We all know the feeling - you go into work in the morning, coffee in hand, you're motivated, focused, and ready to take on the world!
But by 11am you're flagging. You look at the ever multiplying to-do list in front of you and hang your head in despair. How are you ever going to get all of that done when right now you barely have the energy to sharpen your pencil?
Firstly, give yourself a break. It is perfectly natural to have energy slumps, so stop beating yourself up about it. Even the most successful people in the world aren't productive all of the time. They have just found ways to balance and manage their energy. After all, we're not robots!
As a freelancer I often find that there are days when I have less energy and focus than others. Just remembering to follow this advice has made a huge difference to my productivity, and overall work wellbeing.
1. Take Regular Breaks
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As human beings we are not supposed to stare at a screen continually. Not only do we lose mental concentration and focus, it is bad for our physical health to be sedentary for long periods, not to mention the impact of prolonged screen time on our eyes.
Productivity app DeskTime found that, on average the highest performing people worked for 52 consecutive minutes before taking a 17 minute break. So take a break. Get up and walk around, or go outside and get some light and fresh air!
Removing ourselves temporarily from whatever task may be frustrating us, also gives our brain a rest. Studies have shown that when we walk away from a difficult task, even for a short while we are more likely to come up with a solution. Your brain continues to work on the problem in your subconscious, even when you're not actively thinking about it.
So instead of staring at a blank screen, walk away, do something else for a while. You're likely to find the answer will be waiting for you on your return.
2.Drink Water & Eat Regularly
It's easy to head to the coffee machine when you're energy is waning. The immediate buzz of a caffeine hit will make you feel like you're on a productivity high for the first half an hour or so after drinking it. Unfortunately when it wears off we are left in a slump and unable to concentrate.
Drinking enough water has a massive part to play in concentration and focus. Studies have shown that if you are only 1 percent dehydrated, you will likely have a 5 percent decrease in cognitive function. Lack of water to the brain can cause problems with focus, memory, brain fatigue and brain fog, as well as headaches and low mood. Even if you still need that coffee in the morning to give you a head start (I definitely couldn't give up mine!) , then have a big glass of water with it to prevent dehydration.
Same goes for eating. We all know that feeling of an after lunch slump where you want to crawl back under your bed covers for a nap. That's because you're eating too much all at once.
If you're busy rushing around in the morning you may not have eaten a proper breakfast which means your body is still starved from the night before. Your body needs constant glucose to maintain energy, and if you provide it all at once it's not surprising that you'll experience a slump afterwards.
Eating small, frequent meals throughout the day can improve your concentration and mood. Bananas, oatmeal porridge and eggs are all great options to give you a kick-start of energy in the morning, whilst nuts, dried fruits, yoghurt, berries and wholegrain crackers are good high energy snacks to keep you going.
You are trying your best to get on with an important report, and an email comes in, a Facebook notification pops up, your phone rings, your Whatsapp thread buzzes with 64 unread messages...
Although you may decide not to respond to any of these at the time, just acknowledging them distracts your brain from the task at hand. Depending on how many distractions you get you will probably end up feeling that after an hour of trying to focus you haven't achieved much at all. This is de-motivating and will only add to losing energy for the day ahead.
Psychologist Larry Rosen author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us suggests ;
"We have to retrain our brains to respond based on a set schedule rather than spontaneous cues, i.e. an alert or notification."
Rosen suggests limiting our distractions by putting phones on silent, turning off email notifications, and slowly increasing our time periods of 'intense focus' until we can focus for 30 minute periods without distraction from any other source.
4. Purpose and Values
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"In order to feel truly passionate and driven about a project, you have to believe in it, and for that you need 'spiritual energy'. This means getting to grips with your core values - those that have a purpose beyond your own self-interest.
This isn't anything to do with religion. Your spiritual energy is the connection you feel to your values; the more connected you are, the more passionate and driven you are to follow them.
It's important that we make time to figure out the values that are most meaningful to us, because it's very easy to lose sight of them and end up feeling uninspired about our purpose in life."
The main reason we find the energy to continue with something challenging in work, or in life in general, is if we believe in its ultimate value.
Clearly not every task in your working day is going to be world-changing, but sometimes it is important to take a step back, look at the bigger picture and ask yourself 'Why am I doing this?' I find that having this question pinned to my wall helps to realign my focus during challenging times.
Reminding yourself of the answer should give you that boost of motivation that you need to see you through those more lethargic days.