We all know the feeling – we have been ploughing through work all day and we feel a yawn emerge. All of a sudden we find it a lot harder to concentrate and to work quickly.
It is so predictable that advertisers are now using “3.30-itis” in their campaigns, and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook see a surge of traffic every working day at this time.
Quite simply, we run out of energy. It’s especially pronounced when we are learning new tasks. You might have found in the first week or two of a new role you’re inexplicably tired. Or when you go to a seminar that is full of interesting information you feel energised but crash out completely once it’s over.
The reason it happens particularly at 3.30 pm and not other times of the day is that this is the period of time after lunch (our scheduled refuel) has digested.
What can you do about it?
1. Try to power through it
This is what most people try to do. They will become distracted or less productive for the last few hours of the working day, but still try to produce the same type and quality of work that has been possible up to that point.
2. Make some calls
Talking to people isn’t necessarily a lower cognitive load, but it does give an opportunity to use a different part of your mind. Social activity is usually a source of energy (unless there is a strong negative outcome). By using your energy crash time to put together some productive calls you can continue to increase your output even though you are increasingly tired.
Instead of having lunchtime as a mealtime you can actually spread out the fuel intake more regularly across the day. It is much better for your energy levels to have a consistent input of fuel than it is to have large, infrequent bursts of energy. The other way you can refuel is to take a break. That’s right, instead of powering through unproductively you can actually get a lot of benefit by taking a 5-10 minute break where you go for a walk, get out of your desk and stretch out your legs. This should also give you some mental space to organise yourself for the remainder of the day.
Note – 3.30 is a popular time to visit the office kitchen to have a cup of coffee. This may work against you, particularly if it becomes a habit.
4. A walking meeting?
Those who are familiar with the TV show The West Wing may be familiar with the idea, but have you ever considered going for a walk with a co-worker to discuss issues while having a break from the office? It is amazing how differently people will act in a less formal setting. It encourages honesty and two-way dialogue much more than a formal sit-down, closed-door discussion would have.
5. Schedule a brainstorming session
If you, and those that work around you, are likely to have a concurrent drop in concentration then it is probably a good idea to make the most of it and harness that distractive energy and focus on some fun, yet productive activity. Get your team together to come up with creative ways to solve the main problems the group is facing. It is great for morale and might uncover some gems that would have otherwise been missed.
Overall, it is often better to make the most of the natural energy shifts throughout the day rather than constantly pushing against them, which can create long term burnout. By scheduling your activities around in a way that matches your ability to concentrate your efforts, you and your team will become so much more productive.