Advice abounds on making the most of mornings. We all have preferences – from early morning meditation to avoiding e-mail when we start the day – designed to make us more effective.
But we take afternoons for granted, despite the slump that will often envelop us. In fact, mornings tend to naturally give us a burst of energy through our circadian rhythms while the opposite happens in the afternoon. Add in the food at lunch, which can also produce listlessness, and more thought should be given to matching our morning zest with afternoon gusto.
Productivity writer Jory McKay, tackling the issue, says it begins by emulating Ernest Hemingway. The writer was known for deliberately not ending the last sentence or paragraph he was working on when taking a break so that he could pick up by completing the thought. Similarly avoid completion of what you’re working on in the morning. Or as Mr. MacKay puts it on the Zapier website: “Stop while you’re ahead.”
He notes there are two psychological factors working in your favour. You’re lowering the mental barrier to returning to work since when you come back after lunch you know exactly where to start, lowering the chance of hitting a block as you try to figure out what’s next. Our minds also hate not finishing a task we’ve started – making Hemingway’s hack hard to do, actually – but when we return to work the brain has a powerful need to finish what it starts, a phenomenon labelled the Zeigarnik Effect.
Mr. MacKay also suggests setting a minor milestone or more that you can hit in the afternoon, giving you the momentum a goal can provide. Dividing each milestone into smaller parts can help you feel you are making progress.
He also urges you to establish some “guardrails of motivation” to nudge you back on the right path when you inevitably drift later in the day. He does that by working in 50-minute sprints with short breaks of 10 to 15 minutes, guided by the Be Focused timer-app.
He also set a reminder for when he expects to dip. “I know I’m most susceptible to low energy between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Which is why pre-lunch I’ll often set a reminder for somewhere between those hours to simply ask ‘Are you working on the right thing?’ Sometimes all we need is a little push to get us back on track,” he writes.
When the dip starts to occur, turn off notifications, e-mail and text since you will fall too easily under their spell. In the morning, you have a chance to resist, he says, but in the afternoon are easy prey. “When our brain enters low energy mode,” he adds, “it’s a good time to bang out ‘easy’ tasks, like clerical work, catching up on e-mails, resizing photos, or whatever work doesn’t require too much cognitive stress. This is a last-ditch effort to squeeze as much productivity as you can out of your afternoon. And to make this even easier, don’t rely on your tired brain to know what you need to do. Instead, I like to create a ‘bucket’ list of tasks that are boring but needed that I can take on in the late afternoon so I have some sort of guide, even if I’m not there 100 per cent.”
His final advice is to conclude the day by writing a letter to “tomorrow you” with six priority items, in order of “true” importance.
Somewhere in that advice are ideas you can use to improve your afternoons.
- Hydration and gratitude – thinking, or writing down good thoughts about others – are two ways to help us successfully through the day. ThriveGlobal writer Danielle Sinay recommends combining them into “hydratitude”: Every time you drink a significant amount of water (six ounces or more) note it in a journal along with something you’re grateful for.
- When somebody says no to your request, blogger James Clear says they usually mean “not right now” or “not in that way” rather than a definitive “no.” They would like to help but are overwhelmed by other priorities. Ask again, differently, later.
- We’re told that people are driven more to avoid losses than realize gains. But research by business professors David Gal and Derek Rucker says that’s not true: Price increases (losses for consumers) do not affect their behaviour more than price decreases, and messages that frame an appeal in terms of a loss are no more persuasive than messages that frame an appeal in terms of a gain. Previous experiments leading to the prevailing theory could be explained by other factors.
- In selling, beware of what consultant Colleen Francis calls “the talk trap,” confusing somebody who will listen to your pitch with someone who had the decision-making authority to actually buy from you.
- As for listening, consultant Susan Mazza says ask questions and give people time to answer.
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