It was about 2:30pm and my head started bobbing up and down in front of the computer. I was nodding off again like in high school Physics class. However, this seemed to happen almost everyday between 2-4pm. This was killing my productivity, so I started to wonder if all my afternoons would always be this painful.
For most of my life, the answer was I may have had too big of a lunch or not enough sleep the night before. So I grabbed another cup of coffee or two and just “powered through.” If it wasn’t coffee it could have been an energy drink. But I never really felt refreshed or rejuvenated after the coffee or energy drink.
About a year ago a I read a book called Brain Rules that talks about how our bodies are naturally shutting down by 2pm and need some rest. This is probably why we napped so much as kids, and I was so good at naps growing up. A study done by NASA showed that a 26-minute nap improved a pilot’s performance by more than 34%. So I started experimenting with a little 10 minute nap in the afternoon. I wouldn’t totally fall asleep but just 10 minutes laying flat on my back with my eyes closed. And it was transformative. I came back feeling completely refreshed and rejuvenated.
About this same time was when I stopped drinking caffeine. I tried an experiment of going off the 4-5 cups a day and sure had some huge headaches. I realized that I was clearly addicted. I was sluggish at first but over time I started to get more energy back. And it felt nice not being so dependent on something all the time. I still enjoy some decaf but rarely do I have a regular cup. Caffeine masks our ability to feel tired so by the end of the day we actually end up more tired and irritable than we were before. It can produce the opposite effect that we really want.
Getting off caffeine allowed me to really listen to my body and know when I was tired. It helped me manage my energy in a better way. There is an amazing article written by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy called Managing your Energy, Not Your Time. I love this concept of focusing on managing our energy instead of time. Tony also wrote a book I just finished called The Power of Full Engagement that was just outstanding. He talks a lot about working really hard for 60-90 minutes with no distractions and then taking time to rest or change directions after the activity. It is a similar to my 25th Hour concept. The book talks a lot about creating important rituals with our energy so that we can be fully engaged in the activities that are most important to us throughout the day.
So why is it important to manage our energy? Well for me it all comes back to how I show up in the moment. As stated in the book, “Physical energy…lies at the heart of alertness and vitality but also affects our ability to manage emotions, sustain concentration, think creatively, and even maintain our commitment to whatever mission we are on.” When I am tired, overworked and not listening to my body I can feel rushed, irritable and completely unproductive. On some of those “bobbing head” afternoons I would literally just stare at the computer screen wondering what to do next. In contrast, when I am at my best I feel rested, light and calm. Time feels expansive, and I have complete focus on the task at hand.
This whole slow down to go fast is still counter-intuitive in our society. I was appalled to learn recently that energy drinks are now an 11 billion dollar industry. Instead of managing our energy and taking a break, our society is taught to keep cranking and power through with an artificial high. However, this pattern causes us to make more mistakes and we are actually less efficient. And we don’t show up with our best self.
I am constantly experimenting with anything that gives me more energy in a natural way. I would love to hear what you do in the comments section! For me, I pretty much eat a plant based diet at lunch these days. Less meat and dairy allows me to feel much lighter and gives me more energy in the afternoon. This is a far cry from when I used to pound my fists for an extra piece of chicken at the buffet. On most days, I will lie down in the early afternoon if I am on my computer for most of the day. My other rituals could be a short walk outside or even doing some pushups or a handstand with my feet resting against the wall. This gets the blood flowing and completely reenergizes me. I did this right after lunch one day when I knew I was going to have to listen intently to a presentation for the next two hours. It is all about knowing what I have ahead of me and managing my energy appropriately.
So the next time your energy is feeling really low or you are tired, try a new ritual instead of grabbing that coffee or an energy drink. Try really listening to what your body needs in the moment. It may be a break, time to rest or short period of exercise. It may actually increase your performance and allow valuable time for you to renew your best self. A special thanks to my old running back Ward Gibson who inspired me to write this post after one of his famed YMCA workouts.