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You know what it’s like, right? You’ve just got back to your desk — lunch seems eons ago — you glance at the clock…and its only 2pm. Welcome aboard the Afternoon Slump. Never fear, I’ve been in the same boat many times myself.
But why do so many of us hit that wall and have to work through it?
It’s all to do with how fatigue affects your productivity at work.
Now, let’s answer the question.
Being tired can actually be a good thing for productivity. When our brains are tired we’re able focus more easily, because our brains have no excess energy to waste on becoming distracted. Fatigue is a whole different ballgame. Fatigue can have a crippling affect on productivity if it’s left unchecked. Fatigue reduces motivation, lessens creativity and lowers your mood. This diminishes your efficiency and damages your work performance. But by dealing effectively with fatigue, you can do wonders for your long-term productivity.
Later, we’ll find out why fatigue can diminish productivity. First though, let’s see what work fatigue is and how it differs from tiredness.
What is work fatigue?
Work fatigue is a persistent state of exhaustion that’s not easily alleviated by rest. This makes it difficult to switch off from work at the end of each day, makes you more prone to distraction and less able to deal with stress well. If work fatigue is left unchecked for too long, your productivity will suffer. You may even burnout, and thus need lots of time off before you can begin to return to any sort of work.
What’s the difference between tiredness, fatigue and burnout?
- Tiredness — This is usually somewhat relieved by a good night’s sleep, a meal and a warm shower.
- Fatigue — About a fortnight away from the hustle of work can go a long way to addressing fatigue. It should be noted that just taking a holiday is not always enough to overcome fatigue and it therefore warrants more attention than tiredness.
- Burnout — This can be split into three subcategories.
- Frenetic: This is often characterised by anxiety-driven overwork which can result in you coming to disproportionately overestimate the effort you need to put in to enjoy the rewards of your job. You work intensely until you’re exhausted. And exhaustion is the death nell of productivity.
- Underchallenged: This is when you feel trapped in a cycle of monotonous work that presents no fresh challenge and offers little in the way of job satisfaction, until you become exhausted.
- Worn-out: This tends to happen after you experience a long, unrelenting period of intense stress in your job which impinges on your life outside of work and becomes a constant source of high stress, with little perceived reward.
Next, let’s explain why tiredness is not necessarily going to harm your work performance.
How can tiredness increase productivity?
When your brain is a little tired, there is no excess energy available to entertain distractions, thus your level of focus on one task at a time improves for a while. In other words, your brain can’t afford to waste energy getting distracted. This improved focus can manifest itself as a short-term uptick in your productivity.
Later, I’ll give you some tips on how to manage fatigue well.
For now, its time to turn to fatigue and its potentially devastating effect on your efficiency.
Why can fatigue diminish productivity?
As mentioned earlier, fatigue is much more than simple tiredness. When tiredness crosses the line into fatigue — exactly where that line is differs for everyone — your productivity is likely to suffer.
Here’re just some of the reasons why.
- Fatigue lessens your ability to make cautious decisions.
- Your attention span decreases.
- You make more mistakes and have to spend more time correcting them.
- Fatigue influences a person’s mood. Your mood can affect your productivity level, especially if your mood is low.
- A less cautious approach to decision making can lead to people becoming more impulsive.
- If you’re more impulsive, it could lead to more misunderstandings at work which need to be dealt with before moving on. Thus your productivity worsens.
Remember, if businesses have too much of a problem with a fatigued workforce, the dip in productivity can start to impact the bottom line. This can start a vicious cycle in which less profit leads to lower wages or jobs being cut. This in turn demotivates employees, which decreases productivity.
How do I keep work-related fatigue in check?
Fortunately, there’re several ways to keep tabs on work-related fatigue and be as productive as you can. Let’s get into a few of them.
1. Manage your focus
- Everyone has a natural circadian rhythm that somewhat dictates the times of day at which your energy will peak and when you’ll start to flag a bit.
- Caffeine is a stimulant. It’s good if you have to focus at a time of day when your energy level naturally begins to drop off. Depending on the how much you usually drink and how often, you can use caffeine to help manage your focus.
- Water can also help give your brain the extra spur it might need to figure something out.
- If water or caffeine don’t do the trick, taking five to find and listen to a new song may well help refresh your brain.
2. Prioritize well
- Try to do the hardest or most analytical work first. Having to think deeply about things takes up more brainpower, so getting this done first helps motivate you through the rest of your working day.
- More creative work can be left to help get you through the dreaded afternoon slump, before going through your own little end-of-the-day routine. One reason for this is that when we’re operating during an off-peak time, we become distracted a bit more easily. This opens the door to creativity for most people as the majority go through a dip in their energy level during mid-afternoon.
3. Fidget to freedom
- Standing up has been shown to be healthier for you in the long run, but as yet there’s no general agreement about its effect on productivity.
- It seems that stretching and fidgeting is the way to go if you want to be more productive. Movement and exercise — in whatever form it may take — is what helps keep you energised throughout your working day.
- If you can, taking a short walk in the fresh air seems to be the most beneficial combination for both your overall health and your productivity.
So there you have it. Now you know the real difference between tiredness, fatigue and the most talked about types of work-related burnout. I hope you feel better equipped to take on the challenge of workplace fatigue.
- Fatigue is much more persistent than tiredness and is what really damages productivity.
- Fatigue can be managed and burnout can be avoided.
- But you need to recognise fatigue — and the particular reason you might be prey to it — early enough to take effective action.
- Tiredness can actually boost your productivity in the short-term.
Soon, employees among you might feel able to talk to bosses about it. Employers may figure out how to turn the vicious cycle of a fatigued, unhappy, unproductive workforce and worsening profits into a virtuous cycle of an energised, happy and productive workforce, who are thereby making your business more money.
So, give fatigue management a whirl today!