Whether you're a morning person or a night owl, when the afternoon hits after several hours of productive morning work, it becomes challenging to keep up your level of productivity. You've used up most of your creative juices at the start of the day, and you're still expected to crank out another few hours of work before the day is over. You don't want to half-bake the work, nor is it worth leaving early, so what can you do to get your mind and body back on track?
Fortunately, there are several ways to jumpstart your mind back to its initial levels, giving you the most productive final hours of the day you can muster:
1. Physically exercise. The short-term and long-term benefits of exercise are well documented, so I won't begin to list them here. Just 10 minutes of exercise is enough to get your blood pumping, release endorphins, and increase your focus for the next several hours--plus you'll earn the long-term health benefits as well. If you have the time and flexibility, try going for a walk or jog around the office. If you don't, you can always do some calisthenics or stretching by your desk (as long as your coworkers won't think you're crazy).
2. Call someone you like. Call up someone you like--it can be a spouse, a family member, or even an old friend. The conversation will take your mind off work for a little while, giving you time to decompress. Plus, hearing the voice of a loved one can trigger the release of endorphins, which increase focus and make you feel more energized. You'll go back to work happier, more connected, and refreshed for the last few hours.
3. Look at cute animals. Frequently judged as a means of wasting time, looking at cute pictures and videos of animals (or babies) can actually be good for your brain. First, it gives your mind a real break from the focus-heavy work you faced in the morning. That simple act of decompression can relieve some of the stresses and burdens that interfere with your ability to continue. Second, looking at cute things can actually increase your ability to focus. The next time your boss catches you watching a compilation of cat videos, don't minimize your browser window; just explain that you're maximizing your productivity.
4. Eat some complex carbohydrates. Grabbing a bite to eat can stimulate brain activity, which is why we have a lunch break in the first place. Don't fall for the mental trap of skipping your lunch so you can get more done during your break! Take the time to step away from your desk and have a proper meal. However, keep in mind that not all foods are created equal; sugary foods and junk foods can give you a brief boost in energy and concentration, but they won't last you for hours the way complex carbohydrates will. Eat some fruits, vegetables, and other whole grain products to fuel your mind and body for the rest of the day.
5. Go outside. Bright light can suppress melatonin, a hormone responsible for making you feel sleepy and sluggish. But those fluorescent lights at the office aren't enough to simulate the effect--in fact, they can make you calmer. What you need is red light, which you can get outside (assuming the sun is out). Giving your brain a few minutes of exposure to this natural light can help you feel more awake and refreshed, setting a perfect course to round out the rest of your workday. Plus, you'll get some fresh air (and the opportunity to exercise, if you're following point one as well).
6. Play some music you like (and sing along if you can). Pick out a handful of songs that get your blood pumping and put them on a playlist for your afternoon work noise. The music alone should be enough to give you more energy, but if you want a serious boost, try singing along with it. According to some studies, singing along to music stimulates the release of endorphins and oxytocin, both of which can make you feel elated and energized. Of course, if you don't want any funny looks from your coworkers, you might have to lock yourself in an office or your car to do so.
7. Do a task you like. When you get back into the swing of things, don't go for menial, mindless tasks--they'll only bore you and wreck your focus. Similarly, don't go for extremely challenging tasks--they'll only frustrate you. Instead, focus your efforts on a task (or project) that you genuinely like to do, assuming you have one. It will make you excited to keep working, and will perk your mind up enough to get you through the other tasks. In the morning, save at least one fun task like this for your midday pickup.
You may find that one or more of these strategies doesn't work for you--everyone has different needs and different preferences when it comes to working productively. Try all of these individually to see how they affect your performance, and use them in different combinations until you find an approach that works for you. The more you learn about yourself as a worker, the better you'll be able to fine-tune your environment and maximize your performance.