We all know the 3PM slump. No matter how much you love your job, the clock flips from 2:59 and suddenly as if by magic (or at least, an undeniable caffeine crash), you only want to look at your Instagram feed or take a few dozen Buzzfeed quizzes. Goodbye productivity and good luck getting back on track, right?
Maybe not. You know the old adage “opposites attract”? Well, turns out it applies to productivity hacks as well. Often, research shows that by doing the opposite of what you’d expect, you can reach your intended results. (Think: the 4-hour workweek philosophy.) Which brings us to…pizza.
Yep, you read that right. See, back in 2016, The Cut reported on a fascinating (and delicious) phenomenon that a psychologist named Dan Ariely discovered in a study of employees at an Intel factory in Israel. At the start of a workweek, workers were divided into four groups that received three different “incentivizing” emails—or no incentive at all (the unlucky control group). The company promised them either:
- A cash bonus
- A rare compliment from the boss
- A voucher for a free pizza (!!!)
Essentially, Ariely tested an updated version of the “dangling carrot” theory on the workers—except the dangling carrot smelled a lot like pepperoni. And, well, it worked.
On the first day, the promise of free pizza increased work productivity by 6.7% with compliments coming in a close second at 6.6%. Overall, those who were promised compliments also maintained their productivity levels better throughout the week. But here’s the weird part: that cash bonus? The one you’d think would excite workers the most? It increased productivity only by 4.9% above the control group.
At the core of the study is something other researchers have discovered often about productivity and team motivation over the years: that people work harder when they feel appreciated. The Cut also cites a study that found that 81% of people said they would work harder for an appreciative boss. And, of course, countless studies have found that millennials look for work that makes them feel valued and like they’re contributing to the greater good.
It makes sense when you think about it. We often approach raises as something we’ve “earned” through the work we’ve done already, so promising a cash prize if they work harder doesn’t quite compute. There’s also the fact that appreciation falls under the umbrella of good company culture—a key requirement for most workers these days.
All this is to say that employers should consider ways to build thank yous into their teams’ workweeks because the more kudos, the better. But if you’re on the other side, e.g. that person facing a 3PM slump with no promised pizza in sight, here are some ways to self-motivate:
- Clean your desk. If there’s one major takeaway from the new Marie Kondo series on Netflix, it’s that getting rid of mess improves your headspace. It doesn’t hurt that cleaning your desk will also take your mind off whatever creative block you’re in. Take 10 minutes and tidy up your workspace, then see how you feel.
- Write the next step. So you don’t want to work on a single item on your to-do list right now. No problem. Do this instead: just take a look at the list (no doing required!), and spend a few minutes writing down the next step you need to take on each item. You’ll have immediate insight into what you need to work on and feel better able to prioritize, plus even if you don’t get back on track today, you’ll know exactly where to start when you come in fresh-eyed tomorrow.
- Read an industry-specific article. Look, if there’s no stopping yourself from going down an internet black hole, then at least make yourself read one article that can improve the way you work. Think of this as a productivity hack that mirrors the whole “substitute an apple for the breakroom cookie” approach many people use to kick sugar cravings.
- Hydrate. Yep, it turns out that sometimes the afternoon brain fog directly relates to our bodies feeling dehydrated. When was the last time you drank something other than coffee today? Head for the breakroom for another glass of water—and hey, maybe you’ll even luck into some free pizza in there.