and a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor), which together help repair the neurons responsible for memory, as well as combating increased stress levels. Taking just twenty minutes to walk before or during the tough-to-stay-motivated hours of the afternoon is a simple but effective method for improving both your mood and mental clarity.
Drink Green Tea
Before heading to the Keurig machine and pouring another cup of coffee to get that caffeine kick, consider instead an alternative – green tea. As you may already know, this potent beverage contains a slew of antioxidants which boast anti-aging and medicinal properties (such as protection against cancer, heart disease, obesity, and Alzheimer’s), but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Green tea, besides containing caffeine, also offers the added amino acid L-theanine. Together they turn your brain into a super-efficient machine, by improving cognitive function, mood, focus, reaction time and memory, according to a review of research conducted over the past 15 years on the topic. Consuming foods containing L-theanine on a regular basis has also been shown to improve quality of sleep, helping you to be better rested and tackle the following day.
Accomplish Something Small
One of the best ways to ignite productivity, especially when we are feeling our most sluggish and unmotivated, is to accomplish something small. Checking off even one of our “to do’s” makes it much easier to accomplish more. I always liked the saying “it’s harder to start running then to keep running”, which applies here- once you have pushed yourself to begin a project, the hard part is over. Start with a small task, like doing some research or returning an email, and it will be much easier to continue with other tasks. Teresa M. Amabile, a professor at Harvard who has conducted extensive research on the topic wrote in an article for the Harvard Business Review
“…the progress principle: Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress—even a small win—can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.”
Play a Game
Have you ever seen an ant farm? It’s amazing how those tiny bugs can constantly create new tunnels and pathways that bring them to food and water, it seems like they never rest and the colony might expand indefinitely. Our brains work is a fairly similar way, continually creating new cell clusters and neural pathways as we learn and grow each day. Even as an adult, our brains never lose the ability to create these new connections, but this growth can slow down over time as our daily routines become…well, routine. Research has shown that challenging your brain, on a daily basis, to learn new skills can help keep you sharp and stave off memory loss and cognitive decline. Not only will taking twenty minutes a day to play a few brain teasers aid in the long run, the act of creating new neural pathways by playing a game can encourage the creation of new pathways, leading to solutions for current work challenges. Brain teasers can include the classic Sudoku and crossword puzzles, or the newer Lumosity and other online brain training programs.
Eat a Protein-Rich Snack
The late afternoon is the most common time of day to reach for those high-sugar, low nutritional value snacks, including vending machine favorites such as pretzels and M&M’s. The problem: a) these types of snacks only provide you with temporary energy, b) will not keep you full until dinner, and c) these “bite-size treats” can propel you towards a path of unhealthy choices later on. Much like eating well in the morning helps to reinforce smart eating habits throughout your day, the battle at 3:00pm is just as important, especially for a busy after work schedule. Working out at the gym? Indulging in a hobby? Finishing up a side hustle / project? For these and other post 9-5 plans, the mid afternoon snack is where you will either set yourself up for success or failure. Eating a protein-rich mini- meal will help to regulate your energy levels and mood, in addition to satisfying those hunger pains until dinner. Some good options include: a handful of nuts or trail mix, a hard boiled egg (make it spicy with some sriracha!), hummus and veggies, a protein shake, or a protein bar (look for one with less than 7 grams of sugar and more than 12 grams of protein).
Meredith is a professional meal planner with a focus on vegetarianism and food allergies. Lifelong foodie, self taught chef, and world traveler, she loves good wine and could eat guacamole forever. Check her out at elevatedmeals.com.
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