These days it seems just about everyone has a winning morning routine. People are flaunting their four o’clock wake-ups, already having made their beds, worked out, savored their chia seed smoothies, journaled about their gratitude, and meditated by the time they start their workdays. What if you are not a morning person and just need the time before work to sleep? Maybe getting the kids ready is more than enough to tackle at daybreak. Or maybe you have already established a healthy routine for your mornings. It is time to address the real area for untapped potential: the afternoon slump.
The timing of the afternoon slump varies somewhat person to person – studies show that energy and concentration wane around eight hours after we wake up. In some cultures, taking a nap or siesta in the afternoon is commonly accepted. In others, we are expected to gulp down more tea or coffee and push through. Here are twelve more ideas for managing your afternoon energy and inspiration.
1. Put distraction to good use
It turns out that being distracted, as we often are during the afternoon slump, can be useful. Research has shown that some activities can be enhanced when our concentration is flagging.
This is because each time our attention is drawn back to the task at hand, we potentially see the project or data from a new perspective. Therefore, we can save some of our innovation-hungry assignments for these afternoon hours when our attention is fragmented.
2. Enact compassion
In addition to gaining a fresh perspective on what we’re working on, a pulse of energy could put a lagging afternoon back on track. Acts of compassion can offer both, according to Dr. Emma Seppälä, a researcher at Stanford University. Extending generosity registers in the pleasure centers of our brains (along with money, sweets, and sex), where happiness and well-being are boosted.
It seems the afternoon slump can be mitigated by taking a moment to reach out to your team. It could give you the chance to affirm something they said in a meeting, let them know you are rooting for them, or let them know you are available in case they want to bounce ideas off someone. The effects could be more potent than coffee, without the anxiety spike and impending insomnia.
3. Charge through connection
Another possible way to express compassion — both to others and to yourself — is to spend time with someone you enjoy. Time spent chatting with a co-worker has been shown to create more positive feelings for your workplace, therefore enhancing engagement and loyalty. Connecting socially has also been found to increase productivity, in addition to improving morale and reducing stress.
4. Sneak in a cat video (yes, really!)
Your co-workers may wonder how laser-chasing, video-game-playing, and singing cats relate to your current project. You might invite them to experience firsthand the burst of positive emotion and accompanying rejuvenation that cat videos have been proven to provide.
It could also be useful to let them know that the health and vitality benefits of watching cats being their ever-surprising selves is grounded in scientific research. This information will better enable them to enjoy the workplace treatment plan guilt-free and take you more seriously than ever.
5. Do something undemanding
It makes sense to take on tasks that are less demanding than others during the afternoon slump. Besides being doable when energy and concentration are compromised, another compelling reason to engage in undemanding activities is that they can reap great rewards.
Many important discoveries are made while doing everyday tasks like walking, bathing, and commuting. For instance, it was while he was driving that a scientist figured out the basis for DNA copying that underlies the Human Genome Project and won him a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Dr. Kary Mullis came up with polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technique to quickly and inexpensively create over a billon copies of a DNA segment while navigating the familiar route to his weekend cabin.
Engaging in undemanding tasks enables two key networks in our brains to interact: the executive and default networks. Taking our minds away from a given task can speed innovative progress.
Walking is an undemanding task that has brought insights which have led to innovations and scientific breakthroughs. In addition to facilitating epiphanies, physical activity can support our afternoon productivity for many other reasons. It stimulates blood flow, which improves alertness, energy, and mood. These bouts of movement can be beneficial even when done in microbursts — just five minutes can have a significant positive impact.
In case you are interested in getting in a good stretch, Yoga with Adriene has some short videos that work well in the office. One video is designed to be done at your desk. And if you are up for a bit more movement, but don’t have a mat or change of clothes handy, here is another nice option to help stave off the afternoon slump.
7. Bask in natural light
Another reason walking is a useful way to boost productivity is that it can get us outside. Natural light has been proven to prevent the afternoon sleepiness that interferes with productivity. Research shows that exposure to natural light for half an hour around lunchtime prevents declines in energy in the early afternoon.
8. Radiate your voice
While you are away from your desk — soaking up sunlight, getting the blood circulating, inviting your executive and default networks to connect and spark new insights – you might consider singing, too. It has been proven to reduce cortisol and cortisone. With these stress hormones out of the way, thinking and energetic pathways can be cleared.
If you bring some colleagues along, you can also benefit from physiological synchronization. Attuning breathing and harmonizing can support health and well-being, as well as establishing meaningful interpersonal connections.
9. Get into the groove with music
You have probably noticed how music can boost your mood and energy. There is science to back this up. For one thing, listening to music can reduce levels of stress hormones. Additionally, it can increase serotonin and stimulate the reward areas of the brain. If that is not enough, an inspiring song can infuse us with optimism, which emboldens calculated risk-taking. You may want to make a playlist of songs you can turn to: a song or two can pump up more than the volume of your afternoons.
10. Reveal thinking’s invisible ink
Maybe what your afternoon needs is time set aside to let your brain empty out into physical space. Re-experiencing our thoughts and ideas in different forms allows us to see them anew and develop them further. Perhaps this is part of the reason journaling, and documenting gratitude have become such popular priorities in many morning routines.
Gabriela Goldschmidt, a professor of architecture, explains that charting our thoughts in hand-drawn expressions creates a conversation between our hands and eyes. This conversation leads to new information and understandings. From a sketch, Gabriela says, we take in “more information than was invested in its making. This becomes possible because when we put down on paper dots, lines, and other marks, new combinations and relationships among these elements are created that we could not have anticipated or planned for.”
Expanded understandings occur similarly when expressing our ideas in writing. Daniel Reisberg, a psychologist, calls this process “detachment gain.” Externalizing our thoughts allows us to see them from different perspectives. When we return to our written ideas after some time, we see them anew. Seeing with fresh eyes brings new insights.
The level of detail that is included when we externalize our thoughts is also useful in developing ideas. Our thoughts can remain somewhat nebulous. When we document them by writing or drawing, we are usually forced to think them through at a greater level of detail. Daniel Dennett, a philosopher, illustrates this with a thought experiment. If you imagine a tiger, you may have a clear image in your mind. But if someone asks you how many stripes the tiger has, this sort of detail may not be clearly established. If, however, you had drawn the tiger, you could easily count the stripes.
Once ideas are represented in spaces outside of our minds, we can interact with them, alter them, interrogate them, and further develop them. Taking time to embody our thoughts through drawing, modeling, and writing could be a way to refresh our thinking and act as an antidote to the looming afternoon slump.
11. Cultivate curiosity
Yet another way to infuse afternoons with enthusiasm and vigor is to engage curiosity. While the state of not knowing can be uncomfortable, it can also be a perfect guide. Whether the unknown involves the details necessary to bring a project forward or how to even proceed, finding the joy in seeking information can be invigorating.
In order to create healthy routines that include curiosity, you may consider allocating a certain part of the afternoon to explore information you need or want to know. If you don’t know where to begin, maybe this very question can be the next step in your curiosity quest.
12. Activate powerful memories
Exhaustion, anxiety, and the weight of the day so far can exacerbate the afternoon slump. One more way to get the upper hand on the day is to take a moment to conjure a memory of a time when you felt powerful. Maybe it was when you won or achieved something, received nourishing feedback, or felt like your ideal version of yourself. According to Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist, memories of these events infuse our bodies with physical responses similar to those experienced during the actual events. Not only can celebrating these powerful moments power us up, they can do so in a matter of moments.
By paying attention to our natural rhythms, we can find ways to make the most out of every part of our days. You may like to keep some of these ideas handy for when you need a spring in your afternoon, or maybe a few will become part of your daily routine.