We’ve all been there. You get into your workplace, grab yourself a steaming cup of coffee, take two sips, and suddenly you’re wired. You stick your headphones in, set something epic like the Lord of the Rings soundtrack to repeat, your pupils dilate as your concentration becomes laser focused on the tasks at hand.
The next 4 hours fly by as you’re typing so quickly your hands overheat, replying to emails before they’ve even landed in your inbox and scribbling ticks next to your to-do’s like a school teacher trying to mark all of her exam papers before the weekend.
And then you stop for lunch.
After refuelling your body, the focus has gone, the concentration drained, the motivation dwindling. You become about as useful as a three-toed sloth hanging upside down from a tree in the rainforest. You can kiss all hopes of being productive goodbye.
There are however a few things you can do and change to help maintain your concentration throughout the afternoon, and avoid completely the post-lunch slump
Change what you see
Working in the same environment for 8 or 9 hours is monotonous - after the first couple of hours you’ve already stared at everything in your field of vision and your brain has a good understanding of your surroundings. But after so long your brain gets bored of looking at the same thing over and over again, becomes less stimulated and becomes less active when it needs to be i.e. when you’re actually working.
Try working from a different environment in the afternoon - move to a different desk, work from your sofa, work in a coffee shop, work outside, go to a different coworking space - just anything that’s different to where you were working in the morning will help you feel more refreshed and focused.
Changing your working position will help to - if you’ve spent the morning in an office chair at a desk, try using a standing desk or even just a window ledge. Or go the other way and sit cross legged on a bean bag on the floor. This will help to keep your blood flowing and your muscles active and will keep you from feeling so fatigued.
Change what you hear
This ties in to your working environment - what you hear has an impact on your work as much as what you see. So if you’ve spend the morning with headphones in, try taking them out and working in silence. Or try working in a cafe where you can enjoy the faint buzz of people talking, and the sound of coffee machines working.
If you struggle to focus when you can hear other people around you, keep your headphones in but try a different genre of music. Listening to the same music over and over again will create the same monotony as staring at the same wall all day, and, depending on how you enjoy your work, you may begin to hate the songs as you’ll start to create negative associations between them and your job.
If you’ve got a lot of tasks left in the afternoon and not much time to complete them, try something upbeat and loud - dance or electronic music perhaps. If you’ve got blog posts to write and don’t want your brain to get confused by lyrics, try something softer like acoustic or instrumentals. Alternatively you could try listening to audiobooks or podcasts - these could give you inspiration and help you feel more creative
Change what you eat
The afternoon fatigue you feel after lunch is caused by your body starting to digest the food you just ate. Eat less heavy food and your body won’t have to work as hard to digest, leaving you with more energy to spend on work. Try removing heavy carbohydrates from your meal. Try eating more salad and fruit. Try drinking more water.
You could even try reducing the size of your lunchtime meal by having healthy snacks or mini-meals mid-morning and mid-afternoon. This will make sure that your body receives a constant stream of nutrients and energy throughout the day, rather than being overloaded at lunch.
To help keep your brain awake, try eating foods with plenty of antioxidants in them - this stimulates the blood and oxygen flow to your brain, keeping your mind fresh. Blueberries, dark chocolate, nuts, green leaves and green tea will all help deliver much needed caffeine and antioxidants to your weary brain.
Whilst these 3 things can drastically help to maintain your focus throughout the day, it always makes sense to prioritise your tasks based on importance, amount of effort required, and type of effort required. If you’ve got a presentation to make or a website to build, do this first thing whilst your brain is at its most sharp. Save emails and social media posts until the end of the day when your brain has lost its keen edge.
And above all, remember to give your brain a break every now and then. Reward yourself with 10 minutes on Twitter after you’ve completed a task, or get 5 minutes of fresh air before you tackle the next big job of the day. Your brain doesn’t like working for long periods of time, it likes rewards. Keep your brain happy and on your good side. After all, you’d be lost without it.