Bust Out of that Afternoon Slump in Ten Minutes

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on October 26, 2010 in: Tips in 10, Working Virtually

My workday schedule is hectic and I stay pretty busy from morning to late afternoon. But somewhere in there – usually between 3 and 5, depending on when I ate lunch – I hit a slump. You do, too. We all do. It’s something about the afternoon; it’s like the Bermuda Triangle of productivity.

Here’s what happens for me and maybe this happens to you to: I’m working away and pretty proud of my consistent productivity throughout the day. Then I look up at the clock and realize that I’ve done no work for the past half an hour. I’ve been staring at the screen or mindlessly clicking through blogs in my bookmarks or flicking the corner of a piece of paper and dreaming of a sunny vacation.

The afternoon slump. It’s not very nice but it happens to us all. Pushing through should not be an option for you. I believe that you will get way more done if you spend ten minutes and follow the advice below and then work for twenty minutes than if you try to force yourself to work for 30 minutes. So, right away, get rid of the notion that you need to push through. Embrace your physiological rhythm.

Also I should mention: You could go have a nap, and I certainly wouldn’t begrudge you if you did (and, in fact, I know an entrepreneur who swears by their afternoon nap). The reality is, though, that an afternoon nap is not ideal for many people: It’s a nap that can turn into a long-term snore-fest and you can wake up groggy and be all messed up for the evening. Or maybe the kids are running around the house and a nap isn’t realistic because it’s as loud as the circus. But there are things you can do.

Here’s what I suggest:

First, you need to recognize that it’s going to happen. (Duration: negligible).

This is probably the hardest thing to do because it’s easy to just be zoned out for a while and look back on that wasted time. Perhaps you need to set an alarm in the afternoon and do 30 minute mental “check-ins” to make sure you’re doing okay. You can get to a point where you will realize – while you’re slumping – that you’re in the middle of it. If you’re still not sure, try the following tips at about 3:30 in the afternoon.

Second, you need to get out of your chair. (Duration: negligible).

The biggest lie of the afternoon slump is that you are doing something productive, even when you’re not. The times when I miss that I’m slumping is when I’m working on something productively and then I start to fade so I go and check my email and Twitter and Facebook, etc. It FEELS like work. But it’s not. So you need to get out of your chair. In fact, you should get out of the office.

Third, go grab a little something to eat. (Duration: 2 minutes).

Don’t eat anything huge. Don’t ruin your supper. Just eat something with a bit of protein in it. Make sure it’s healthy; not candy! I might recommend some nuts and yogurt or an apple and a piece of cheese. Those are two great snacks to have during your afternoon slump. If you want to be more productive, buy those things next time you’re at the grocery store and consider them an investment into your business productivity. (Clarification: They’re not a taxable business investment… but they are a personal investment into your success and well worth the money you spend.)

Fourth, do some exercise. (Duration: 5 minutes).

You don’t have to spend 30 minutes on the Bowflex. If you’ve got a treadmill or Stairmaster, do 5 minutes. If it’s nice outside, take a quick walk. Nothing strenuous; nothing that will overheat you or make you sweaty. Just get the heart pumping and get some oxygen into your brain.

Fifth, drink some water. (Duration: negligible).

Drinking water is generally healthy for you and I always feel great after a glass or two of ice-cold water to wrap up my afternoon slump. If you’re not into water, keep a pitcher of fruit juice in the fridge. Nothing is quite as refreshing as a big cold glass of mango juice or a citrus blend.

Sixth, refocus. (Duration: 2 minutes).

Look at your list of stuff. If it’s like mine, you may not get it all done by the time you sign off for supper. So make a plan for it. Is there anything pressing that needs to be finished before the day is done? Attack that work with your reinvigorated mind. Are you going to do a bit more work after the kids are in bed? Reschedule it. Is there stuff that needs to be pushed off until another day? Reschedule.

… and now you’re back to work. In just 10 minutes you pulled yourself from the brink of uselessness and you’re now ready to finish your day with excellence.

While I’m on the subject of productivity in the afternoon, there are a few other things I should mention:

Sleep. I’m assuming here that you get adequate sleep at night. Most people don’t. It might be worth your while to have a nap if you don’t sleep well at night. That’s not always possible but if it is, take advantage!

Food. I’m also assuming that you’re eating properly. If you skip lunch, your afternoon slump will happen earlier, impact you for longer, and take more than cheese and the Stairmaster to get out of. Eat a healthy breakfast and a healthy lunch. Avoid alcohol in the afternoon, which can make you really drowsy. (And do I need to say: avoid it in the morning, too?)

Candy. It’s fun to snack and, if you work at home, the food is all right there. But candy, as you’ve heard a million times, gives you a sugar rush… and a subsequent crash afterwards. Save it as a tasty treat for the evening, after work.

Exercise. I’m also assuming that you do some exercise. If that 5 minutes on the Stairmaster is the only exercise you get in the day, then you might want to revamp your schedule to include 10 minutes on the Stairmaster in the morning and 10 more minutes in the afternoon. Sure, you don’t have to be a Mr. Universe or Ms. Universe to be an entrepreneur, but being fit will help you sleep better at night, help you with your appetite, and will help to keep your mind clear. I think it will also make those 5 minute anti-slump Stairmaster moments more effective at helping you to refocus.

Water. Hydrate. We’re supposed to drink a bunch of water each day. Drink it. You’ll feel better and you’ll think more clearly. Hangovers come from dehydration so if you don’t drink enough water in the day, you’ll start to create similar conditions for a hangover, even if you have been at your desk instead of out partying!

Okay, I just wrote a bunch of stuff on sleep, nutrition and exercise and I’m sure they made me sound like a killjoy. However, it all comes down to this bottom line: As an entrepreneur, you need to make various investments into your success, and I think that should include taking care of yourself.

So, if you’re faced with an afternoon slump, you can do these few steps in 10 minutes. You’ll return to your desk totally revived and you’ll recapture an hour or more of your day that had previously been wasted!

Heather Recommends:

Running a business can be busy, challenging work. I can help you become more productive and successful. Find out how.

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