2:55 P.M.: When Productivity Dies

You're not getting anything done in the afternoon. So what can you do about it?

You're cross-eyed from monitor glare, comatose from lunch digestion, and you don't even realized you just opened up Facebook: It's 2:55 in the afternoon, the time of day when productivity dies.

Deconstructing the dip

LondonOffices.com's recent poll of 420 British office workers, while not incredibly scientifically robust, does provide some interesting insight into the workday rhythm.

The respondents said that 2:55 p.m. was the low point of the day's output: Most folks said they were either checking social media or planning for their evening—perhaps heading to the "pub" or getting a game of "footie" together.

What's the story with the dip? One respondent said that "the trouble is after lunch I’m completely whacked until I have some sugar," while others said they need "a strong cup of coffee and a bar of chocolate" to get going again—more good news for glucose!

Beyond giving some explanation for the embarrassment of riches that is British candy culture, the responses underscore a recurrent Fast Company theme: that you only have so much mental energy within a day. While that supply is renewable, that renewal isn't automatic.

Three afternoon tactics

How do you get more mindful about your afternoon? One way is to treat your workday as a series of sprints. Instead of slowly suffocating in your inbox, opt to work in focused 50- or 90-minute chunks. After each sprint, you take a break, which could be active or restful.

After a productive lunch, you could take a screen-free walk. While going alone can be restorative, heading out with a colleague can make for an informal meeting, one that can deepen those ever-necessary BFF workplace bonds—a gentle form of non-sleazy networking.

But while getting more active is helpful, so is getting proper iPhone-free rest: Consider the nap. Buffer cofounder and Fast Company contributor Leo Widrich noticed that his productivity fell off at 3 p.m., so he placed his daily nap right then—getting him back to 100% productive afterward. There's an educational aspect to this, he notes: "Try and get encouragement from your co-workers or your boss," he writes, "so you can set yourself up for developing a successful habit."

At what time during the day—or night, for that matter—are you least productive and how do you deal with it? Let us know in the comments.

2.55pm, the time when no work is done! Time is when average office employee has their 'most unproductive moment of the day'

[Image: Flickr user Andrea Esuli]

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  • Fernando Oliveira

    My lunch is basically meat and salad. I feel energized again. Diet is the secret to keep me going in the afternoon. Try it and tell us here if it worked for you.

  • Michael Deutch

    Surprised that you didn't 'deconstruct' the lunch that is the typical culprit causing the 'dip'. Eat a healthy lunch and you won't be running for the sugars or needing a nap. 

  • Letsgotobangkok

    Yesterday, I just went home around that time. I'll re-tackle my mind-boggling puzzle of a task wirh a fully rested and caffeinated mind this a.m.

  • Alan Jarvie

    I agree with the power nap but it's only really possible when you're a home worker.

  • badscience

    This was the case with me until I realized I was gluten-intolerent. After a lifetime of eating bread, pasta and pizza, cutting it out gave me 100% more energy at 3pm.  (I had gotten to the point that I was downing a Monster drink or two with lunch to stay awake in the afternoon.)  I'm a foodie, and this discovery sucked, but the trade off was worth it!  Try it for a couple of weeks and see if it works for you.

  • Mary Ann

    I was literally drowsing off at my desk and got up to make a pot of coffee right before reading this article at 3:05.  How true!

  • Ybdor

    Our employee handbook actually says that if someone is caught napping in the office, he will be fired immediately, no questions asked. I use my lunch break for yoga - 50 minute work out, 5 minute relaxation (Shavasana) , 5 minute shower. It's like starting your work day over again. 

  • Drew

    been considering smaller shifts with higher intensity for our entire firm....timely article, thanks.

    As a high school coach, I fell in love with Grinnell's men's basketball model - platooning squads, going all out for short periods.  Why not do this in biz?  It would be more fun!


  • Studeo

    I take a power nap every day. 15 minutes strict!, between 1 and 4 pm, depending on my schedules. It is refreshing like a shower, although I am sleeping maybe only 2-5 minutes.

  • Jonathan M Patrick

    Interestingly, I recently did a productivity study on myself and found the same thing.  The afternoon is when I dropped off.  I published the results at thejumplog.com

  • Mpls Maven

    All I know is Facebook and Internet surfing just increases my fatigue and frustration when I hit that dip...the best days I have are when I can resist the online urges and get moving. I work in a downtown so sometimes I take a window-shopping break, then come back and work a little later to make up for it.

  • Xavier Jean-Noel

    A 2-3 minutes stretch and breathing exercise can be helpful as well.

  • Harkonnen

    Or they could a good night's sleep (no TV or partying) and eat a diet low in sugars and grains. Nah, that's too difficult.

  • Harkonnen

    You sir, are being condescending to my...condensation...sounded better in my head....

  • MeKayDee

    15-20 minute nap after lunch has been great for me. If not that, then 3 p.m. is an espresso break.