CPA INSIDER

Avoid the midday slump

Stay alert and productive in the afternoon.
By Dawn Wotapka

If you catch yourself yawning in the middle of the workday, you're not alone: Many people battle that sleepy feeling for two or so hours between lunch and dinner.

The late afternoon energy crash known as the midday slump is "the Bermuda Triangle of our days," said Carson Tate, managing partner of Working Simply Inc., a Charlotte, N.C.-based management consultancy focused on workplace efficiency. "It's where all good intentions go to die."

Biology is to blame for the slump, she said: The human body is designed to slow down during the middle of the day.

"Even if your job is more mentally than physically demanding, the body can feel physically drained" in the afternoon, said Lona Sandon, Ph.D., clinical nutrition program director at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. "The lethargic feeling could be your body telling you that your brain needs a break."

Here are some tips to stay alert and productive:

  • Adjust your schedule. If possible, arrange your day so that you can do your most crucial work when you're at your best. Instead of scheduling an important meeting or presentation after lunch, use your slump time to do research, clean your desk, or organize email, Tate said.
  • "Don't set yourself up for" less-than-optimal performance, she advised.

  • Stay hydrated. It may seem basic, but make sure you drink plenty of water because this nutrient is essential to helping the body stay in balance. Dehydration's negative impacts can include sluggishness, mental fatigue, irritability, dizziness, or confusion, said Sandon, who is also a registered dietitian. 
  • "When you are well-hydrated, you are likely to have a greater sense of energy," Sandon explained. Then, she said, your body will be more likely to "work optimally and allow you to focus on other things."

  • Eat well. For lunch, pick something substantial enough to get you through the afternoon, such as grilled chicken or salmon on a green salad, a whole-grain roll, fruit, and a low-fat yogurt, Sandon said. Later in the day, she added, choose a healthy snack, such as string cheese with grapes and walnuts. "Give your brain and body some nutrition to work with," she said.
  • Monitor stimulants. Fight the desire to chug coffee or eat chocolate for alertness, Tate said. Drinking too much caffeine could make you shaky or cause an energy spike followed by a crash as the caffeine wears off.
  • "Being overcaffeinated could have unintended consequences," Tate said. "You're setting yourself up for this vicious cycle."

  • Be active. Because exercise increases blood flow to the brain, moving is often enough to boost energy and sharpen awareness, Tate said. Walk around the office or, if possible, pair movement with fresh air, she added.
  • Walking outside in the sun has a double benefit, Tate said, adding that listening to music can also help even more.

  • Take a nap. Meanwhile, a quick nap may be refreshing, provided your workplace permits it. If your workplace has a quiet area or your boss doesn't mind your slipping away to your car on a break, a maximum 20-minute snooze may overcome the slump. (Some keep a sleep mask or a small pillow on hand. Downloadable apps can create white noise to drown out outside sounds.)
  • Be sure to set an alarm on your phone to ensure you don't oversleep and miss something important. Plus, too much sleep could have the opposite effect and leave you even groggier, Tate pointed out.

Sometimes, though, trying to outsmart the slump can be futile. When Sandon feels hers coming on, she takes a break to walk around, turns on music, or finds something to do that doesn't require a lot of brainpower.

"We should listen to our mind and body and take a break," she said. "We just might be more productive later in the day."

Dawn Wotapka is a freelance writer based in Georgia. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, associate director — content development, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.

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