It’s 3 p.m. on Monday, and your cubicle is the last place you want to be. Jim asks you to scan something for him—for the fifth time today. Lauren CC’s you on an email with “URGENT” in the subject line; you open it up and have no clue how to respond. Matt wants you to proof something written in a different language. Samantha schedules a last-minute conference call to discuss a new business opportunity. Alicia and Kim won’t stop arguing.
Welcome to the real world, where working 9 to 5 is a thing.
You would do anything to be back in college where going to class sometimes felt optional and lectures could be watched online from the comfort of your bed. We’ve all felt this way one time or another, especially when the workday is more than halfway over but 5 p.m. still seems so far away. Here are 10 ways to reenergize and power through your workday when 3 p.m. rolls around and you can barely keep your eyes open.
1. Take a coffee or tea break
Many of us start every morning with a cup of coffee (or tea), but not all of us remember to restock later in the day (unless you’re a coffee-holic). The next time you find yourself dozing off at your desk, make a cup of coffee or tea, or, better yet, walk to the coffee shop down the street. A little caffeine in the afternoon will give you an extra burst of energy—just avoid having too much (skip the Venti!), otherwise you might disrupt your sleep later on in the night.
2. Go for a walk
Taking a brisk walk during a long, stressful workday is something we should all try to do a few times a week. The fresh air and exercise will help clear your head and relieve stress. Taking a few minutes away from your work to walk either in your building or outside will help you to refocus.
“I take walks all the time,” says Kelsey Tremberth, a 2012 graduate of the University of Michigan. “Sometimes you need to just get up and move around… get away from your desk and give your brain a break for a minute.”
When it’s nice out, take a walk around the block and stop for a snack on your way back to the office for a double boost of energy.
3. Switch to a different task
It’s easy to get stuck on one task and feel like you aren’t accomplishing anything, especially when you’ve been staring at a computer screen and sitting in the same spot all day long. The best solution to this is to work on a different task or project for an hour or so and then come back to the original task with a fresher eye.
If you’ve been typing numbers into Excel all day, switch to something that requires some human interaction, like calling a new supplier or scheduling a brainstorm session to discuss new ideas for an upcoming proposal. It’s important to go back and forth between solo tasks and group work to add some variety to each workday and make it past the middle of the day without feeling like your day is dragging.
4. Take a bathroom break
It might sound silly, but a break is a break. Even if you don’t really have to go right away, taking a bathroom break could be just what you need. Spend a few minutes in front of the mirror freshening up your makeup, brushing your hair or spraying perfume to help you feel refreshed and ready to get back to work. If nothing else, it will get you out of your seat for a few minutes!
5. Talk to a coworker
You can ask your coworker a question about work, see what her weekend plans are or even just tell her about a funny tweet you read that morning. It doesn’t matter too much what you talk about, but remember that there are some topics you should avoid! The goal is to talk face-to-face with someone and get away from those emails for a little bit.
“When I need to reenergize during work, I walk to the break room, get some caffeine and usually run into a coworker I can talk to for a few minutes and get my mind off what I was working on,” says Sarah Smolinski, a 2013 graduate of the University of Michigan.
6. Make a to-do list
Sometimes we can feel overwhelmed with our workload, but writing it all down really helps. If you have trouble focusing after lunch and don’t really know what to work on first, make a list of everything you hoped to accomplish that day and see what’s left. Write everything down, even the tasks you already finished earlier in the day; crossing items off your list will help give you a sense of accomplishment.
Prioritize the remaining tasks and estimate how long each one will take. Start with the ones that have approaching deadlines, and then move on to the tasks you have longer to complete.
“I’m a big note-taker and list-maker, so when meetings are planned or if I need to follow up with someone, I make sure to put it in my planner,” says Carly Potts, a 2014 graduate of the University of Michigan. “I also try to prioritize who to reach out to and when. Time organization is big for me.”
7. Turn your cubicle into a gym
Well, sort of. There are many stretches you can do right at your own desk that don’t require workout attire or special equipment. A five-minute desk workout might be all you need to refuel your mind and body for the rest of the workday! Exchange your chair for an exercise ball, tilt your head from side to side or roll your shoulders back to get your muscles moving and release tension. You might even be able to justify skipping the gym today!
8. Answer that text
When you need a quick break and want to think about something non-work-related for a few minutes, take out your phone and catch up on your text messages. You shouldn’t be glued to your phone when you’ve got work to do, but a 3 p.m. texting break is perfectly acceptable (unless you work in a really strict environment and texting could get you fired).
If you work in an open office where your boss sits right next to you, we recommend leaving your desk before texting. Even if there isn’t a strict policy in place, you don’t want anyone thinking you’re slacking on your work!
9. Check the news
When it’s late in the day and you need a break from the project you’re working on, take a few minutes to browse the breaking news headlines. Surf the web or download a news app on your phone. Catch up on the news in your industry so you don’t get too distracted from your own work. You might learn something that helps you solve a work problem or brings new insight into what you’re working on!
However, be conscious of what you’re looking at—when you’re on your office computer, there’s always the chance that your activity is being tracked. And don’t lose track of the time, as we all know surfing the web can be addicting!
10. Keep a positivity notebook
We all get bogged down at work sometimes, which can leave us feeling overwhelmed and unhappy. When this happens, take out a notebook and write down three positive things that have happened so far in the day. The list can include anything that puts you in a good mood—winning a new client, laughing with a coworker or having a nearly empty email inbox. This exercise will help you to focus on the good things and give you a positive attitude for finishing out the workday.
The next time you’re nodding off by the time late afternoon hits, follow these tips to make it through the rest of the workday without losing interest or feeling unproductive. Whether you need to get up and walk around, reprioritize with a new to-do list or refuel on coffee, soon enough you’ll be leaving the office each day feeling productive and full of energy!