If you’re like me, there’s a point in the day an hour or two after lunch when you always catch yourself fantasizing about ways you might stretch out on the couch in the lobby to catch a few z’s without anyone noticing. Your screen gets blurry. Your concentration fades. And what few ideas you have keep bumping into each other until you have a complete mental logjam. To make matters worse, the fallout from 3 o’clock fatigue often goes beyond the obvious drop in your productivity. Many of us leave the office with mild headaches, feeling cranky and spent, only to arrive at home still feeling like garbage.
The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take throughout the day to avoid this type of depletion. Most of them involve simply standing up and stepping away for a minute, but that can be challenging when you have deadlines looming. Helpful technologies like Lync, which lets you talk or IM anyone in the office without budging from your chair, can make it even more difficult. But assuming you can muster the discipline, are willing to experiment with some tools and exercises, and are open to being a bit more active and social, you really can make it to the end of the day with some energy to spare—and you’ll probably get more and better work done too.
Focus on giving your eyes a break from focusing.
Those headaches you get at the end of the day are likely due to eye strain from staring at a screen for hours at a stretch. The worst thing about eye strain is that once you start having the symptoms it’s already too late to do anything about it. That means prevention is your best option. You’ve probably already heard how important it is take breaks frequently… but then you get to working on something important, and the next thing you know a few hours have already passed, and there you are, not having moved an inch.
To prevent eye strain, the Mayo clinic recommends a few simple measures:
- Make a point of blinking frequently (easier said than done, right?).
- Position your screen between 20 and 40 inches from your eyes.
- Increase the font of the text you’re reading.
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen and focus on something about 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
The hardest part about following this advice is remembering to do it. LifeHacker provides links to some free software that will give you automatic reminders. I personally just started using EyeDefender, and so far it’s been working great.
If all else fails, I recommend simply glancing at the clock every now and again (let’s face it, we all do it anyway) and making a point at the top of every hour to put on your headphones and keep your eyes closed for the duration of at least a song or two.
Spread out your fuel intake.
You’ve probably already heard that you can avoid the after-lunch slump by eating smaller portions. To digest a gut-busting lunch your body redirects energy from your brain to your stomach. So cut the noon meal in half and eat snacks at 10 and 2 o’clock to avoid the energy crash. You can also try eating a bigger, preferably protein-rich breakfast and a moderately sized lunch.
What you may not have heard is that a similar principle applies to your caffeine intake. Most of us load up on coffee, soda, or energy drinks first thing in the morning. We may then try to reboot with another cup or can in the afternoon. But, according to neuroscientist Chris Chatham, we should spread out our caffeine consumption to maintain optimal levels of alertness. So try limiting yourself to a single cup or can when you wake up but then allowing yourself another every hour or so into the afternoon.
Get the blood flowing to your legs.
Maybe you already have one of those treadmill desks. Or maybe you use an inflatable rubber ball for a chair. If you don’t, you’re going to have to find a way to remind yourself to get up and move around for a few minutes every hour. Exercises can be tough in a crowded office, but if you have room you can do a few squats and standing leaps. The biggest challenge here if you share an office is overcoming your embarrassment. I recommend simply making a joke out of it. For instance, I recently said to a new officemate, “Hey, if it looks like I’m having a stroke or a seizure over here, don’t worry—I just like to do some squats and leg raises about every hour or so.”
Another clever approach I’ve heard for getting frequent exercise at the office is to be constantly downing water all day. If you add in your cup of coffee every hour, nature will take care of the rest. Simply make a point of passing up the nearest bathroom and you’ll have a nice little walk to take. If anyone asks why you’re not using the bathroom closer to your own desk, just tell them it was either occupied or stinky.
Follow the Two-Meeting Rule.
Once the slump starts to set in, you’ll be tempted to hide at your desk and ride it out to the end of the day. That’s pretty much the worst thing you can do. Instead, find an excuse to go confer with one of your colleagues—or just go bug someone. Spontaneous or semi-spontaneous meetings are beneficial for a number of reasons:
- You get your eyes off the screen.
- You get your butt out of the chair.
- You get your mind roving over topics other than the ones stressing you out.
- You’re getting to know your coworkers.
- You may even come away with some good ideas for whatever project you’re working on.
Keep up with what you’re colleagues are working on. And take the time to learn what everyone at the office likes to talk about, whether it’s sports, politics, Breaking Bad, or The Bachelor. Then just make a point of scheduling (officially or unofficially) two meetings a day. Pick times when you normally find yourself spacing out and being unproductive. Start with the work topic if you came up with one, then transition to the fun topic.
I also recommend lobbying your bosses for a ping pong table at the office. A few games a day does wonders.
What about you? Do you have any tricks for staying energized throughout the day? Feel free to share them in the comments section. We'd love to hear them.