Doesn’t it seem like the most important meetings come at the worst time? We're talking about the 3:00 slump. Your morning cup of coffee has completely worn off, you're still full from lunch, and you feel like it's nap o'clock. But somehow, you have to function and be alert.
The natural reaction is to reach for another cup of coffee, but that might mess with your ability to sleep tonight. Your next best idea might be to hit up the vending machine for a sugary snack.
This is also a bad idea. Sugar may give your energy levels a temporary boost, but you’ll crash hard before too long. Too much sugar in your diet can also have long-term health effects, such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. This could be problematic if you’re in the habit of giving yourself a sugar boost every afternoon.
So, what do you do? Here are 5 ways to help boost your concentration at work.
When your energy starts plummeting, put on your walking shoes and take a quick walk around the building. Not only will the exercise get your blood flowing, but it may help increase your performance on cognitive tasks.
Research from the Frontiers of Aging Neuroscience at the University of Illinois tells us that walking at your own pace for 40 minutes three times a week can help with cognitive function. This particular exercise may enhance the connectivity of crucial brain circuits, increase performance on cognitive tasks and combat brain function decline associated with aging.
Overall, the most active participants in this study performed best on cognitive tasks.
So, a quick stroll around the building may just get your cognitive juices flowing enough to finish out the workday.
If you're able to go for a walk, then bask in the sunshine. If not, try to position yourself near a window or door where you can benefit from natural light.
Your body will convert the sun’s rays into vitamin D, which has many health benefits. For one, it increases your body’s acetylcholine levels. Acetylcholine is instrumental in helping you maintain focus and concentration.
Sunshine can also help keep your body’s circadian rhythm in check. If you’re spending most of your time in a dim office, your body may be confused about whether it’s morning or dusk.
Sunshine helps reset the clock and remind your body that it’s daylight and there’s still plenty of time before bed.
When you’re having trouble focusing to start, it’s not the time for multitasking. Choose one task to focus on at a time. If you try to do too many things at once, you run the risk of doing a mediocre or poor job on everything. Focus on doing one task well, and then move on to the next one.
When you narrow your focus, you’re also making a conscious effort to avoid procrastination. Don’t check emails, look at your phone or invite small talk while you’re working on this task. All these things will weaken your concentration.
If you’re trying to focus on a large task, it may be more difficult to avoid distractions and narrow your focus. When you find this to be the case, try breaking that large task into smaller chunks. This way, you can commit to completing a section before you do anything else.
Especially when we’re tired, our thoughts towards work can sway towards the negative side. After all, we’re obligated to do our work. It’s not something we’ve chosen for fun or entertainment.
But the greatest thing about having negative thoughts is knowing you have the power to change them. Start by evaluating your mindset. Are you focused on everything that could go wrong?
Instead, start thinking about what could go right. If it helps, make a list of the positive things. And if you’re still feeling down about your task, try to imagine ways it could benefit you personally. Are you gaining any experience that could help further your career?
Could you list this task as an accomplishment on your resume if you do it well enough? When you align work tasks with your personal goals, it’s easier to stay positive and focused on the task at hand.
You know that feeling you get when you hear your favorite song? That’s an example of how music can change your attitude and outlook. When you want to concentrate at work, music can help. But you may not want to choose your favorite song. Songs you know, and even any songs with lyrics, can be distracting.
Instead, stick with the research and choose an instrumental baroque soundtrack. A small University of Maryland study found that radiologists saw an improvement in their work and mood when listening to baroque music.
As for volume, researchers found that moderate noise levels are best for creative thinking. Keep your music on low to moderate levels.
As with anything, it’s best to test the music type and volume that works best for your cognitive processing. Feel free to try different music types and sound levels until you find the one that works best for you.
Just remember that it’s not always going to be the one that you like the best, so try not to get caught up on a catchy beat or melody. The key to getting this one right is for the music to remain in the background.
Now that you have some alternatives to coffee and sugar for the afternoon slump, maybe you can finally boost your concentration and remain focused. If you're in a slump now, take action.
Get up from your chair and go for a walk outside. Then, come back to your desk and turn on your favorite concentration music. You'll get back to being productive in no time.
Do you have any tricks to help you stay focused at work?