Feeling unproductive at work? You’re definitely not alone.
All I can say is THANK GOODNESS this is a “thing”. I certainly am struggling to get into 4th and 5th gear. But perhaps it’s not the worst thing to ease into the year and prioritise urgent issues first.
Statistically, January and February weigh in as the most unproductive work months of the year with most South Africans still stuck in a post-holiday slump, which can last for several weeks.
Abdurahman Kenny, Mental Health Programme Manager at Pharma Dynamics says it’s common for employees to suffer from a dopamine low as they struggle to get back into the work routine after the highs of the holiday, but that there are ways to make the mental transition easier.
“It should be comforting to know that everyone is affected by seasonal productivity dips which occur throughout the year, and even during the week and at certain times of the day.”
Studies have shown that work productivity starts picking up in March, while overall October tends to be the month during which the highest percentage of tasks are typically completed.
WHEN ARE WE AT OUR BEST AND WORST?
Kenny says we complete most of our tasks at the start of the week with productivity waning towards the end of the week. Our mornings are the most productive up until 11am and then we start to taper off after lunch. From around 3pm many struggle to focus and we start paying more attention to social media posts, text messages and welcome conversations with colleagues. By the time the clock ticks over to 4pm our energy levels have plummeted.
“We have mental ebbs and flows throughout the day that is regulated by our circadian rhythm – a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle every 24-hours which impacts our energy levels and mood. Other factors that can cause us to be unproductive at work are not getting enough sleep, what we had for lunch, stressful deadlines in the morning or back-to-back meetings may all contribute to the mid-afternoon slump.
“Glucose plays an important role in our mental performance and decision-making ability. When our willpower is low, we tend to choose the path of least resistance, which explains why we’ll rather choose to connect with a friend on social media than working on a report or presentation.
To sustain willpower and energy levels throughout the day, consider lunch with a low glycaemic index, such as vegetables, fruit, cheese, lean meats, hardboiled eggs, seeds and nuts etc.
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TRY THESE TRICKS TO BEAT THE SLUMP
“Napping for between six and ten minutes in the afternoon has shown to restore cognitive function, so if you feel you simply can’t stay awake anymore, power down for a few minutes during lunch, but not too long or else you’ll feel groggy.”
While in corporate I sometimes slipped away for a 20-minute transcendental meditation. I’d sit in my car or close my office door. It made a huge difference.
Research published in the Neuroscience Journal proves that even just a 20-minute walk can improve cognitive performance. A burst of high-intensity exercise is best for reducing stress and anxiety. Kenny says fitting in a walk or a quick gym-session during lunch will recharge your brain and release feel-good endorphins that will ensure that you finish the day strong.
Working in “sprints” or chunks of time, whether it be an hour or 90 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break is also advised. Listening to music while working, changing up your usual routine by taking a different route to work or scheduling fun things to do after hours could also help keep you mentally motivated. “The key is not to try fight against these natural dips. Having times when you’re unproductive at work is normal. And working tirelessly day after day will only lead to burnout and heightens your risk of depression.
AT LEAST YOU CAN LOOK FAB WHILE PROCRASTINATING AT WORK
YOU’RE NOT ALONE (OR LAZY)
“Being less productive during certain times of the day or seasons doesn’t make you an unproductive person, however by paying closer attention to these natural cycles and how it affects you will help you to establish certain rituals and routines every day that will help move you towards your goals – turning it into an advantage rather than an Achilles heel,” says Kenny.
Those struggling with depression or anxiety can visit Pharma Dynamics’ Let’s Talk website: www.letstalkmh.co.za or contact their toll-free helpline on 0800 205 026, which is manned by trained counsellors who are on call from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.