Without coffee or sugar.
Without the conversational chatter and working alone.
That’s the challenge of tackling our biological clock when it hits snooze around midday.
The image of a man snoozing under a desk may not be accurate, but it is symbolic of work cultures around the globe. Type “afternoon slump” in the search bar and see how often this gets discussed. The likes of Oprah have talked about it, and so have the NHS, NASA, and WebMD. If you are human, you know it’s the time bridge all of us cross every day…especially online workers working alone who can’t fall back on office water cooler moments.
Good eating and sleeping habits help. Planned work habits help even more. Here are eight simple workarounds when your productivity crawls, your eyes glaze over, and you stifle the yawn.
Know Your Optimum Times
Your personal plan of attack to combat afternoon lulls should begin with the knowledge of your own optimum productive times. Like working in the afternoons — don’t read on. If you are not a mutant look at ways to schedule your most important work around your more productive times. The benefits of a time audit go beyond afternoon slumps.
Doing a time audit paradoxically isn’t about time. It is about tracking productivity and maximizing the finite time. You can use a Google Spreadsheet template and a clock. You can use the popular Rescue Time. Or be mobile with an app like Eternity or ATracker (both for iOS). Android has its fair share of good time tracking tools. You can simply go with your awareness too.
Finishing the most important tasks when you are alert and energetic (“eating the frog”), allows you to plan better for the afternoon slumps…or just spend it all enjoyably on a midday snooze-fest.
Really Take A Power Nap (If You Can)
Cubicle citizens don’t have this luxury. Telecommuters do. There’s the burgeoning field of sleep research thanks to our hectic lifestyles. Most of them swear by an afternoon power nap. Reset your body and mind with a 20-minute power nap. Sleep scientists say that a power nap prevents burnout and leads to heightened alertness. Even NASA got into it as the video above also says.
Personally, I have found that a short 20-minute nap between 2 PM gives me a second wind till the evening. Find your sweet spot – anything below 30 minutes should be good. You can also find out if apps help you sleep better.
How can you be productive while sleeping? By waking up your computer. Aside from automatic maintenance tasks like defragging and backup, you can also use the idle processing power to contribute to science projects. Lifehacker also has a nice article on how to put your sleep (and PC) to good use.
Clean Your Inbox
Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.
One of our most productive tasks is always left in the pending baskets because of our own laziness and also because of Google’s own space generosity. An cluttered work desk and an cluttered inbox both slap productivity.
Mess is bad. Go to work each afternoon and trash, label, and archive. Add some gamification to the humdrum with The Email Game.
Do The “Read It Later” Exercise
At last count, I had 60+ articles saved in Pocket. That’s after I whittled it down with midday reading. I usually save the most read worthy ones in this read-it-later service. Reading a few of them over the course of an afternoon and drawing ideas from them makes for time spent well. A good creative idea or two can keep the food coma away.
Do A Security Audit Of Your Passwords
Did Heartbleed give you a scare? Any future threats or not (there will be), it is always prudent to audit your app permissions and OAuth social logins routinely. You can use the slower brain activity time of afternoons to comb through all your permissions and passwords. Remove permissions for sites you no longer access. Secure with stronger passwords where necessary. Be on top of your own security and this is one of those little activities that will give you back some peace of mind.
Work On A Passion Project
If working on a passion project doesn’t get the cortisol to rise then nothing will. In the midst of a busy day, stealing some time for a personal project could be a way to turn sluggishness into activity. It could be an easy project that doesn’t offer much resistance – like learning something new. It could be something that sparks your enthusiasm and acts as the nitro in your fuel tank. For instance, I work on Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. The graphical display doesn’t tax my brain as anything textual activity would do.
But do decide beforehand and establish a ritual. Rituals save us the bother of thinking and planning, thus saving time and short circuiting any resistance.
Walk And Talk
Meetings are best left for the afternoon. They don’t run away with a productive morning or compete with other high-priority tasks. It also gives you some time to prepare. Some physical activity is the second best antidote for the slumber. Give the idea of “walking while talking” some thought as business expert Nilofer Merchant shares in her TED Talk.
Walking about while doing a Hangouts or Skype video chat might not be too professional, but a voice chat is fair activity. If its informal, the other person might not mind. Working from home – keep a notepad or whiteboard close by for notes while you walk the talk. Walking outside – use a voice recording app. Here’s a review of Recordium for iOS and a look at Tape-a-Talk Voice Recorder for Android among others.
Schedule A “Goof Off” Time
We started with a nap and we end with giving the brain a rest. Relaxation is as important for productivity as any time management principle. Sometimes, it just helps to ignore the nine bits of “wisdom” above and simply goof off. Go for a walk to the nearest cafe. Mingle out in the sunlight, go and play Frisbee, go out with your camera, watch Netflix or Hulu…or completely step away from the computer. Just don’t feel guilty about it. Relaxation is vastly underrated when we put it against productivity as this New York Times article also says.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a little tea or coffee to rev up the old body clock. But if natural habits work, Starbucks would be a little poorer and our bodies a little better. Post-lunch lethargy leads to a drop in productivity but there are little areas of your life that could benefit from this “available” time. You can build your own list of little things you can do – like my 15 Productive Things To Do Online When You Have 15 Minutes To Kill list.
What’s your secret? Is it a light lunch, light music, or tsk, tsk…a cup of coffee? Share your productivity trade secrets in the comments.