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Hybrid working tips: 5 ways to beat the mid-afternoon slump

It's tough to keep your energy up mid-afternoon, especially if you've been stuck on a series of video calls.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
Tired Young Woman Leaning Head on Hands
Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It's mid-afternoon and you've been working hard since early morning. You're already flagging and the next thing in your calendar is back-to-back Teams meetings. If this scenario sounds familiar, how can you find ways to beat the 3pm slump? Five experts give us their top tips.

1. Take a break to reset your mind

Simon Liste, chief information technology officer at the Pension Protection Fund, says the right technique to combat the 3pm slump depends on the individual. However, everyone can benefit from having a break and taking 15 minutes away from the computer screen. 

"It's good to take a little bit of time to reflect," he says. "Whether it's going for a walk or something to clear your mind, such as reading a book, it's good to reset because then you're switching on another aspect of your mind."

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Liste says he enjoys having a workout in the morning, which helps to keep his mind fresh through the rest of the day. The key to success is to avoid overthinking and to avoid getting bogged down mentally.

"What you don't want is your mind to be running 100 miles per hour on one thing. It's not healthy to just sit in front of a screen for hours on end. Beating the slump is all about finding a mechanism that works for you," he says.

2. Avoid heavy transactional meetings

Lisa Heneghan, global chief digital officer at consultancy firm KPMG, says professionals must think very carefully about the types of meetings they have at different times of day.

"I think about what I call 'the rainbow of meetings' and the different experiences that you have. What you don't want at 3pm is your transactional meetings, where you've got to go through loads of administrative stuff."

Heneghan says professionals should look for early afternoon meetings that inspire and motivate. Ideally those meetings will be in-person, but they can be made to work online too. Success is all about thinking creatively.

"Balance out your day, so that you've got a real opportunity to think and do some of the things that we do better when we're physically together," she says. "If you're online, doing those kinds of meetings at that time gives you something where you're thinking a little bit more creatively; you're thinking about other things, the opportunities." 

3. Explore experimental ways of working

Danny Gonzalez, chief digital and innovation officer at London North Eastern Railway, says one of the things that can help professionals swerve a mid-afternoon slump is avoiding an over-reliance on video-conferencing technology. 

Something that all professionals have learnt during the past two years is that participating in back-to-back video calls is physically and emotionally draining. Gonzalez says managers must make sure hybrid working doesn't simply mean being stuck in front of a screen.

"We as a team – and I think as an organization – are trying to make sure that there is a really good balance between using Teams, meeting physically and actually just providing headspace," he says.

Gonzalez's department is trying things like having days where there are no Teams meetings unless they're necessary. He says running these kinds of experiments is crucial to establishing the right kind of cadence for work.

"I think the risk is that if we just continue in the world that we were in a year ago, where it was literally people staring at a screen from 9am to 5.30pm, then people fatigue quite quickly. I also think it starts to affect a lot of people's mental wellbeing," he says. 

"So, for us, it's trying to just make sure that there is a healthy balance in terms of the different ways that we are approaching work/life balance."

4. Meet inspiring people in-person

Not every professional works all day every day at home. David Schwartz, VP of PepsiCo Labs, spends most of his time in the office or on the road: "I love being in the office with startups, my staff and our leaders."

Schwartz believes video calls are still not an effective replacement for the benefits that come from in-person conversations. One of the ways he keeps things bright and breezy if he's at home during the afternoon is to get entrepreneurs from startups to come over to a coffee shop near his house. He advises other professionals to think about similar tactics, too.

"During the afternoon slump, have that in-person coffee, or go out to the coffee shop and have those meetings," he says. "Then have meetings in the fun areas that excite you. For me, that's about learning a new technology, because we're on a continuous journey of scouting. When I'm learning something new, the adrenaline starts pumping." 

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Like other professionals, Schwartz says a personal break is good – 3pm is when his daughter comes home from school. Taking time out from work to play for a half an hour is an energy-booster: "It gives purpose to work beyond the upsides it brings to the company. Having flexibility in your day brings benefits to the family."

5. Split up your working day

Daniel Smith, head of analytics at clothing brand PANGAIA, says he spends as much as 80% of his time in the office now – but when he's at home, he recognizes that working solidly on your own can mean you spend less time away from the desk. His coping strategy involves taking short breaks when he needs to.

"The best way to avoid the slump is to split your lunch time," he says. "I go for a walk. You've got to step away for however long you need. If I have a 20-minute walk, then have lunch a bit later, then I don't get that slump." 

Smith says exercise is crucial to making sure your enthusiasm for work doesn't flag later in the day. 

"I stop caffeine after lunch – if I drink after that time, I find I can't switch off late at night," he says. "And when you have a break, you need to do something where you're standing up and moving. That's always been the case for me."

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