Yaaawn. You were having a productive day.
This morning you were launching emails with the rapid succession of a fireworks display and smashing deadlines like an elite Whac-a-Mole champion who can see the future. It’s one of those magical days where you managed to titrate your coffee dosage perfectly—you were awake enough to contribute plenty during your team’s morning meeting, but not caffeinated to the point of jitters or psychosis.
Then the two o’clock slump swooped in like a dementor, sucking every hope of productivity from your mind. Now, sitting at your desk, you’re like a desultory teenager in shop class during the last two weeks of school: you’re not working on anything so much as just drilling holes. Would my coworkers notice, you wonder, if I were to slink down to my car, recline the passenger seat, and doze off for twenty minutes?
And anyway, why am I like this every afternoon?
We’re here to help unspool this mystery, and explore a few remedies for your afternoon power outage.
What’s that you’re eating?
Did you skip lunch? Wait, back up—did you skip breakfast? Being hungry at work is a recipe for diminished productivity, general crabbiness, and the faint sense that you should’ve gone to grad school. It’s wise to map out contingencies to avert such crises: pack a lunch (or breakfast) and keep emergency snacks in your work bag or desk drawer.
Alas, simply remembering that you have to eat is not where the struggle ends, but where it begins.
Here’s a quick biology lesson: as energy from food you digest makes its way to your bloodstream, your pancreas releases the hormone insulin, which cues your cells to absorb that energy. This can occur gradually, as in the case of slow-burning fibrous whole grains, or it can happen abruptly, in the form of a sudden spike from an influx of refined sugar.
When the amount of sugar in your blood spikes, what follows is a surge of insulin, and subsequently the metabolic crater of sluggishness and regret in which you now find yourself.
One solution is to avoid crash-prone foods—choosing a handful of nuts or some carrots instead of sugary sweets, for instance.
Another fix might be to forego the giant lunch that always leaves you longing for naptime and instead munch little by little throughout the day. Also, if you feel desperate for a coffee break but don’t want to keep buzzing past bedtime, consider an alternative like green tea, which has less caffeine.
And don’t forget to drink water, either. A little bit of dehydration can go a long way toward jamming up your afternoon efforts, so sip often.
As much as your boss might like to pretend otherwise, you’re not an android; you’re a complex and dynamic organism sculpted by millions of years of evolution to live by moving frequently. Sitting for hours on end in perfect obeisance to the glow of your screen is a prescription for soporific indifference.
If you can, go outside—bright light cues wakefulness. Getting some sun during the day can also help you rest better at night. Taking a brisk walk around the block gives your mind a chance to reset, so when you return to your keyboard you may not only feel less inclined to put your face on it, but also unlock a fresh angle to attack whatever you’re working on.
Even if going for a dedicated stroll isn’t realistic, you should make time to stand up and shake out. For your body, sitting still goes hand in exhausted hand with sleepytime. Take a moment to work on your downward dog, or ask that coworker who’s weirdly into CrossFit if you can borrow one of the resistance bands you know he keeps in his desk, and stretch out your weary shoulders.
Workers in cavernous office complexes are sometimes known to deploy a two-for-one strategy, serving the dual imperatives to hydrate and to get up and walk around a bit more, simply by taking a few extra steps to a water fountain in a different part of the building.
Pump up the jams
Listening to exciting music can also help keep you off the post-lunch nod. The kind of jams that get your feet moving on the dancefloor might take some weight off your eyelids.
If power metal is more your speed though, you might want to take a cue from journalist Jason Leopold and be mindful of your workmates. A tiff over the volume of Leopold’s music at the office once escalated to colorful language and near fisticuffs, costing him a job. Yes, really.
Ultimately, your mid-afternoon slump likely stems from an amalgam of factors. To change it, you’re going to have to tweak a variety of habits: what you eat and when, how often you stand up to get your blood flowing and refill your water bottle—maybe even your playlist.
Such changes may not come easily or happen overnight, but it’s all right to take some time figuring it out. In the end, we believe your work is worth staying awake for.