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How to Beat the 3PM Slump

Is every afternoon a struggle? It doesn’t have to be.

When the afternoon sun starts to beat down and you can feel your energy waning, you may be experiencing the dreaded 3 PM slump. This common phenomenon can wreak havoc on your productivity in the late afternoon, making those last hours before clocking out feel like an eternity. But never fear! Science is on your side, and there are plenty of strategies you can employ to overcome the dip and stay productive all afternoon long.


What is the 3 PM slump and why does it happen?

So what exactly is the cause of this afternoon energy lull? According to a study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, our natural body clock, or circadian rhythm, is to blame. This internal clock regulates our sleep-wake cycle and tells our bodies when it’s time to feel alert and when it’s time to wind down. Around midday, our cortisol levels peak and we experience a natural energy boost. But by late afternoon, our cortisol levels start to drop and we begin to feel sleepy.


Things that DON’T work to overcome the afternoon lull

Unfortunately, there are a few things that people often turn to in an attempt to overcome the afternoon productivity plummet, but these things don’t actually work as well as we might like to believe.

For example, we’ve all been guilty of downing multiple cups of coffee or energy drinks to get a temporary boost, only to feel worse later on during the inevitable crash. The same goes for sugary snacks – that candy bar may give you a quick jolt of energy, but that blood sugar dip a short while later will only make you feel more tired.

Another counterproductive myth is that you can just “power through” the lull and push yourself to work harder. This might work in the short term, but it’s not a sustainable solution and can actually lead to burnout in the long run.


How can you conquer “the crash” and stay productive in the afternoon?

The best way to come out on top is by proactively managing your energy levels throughout the day, helping you to fight back against the fatigue and stay sharp all afternoon long.

  1. Snack smart! Reach for foods that will give you sustained energy, like nuts, fruits, or whole-grain crackers. Sticking to a low-carb breakfast and lunch will also help you avoid the afternoon energy crash.
  2. Soak up some sun. Step outside for a few minutes or sit near a window to help improve your mood and increase your alertness. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to fatigue, brain fog, poor concentration, and depression; all of which can make afternoon lethargy even worse. So, prioritize getting daily sun exposure to help give you a much-needed energy boost while also lifting your mood.
  3. Give it a break! Sometimes the best thing you can do to boost your productivity is to take a short break. Get up and stretch, take a quick walk, or just close your eyes and take some deep breaths. A few minutes of relaxation can help refresh your mind and body and prepare you to tackle the rest of your afternoon with renewed energy.
  4. Take up drinking. Water, that is! Coffee and sugary drinks are quickly fleeting fixes, sending your blood sugar levels on a crazy rollercoaster ride that will leave you feeling even more tired in the end. Water, on the other hand, will boost your metabolism and keep you hydrated so you can power through the rest of your day.


Tips for staying productive in the afternoon

In addition to these general tips, there are a few specific things you can do to stay productive in the late afternoon.

For starters, hack your workflow by knowing how your body and mind perform at different times throughout the day. On a typical circadian rhythm, cognitive function is highest in the late morning. So if you have important or challenging tasks that require a lot of focus, prioritize them for the first few hours after you arrive at work. For less demanding tasks, save them for later in the day when your energy is beginning its downward trajectory. For example, routine administrative tasks or busywork that need to get done but don’t necessarily require much creativity.

You can also try using the Pomodoro Technique to stay on task and avoid distractions. This time management strategy involves working in 25-minute increments, followed by a five-minute break. After four “pomodoros,” or work periods, you can take a longer break of 20-30 minutes. The key is to be strict with yourself and make sure you take those five-minute breaks! They may seem like a waste of time, but they’re necessary for recharging your brain and body so you can stay focused for the next work period. Set a timer, and (this is crucial) don’t. Hit. Snooze.


The importance of taking breaks

It’s important to take breaks throughout the day, not just in the afternoon when you start to feel sleepy. Our brains are not designed to focus for long periods, and taking breaks can help improve our productivity in the long run. A study from the University of Illinois found that people who took more frequent breaks were less likely to be fatigued and more likely to be productive overall in comparison to peers who worked continuously without breaks.

Another benefit of taking breaks is that it can help improve our creativity. When we take a step back from a problem or challenge we’re facing, we allow our brains to “rest” and approach the issue with fresh eyes when we come back to it. So next time you’re feeling stuck, instead of forcing yourself to power through, try taking a breather and then come back to the task with fresh energy.


Final Thoughts

While the afternoon slump is a common problem, you can proactively work with your body rather than against it, making the afternoon a more productive time of day. Taking care of your body and mind with regular breaks, healthy snacks, and exercise will help you avoid the dreaded decline and tackle your to-do list. Before you know it, five o’clock will be knocking at your door.

Does your entire workday feel like one long 3 PM slump? Read up about the 5 red flags warning you need to change careers ASAP.

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