The Productivity Box: How to Break the Afternoon Slump

Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, your productivity levels will ebb and flow throughout the day. Some people are alert and ready as soon as the day starts while others do their best work in the evening. However, there’s a window of time that is almost universally unproductive—the late afternoon slump.

The Productivity Box: How to Break the Afternoon Slump

According to a survey, 70 percent of desk workers are clocked in between the hours of 3 pm and 6 pm. However, only 25 percent of them say those hours are highly productive. In this installment of The Productivity Box monthly series, we will explore effective strategies to overcome the dreaded afternoon slump.

How to escape the afternoon slump

The afternoon slump can slow your productivity and push more tasks onto your plate for tomorrow. Fortunately, you can take steps to accommodate these unproductive hours and overcome your desire to sleep through them. Here are a few things to try.

Adjust your task list to “eat the frog” first

A long time ago, Mark Twain said that if you needed to eat a live frog, you should do it first thing in the morning because nothing worse would happen for the rest of the day. What he meant was that if you completed the hardest and most unpleasant tasks as soon as you started work, you could free up your schedule for better activities throughout the day. Still stands!

Look at your current schedule and consider when you are eating those frogs. If you regularly put off your worst tasks, you likely get to them during the afternoon slumping period. This makes you less likely to complete them because you are tired and the work is undesirable.

After moving difficult tasks to the morning, place your most enjoyable or easiest tasks in the afternoon. That way you won’t have to fight off sleepiness and procrastination at the same time.

Incorporate movement into your afternoon work

Sluggishness often comes from being sedentary. You might feel tired, but your body actually craves movement. Studies show that regular physical activity can significantly reduce feelings of fatigue and boost energy levels. Incorporating movement into your afternoon routine can help counteract post-lunch tiredness and aid in digestion.

For instance, a study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that breaking up periods of sitting with short bouts of physical activity can improve overall energy and reduce fatigue.

Additionally, the American Heart Association suggests that even light physical activity can help improve digestion and prevent the sluggish feeling that often follows a meal.

Therefore, finding ways to move more in the afternoon can greatly enhance your energy levels and productivity.

In addition to typical gym exercises, outdoor running, brisk walking, and yoga, here are a few options you can try directly at your workspace:

  • Schedule a walking meeting. Move around your workplace, campus, or a local park with your co-workers or clients.
  • Host standing meetings. Push the conference table against the wall and let people stand and stretch during the discussions.
  • Invest in a walking pad. These pads are meant to be placed under your desk and will let you walk while you work. Taking slow steps is better than no steps.

You can also build more breaks and stretches into this part of the day, in general. Set a timer so you have windows of meaningful work and then practice a few yoga poses in between your next deep work session.

No matter type of movement or exercise you choose, just do it 🙂

Don’t demonize downtime

People often associate productivity with squeezing more work into the same amount of time. However, there’s a limit to how much your brain and body can handle during the day. Instead, think about productivity as working smarter, not harder.

A task might take an hour when your brain is fresh but two hours when you are tired. Working when you are worn out also increases your likelihood of making mistakes, which means you will need to rework tasks in the future.

The survey mentioned earlier found that workers who take breaks have 13 percent higher productivity than their peers while 43 percent say they can better manage stress. It’s okay to step away from your desk.

Take a walk or complete some stretches. Chat with a co-worker who is also taking a break or simply breathe some fresh air outside. Give your brain time to relax so you can return to work ready to go.

Create a post-lunch music playlist

There’s a strong correlation between music and job satisfaction as well as job performance. Develop a playlist with some of your favorite artists and music to listen to after lunch. Even if you can’t move while you work, you can tap your foot or bob your head to your favorite songs. This not only keeps you more awake, but makes work more enjoyable.

If you’re worried about losing your concentration because of the lyrics, ask your friends and co-workers for their favorite non-vocal musicians or check out these Spotify playlists:

Bottom line, choose any music that you enjoy and that energizes you.

Change your lunch habits

Your lunch can have a significant impact on how you feel in the afternoon. If you skip lunch because of meetings or large task lists, your body won’t have enough energy to get you through the day. If you eat heavy foods or high-sugar meals, you’ll feel sluggish when you return to your desk.

Rethink the meals you prepare for lunch. Here are a few simple tips:

  • Always incorporate a protein element, like grilled chicken, tuna, or plant-based options.
  • Avoid excessively large portions that you wouldn’t normally eat.
  • Avoid fried food altogether.
  • Test which meals make you feel your best and support your concentration.

Each and everyone of us is different and has their own eating habits. Pay attention to your body and eat accordingly to ensure a productive afternoon.

Productivity habits to beat the afternoon slump

Everyone has their way of building the workday and creating processes that help them complete their tasks. Try a few of these ideas and see which ones help you break out of the afternoon slump. Whether you are walking through your afternoon meetings, exercising in between deep work, or jamming to classical instrumental, you can keep working until you feel you had a productive work day.

And don’t forget to check out more productivity hacks in my monthly series. These small tips can have a compounding effect over time, ultimately making you more productive.

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