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How to Beat the Afternoon Slump and Regain Your Focus

It’s 3 pm, and the very last thing you want to do is work. Your eyes are drooping, your mouth is yawning, and you feel like you could go back to bed even though it’s still light outside.

If you’ve experienced this feeling, you’re not alone. It’s called the afternoon slump, and people across the world deal with it every day. It can be a killer for your motivation and productivity, especially if you still have important work to do.

So is there any hope? Can you overcome the afternoon slump, or is it an inevitable scourge on your productivity?

As you’ll see below, the afternoon slump is mostly natural. But there are some things you can do to make it less severe, as well as break out of it when it happens. Let’s take a closer look.

What Causes the Afternoon Slump?

Before we examine ways to overcome the afternoon slump, we need to understand what causes it in the first place.

According to the Sleep Foundation, it’s quite normal to feel a dip in energy between 1 and 3 pm. This is part of your body’s natural circadian rhythm, which is the “internal clock” that helps keep your sleep cycle aligned with the day and night cycle.

The circadian rhythm is more or less set by your body’s biology. Therefore, you can’t get rid of the afternoon slump entirely; it’s always going to happen to some degree.

However, there are environmental factors that can influence your circadian rhythm, including temperature and sunlight. As we’ll see in the next section, you can use this to your advantage when you’re trying to break out of the afternoon slump and get back to work.

So what are the best ways to shake off the foggy feeling of the afternoon slump? Read on to find out.

4 Ways to Overcome the Afternoon Slump

When the afternoon rolls around and you feel your energy dropping, what can you do to stay on track? Based on our experimentation and research, we’ve found the following techniques to be helpful:

Refuel

When your energy is low, that can be a sign that your body needs some fuel. So our first tip is to take a break from your work and grab a snack or drink.

Hydrate for Energy

When it comes to drinks, the first thing you should reach for is water. In addition to being part of the afternoon slump, that feeling of fatigue could be a sign that you’re dehydrated. You probably don’t drink enough water, anyway, so having a glass won’t hurt you.

If you find regular water boring, then we recommend flavored sparkling water. In addition to hydrating you, it also provides a jolt of novelty that can give you the motivation to return to your work.

Not a fan of the bubbles? Then try making your own flavored water using sliced fruits or herbs. Cucumber and lime is a classic combination, though there are dozens of other options. Herbal tea can also be a good option if you’re looking for a hot drink.

Grab a Healthy Snack

If you’re feeling tired, try giving your body some energy with a healthy snack.

Sugary, prepackaged snacks can be a tempting choice because they provide you with a quick hit of energy. But after this initial boost of energy, you’ll quickly experience a “sugar crash” that can make you feel even more fatigued than before.

Instead, try to pick something that’s minimally processed and has a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. One of my favorite combinations is unsweetened peanut butter and a banana. Yogurt is another good option, as is a hardboiled egg. For more healthy snack ideas, check out this guide.

Use Caffeine Carefully

The classic remedy for the afternoon slump is to grab another cup of coffee (or a cup of tea, in many parts of the world). And while caffeine can help wake you up, I recommend using it carefully.

Why? Because caffeine too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that consuming caffeine even six hours before bedtime can lower the amount and quality of your sleep. Not only is this bad for your health, but this disrupted sleep can end up making the afternoon slump even worse the following day,

Of course, some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. Personally, I’m quite sensitive to caffeine, so I avoid drinking it after 2 pm. Otherwise, I’m in for a bad night of sleep.

Other people, however, may be able to drink caffeine right before bed and sleep perfectly. So I recommend experimenting to see how caffeine affects your sleep. If you find it has adverse effects, then you may want to look into an alternative cure for the afternoon slump.

Finally, if you do choose to drink caffeine, get it from a natural source like tea or coffee. Other sources, such as soda and energy drinks, contain sweeteners, colorings, and other additives that are horrible for you. And all that sugar will just lead to a crash in energy, putting you back at square one.

Struggling to kick your soda or energy drink habit? This guide can help.

Reset

In addition to refueling, another way to beat the afternoon slump is to do a reset. This means stepping away from your work and doing something that engages and re-energizes you. The following are a few of our favorite ways to reset:

Get Some Exercise

One of the quickest ways to increase your energy is to do some exercise. If you’ve been sitting at your desk all day, then getting your blood pumping can give you the boost you need to continue your work.

The specific exercise doesn’t really matter, and it doesn’t have to be long or complicated. Here are a few of my favorite ways to get some quick exercise in the afternoon:

  • Calisthenics (air squats, push-ups, planks, etc.). These have the added bonus of being easy to do without leaving your workspace.
  • Go for a bike ride.
  • Go for a run.
  • Take a walk.
  • Dance to your favorite song.

Get Outside

If you can get outside for a bit, then we recommend it. Not only does going outside give you a mental break, but it also exposes you to sunlight.

Remember how we mentioned that sunlight is important for regulating your circadian rhythms? Well, going outside in the sun can tell your internal clock that it’s still time to be awake, which can help the afternoon slump dissipate.

For maximum effectiveness, combine one of the exercises in the previous section with going outside.

Take a Nap

If the afternoon slump makes you feel like you should go back to sleep, then maybe you should. Many people find a quick nap to be a great way to regain energy in the afternoon (hence the common practice of taking a siesta in many countries).

However, it’s important that you truly take a nap. If you end up sleeping for a couple hours, then naps may not be the best technique for you. You may also find that a nap makes you feel groggy, not alert (this is my experience). But if taking a nap helps you reset, then go for it!

Re-Focus

Once you’ve refueled and reset, it’s time to regain your focus and keep working. These techniques will help you focus on your work once it’s time to get back to it:

Clear to Neutral

Throughout a day of work or studying, your environment can become a mess. This includes both the physical environment around you and the digital environment of your computer.

To make sure you can work without distractions, I recommend clearing away the clutter before you begin your work. This way, you have a “neutral” workspace that lets you focus on the task at hand.

For your digital workspace, this means:

  • Closing all unnecessary browser tabs. If you’re worried about losing something, then bookmark it or save it for later with an app like Pocket or Instapaper.
  • Getting rid of distractions. Close any apps that you don’t need, and put your phone somewhere you won’t be tempted to look at it. If you need extra help resisting distracting websites and apps, block them using an app like Freedom.

To clear your physical workspace, do the following:

  • Discard trash and put away dishes. Throw away or recycle any drink containers, food wrappers, or banana peels sitting on your desk. And get rid of any empty mugs or drinking glasses.
  • Organize your materials. Clean up any piles of notes or papers, and wrangle the writing utensils scattered across your desk.

Get in the Zone

Next, do whatever you need to signal that it’s time to work. This could include putting on a playlist that helps you focus, gathering all the materials you need to do your work, and going to a place free of distractions.

When I was in college, this meant going to my favorite place in the library and putting on a pair of headphones. These days, it means pouring a glass of water, listening to chillhop music, and sitting down at my desk.

It doesn’t really matter what your ritual is, as long as it ensures that you can focus on your work.

Use the Pomodoro Technique

A common symptom of the afternoon slump is being unable to focus on one thing. You may still have several tasks on your to-do list, and you find yourself paralyzed by the decision of which one to work on. Or, you end up switching between tasks without making progress on any of them.

To combat this lack of focus, we recommend the Pomodoro technique.

The steps are simple:

  1. Pick one task to focus on. It doesn’t matter which one; the goal is to work on one task without switching to another.
  2. Next, set a timer for 25 minutes.
  3. For the next 25 minutes, work on nothing but the task you chose.
  4. When the timer is up, take a 5-minute break before resuming your work.
  5. Repeat the process until you’ve accomplished all your tasks.

In practice, you may find that you want to keep working after the timer is up. If this is the case, then feel free to keep going. The goal of the Pomodoro technique isn’t to follow a rigid system; it’s to help you focus on your work when you lack motivation or energy.

Schedule Your Work Around Your Energy

Our final piece of advice for beating the afternoon slump isn’t a specific action, but rather a larger change in the way you work.

If you know that you’re going to have less energy in the afternoon, try to use that time for tasks that require less energy.

For instance, I prefer to do my most creative, high-energy work in the morning. So I use the mornings for my writing and brainstorming new articles.

In the afternoon, meanwhile, I’ll do lower energy tasks like processing email, bookkeeping, or website updates.

With this approach, the goal is not to beat the afternoon slump, but to anticipate it and design your schedule accordingly. I realize that this isn’t practical for everyone, but I recommend trying it if you can.

For more advice on creating a schedule that helps you do your best work, check out this guide to staying organized.

The Afternoon Slump Is Part of Life

I hope this article has given you a better understanding of why the afternoon slump happens, as well as what you can do to combat it.

While you can’t eliminate the afternoon slump completely, you can take steps to regain the energy and focus you need to stay productive even in the face of fatigue.

Image Credits: person with book over their face