By Juli Durante
3pm, I know you well. When I see you, regardless of how much caffeine I have consumed or how many to do lists I have organized, my brain stops working. For a brief moment in time, letters stop forming words and words stop forming sentences. 3pm, you're the worst part of my day.
Fortunately, it's not just me; most of us feel that slumping feeling around mid-afternoon. Our circadian rhythm, which operates on a 24 hour cycle, is one culprit. Another, especially for inbound marketers who spend most of their time working on a computer, is extended screen time during the day. Still another is our long history of napping. And maybe that Fettuccine Alfredo wasn't the best choice for lunch.
The "workday slump" is so universal that research on its causes is quite extensive. What is one common thread that this research suggests? When you're feeling that groggy feeling, take a break. Do something totally different from your daily tasks and absolutely step away from that screen (even your smart phone). One study even found that the secret to productivity and a balanced work day is to work for 52 minutes, then take a 17 minute nap.
One popular and useful workday break is to play a game that exercises your brain. While the research is out on whether or not those games really work for long term cognitive improvements, they're still a great way to break up your day and refocus your attention. Here are some low-tech brain exercises to get you in shape for the last chunk of your workday:
Crossword puzzles are available in many publications, printable online, and come in a variety of topics and difficulty levels, making them a good choice for almost everyone. You can choose an easy puzzle that will last the duration of your break Set yourself a timer for your break (so you don't get totally sucked in to a more difficult puzzle). Doing a crossword also makes your brain focus on a different kind of task than analyzing data or writing a blog post, which makes it a good choice.
If you're more interested in numbers and logic than words, or just get really frustrated by a crossword puzzle, try a game of Sudoku to refocus your brain and step away from the computer. Many difficulties are available, making this a good solution whether you have a 5, 10, or 15 minute break ahead of your.
So maybe you can't keep a full jigsaw puzzle at your desk, but there are a number of desktop sized puzzles (like this Sudoku Cube) that are more manageable. Unlike a crossword or Sudoku puzzle, which you complete with a pencil on paper in two dimensional space, a physical puzzle requires you to use your hands and body to solve the problem in front of you. This kind of problem solving offers an additional boost.
Get Outside and Play
Perhaps the ultimate break from work and for your break is exercise for your body. A 15 minute break isn't quite long enough for a full visit to the gym, but you can grab a coworker and have a quick game of ping pong (if you're lucky enough to have a table), kickball in any open space, Frisbee if you have a little less space... there are many options to get you out of your chair, away from your desk, and engaging in a different way so you feel totally refreshed.
Color a Little
Adult coloring books are trending big time: even Crayola is making them. If you want to take some time to color (inside or outside of the lines!), you can join the legions of grown ups who report feeling relaxed, comforted, and focused. According to Dr. Stan Rodski, a neuropsychologist (and adult coloring book author), coloring achieves similar results to meditation.
Working Breaks into Your Work Day
Working for a full eight hours straight, as our typical nine to five workday requires, isn't realistic for the way our brain really works. If you need to work a little more break time into your day, check with your manager to see how your break policy is defined and how you can make the most of the break time available to you. If you have a hard time stopping a project and walking away, set a timer - you'll be amazed how much you can get done when you know you have a limited time to do it (and it will be easier to stop when the timer goes off). But remember, if you're feeling really in the zone and not in a "slump", don't force yourself to take a break; wait until you finish that task or hit a roadblock.