Dr Amantha Imber is the founder of behavioural science consultancy Inventium and the host of How I Work, a podcast about the habits and rituals of the world’s most successful innovators. In her latest post for B&T, Dr Imber offers expert tips – even if you’re home isolating – to survive the dreaded three o’clock crash…
Three o’clock in the afternoon. It’s the time of day that sends many of us into a downward spiral. Our energy levels crash. We rummage around for biscuits or chocolate in the work kitchen. We scroll mindlessly through Facebook or Instagram. We basically do anything except for the thing we are meant to be doing: work.
Most people take it as a given that their energy will dip in the middle of the afternoon. We try to push through it, despite the fact we feel ourselves starting to fall asleep in the Very Important Meeting we are meant to be participating in.
The good news is: this crash is avoidable. And the best way to avoid it is by doing something counter-intuitive. Taking a break – but taking very specific kinds of breaks.
Have your first break early in the day
Depending on the culture of your workplace, many of us feel guilty taking breaks. Breaks can be seen as something that lazy people do. And in particular, taking a break too early in the day can be seen as the ultimate sin. However, research conducted by Emily Hunter and Cindy Wu from Baylor University discovered there is an optimum time to take your first break of the day. Hunter and Wu looked at around 100 office workers in the United States and whenever they took a break, they were asked to complete a survey.
The researchers found that those who took their first break earlier in the day felt more energetic later in the day. So stop saving your break for when you feel like you really need it, and instead, schedule a break during the morning. And if you feel like you are too busy for a break, just remember that delaying breaks until the afternoon will destroy your energy levels.
In addition, for a break to be recharging, Hunter and Wu found that workers need to do something they enjoy. For example, getting a coffee with a co-worker whose company you can’t stand would be far less recharging compared to if you were a book worm who used the break to do some reading.
Take six X five-minute breaks
Most of us have never considered what the optimal length of a break should be. Instead, the length often defaults to how long the coffee queue is or the natural length of conversation at the water cooler about Married At First Sight.
Research from the University of Colorado found that there is an optimum length of time for breaks. The researchers found that compared to one 30-minute break, hourly five-minute walking breaks boost energy, sharpen focus, improve mood and reduce feelings of fatigue in the afternoon more effectively.
While finding time for six breaks might be challenging, even getting into the habit of going for a quick walk around the block will reap reward
The 40-second power break
Finally, if you feel like your work is so busy that you don’t have time to implement any of these solutions to have a more energetic afternoon, research recently revealed that the minimum effective dose for a break is just 40 seconds. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology showed that taking a 40-second “Green Micro-break”, that is, looking at a view of greenery, increased concentration levels by eight per cent. So taking less than a minute to look at some trees will work wonders for productivity.
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