Every day I get a lull in my concentration levels at around 2pm. This usually comes straight after lunch and for about an hour or so I struggle to focus and all my body wants to do is sleep. However, that’s impossible to do at the office. How can I combat this energy lull and stay alert throughout the day? JK, Dubai
The post-lunchtime slump is an issue across the globe. As a faculty member leading management training programmes in both the UK and Middle East, I have witnessed first-hand the ebb and flow of participants’ attention span and energy levels at different times throughout the day.
When planning a programme here at Ashridge, we usually attempt to counterbalance these lulls in productivity by including more interactive and uplifting activities during these times to boost energy levels and reenergise the room. We have often resorted to more novel measures; playing dance music or even scary scenes from movies to shock the system and pull people from their comfort zones.
From a scientific viewpoint the post-lunch slump can be related to digestion. The food that you eat at lunch diverts your blood away from your brain to help with the digestion process. You also release melatonin that helps you fall asleep at night. Feeling tired after eating is a reflection of your diet and the food choices you make. Eating healthy, nutritious and balanced meals should ensure you maintain consistent energy levels throughout the day, avoiding the highs and lows that come from less healthy choices.
Eating a wholefoods diet rich in vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruit, proteins and good fats will provide fuel for you to sustain your energy levels. Whereas eating heavy carbohydrates will certainly deplete you. The key to sustained energy from food is in the energy it releases. You need foods high in glucose, such as dried fruits to sustain your energy levels. Look back on your diet from breakfast, into midmorning and through to lunchtime and ask yourself if you are responsible for putting yourself to sleep.
Another reason for the slump may be to do with whether you are getting enough sleep. The average amount of sleep required that will support an adult’s normal biological and sociological functioning is seven to eight-and-a-half hours. Obtaining the optimal amount is particularly challenging for modern managers. Working long hours, across time zones, increasing use of mobile technology and the ever-increasing demands and complexity of corporate life means professionals can find it progressively difficult to get the right amount of sleep.
However, a good night’s sleep does not just mitigate the post- lunch slump but is linked to increased creativity, better decision-making and higher cognitive functioning. So sleeping well will not only get you over your slump, but will also help you perform at your peak.
Think about your energy levels like a battery. All of us have a battery, yet some are different sizes. Some of us operate on a car battery and can keep going and going for days on end, whereas others have a shorter duration, similar to that of a mobile phone, requiring a daily top-up. This doesn’t mean some people have more energy or resilience than others, merely that they require a more frequent recharge to get back to full capacity and perform at their best again.
Think about your energy levels and consider whether you are overdoing things. Are you operating at a pace that is draining fuel at a rapid pace, without taking time to replenish your energy stores? It is important we are realistic about what we are capable of: it would be nice to operate at the level of a Formula One car, but if we do not take care of ourselves, we may end up feeling like a broken-down vehicle, slumped at the side of the road.
Look at how you structure and plan your activities throughout the day. If you can recognise where the peaks and troughs take place, perhaps you should plan your activities to match these times. If your energy levels are at their highest first thing in the morning, ensure you plan to do all important activities as soon as you reach the office when you feel most alert and alive. Even if you eat well, sleep well and manage your energy levels, there will be times when you feel more productive than others, so plan accordingly. There will also be certain situations or people who drain more energy from you than others. Try to work out what your “energy hoovers” are and manage them appropriately.
Doctor’s prescription: Handling the slump can be tough, but to overcome it you need to focus on the fundamentals. Focus on eating well, sleeping properly and managing your energy levels and hopefully the 2 o’clock yawning session will become a thing of the past.
Alex Davda is a business psychologist and consultant at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at email@example.com for advice on any work issues.
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