03/13/2014 11:35 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The 3 Things You're Doing Wrong At 3 P.M.

Gary Houlder via Getty Images

By Jena Pincott

You know it's wrong to indulge your sugar cravings or to drink coffee during the witching hour. These mistakes are just as common -- but almost always overlooked.

1. The mistake: You don't realize how much you "morally disengage" after lunch.

woman crossing fingers behind back

Puff up a resume, cover up a problem, deceive a spouse, take credit when it isn't due...If it's shady, you're likelier to do it in the afternoon rather than in the morning, found a study from Harvard University and the University of Utah. A series of experiments revealed that people -- good people who normally try to do the right thing—lied, cheated and bamboozled more in the afternoon hours. (Unethical people did so at any time of day or night.) We only have a limited amount of mental energy, the researchers theorized -- and as it diminishes, temptation grows.

The solution: Reorder your tasks so that you -- and the people you're working with -- are at your ethical best. Anything that requires moral judgment (say, negotiating a deal where you're relying on others to be honest) gets slotted for early in the day.

2. The mistake: You've been in the same room since your lunch break.

unhappy black woman office

As if your afternoon slump weren't bad enough, here's what worsens it: Carbon dioxide (CO2), an odorless gas that you -- and everyone around you—exhales about 15 times a minute. After two and a half hours of breathing CO2 levels at 1,000 ppm (the average in a packed office space or airplane cabin), volunteers felt unfocused, tired and made poorer choices on a decision–making task, found a study at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab by State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University researchers. Worse, at 2,500 ppm -- a level commonly found in classrooms, meeting rooms and other places where you're so sardined that you smell the person next to you -- performance dropped to dysfunctional levels.

The solution: Breathe fresh air by cracking the window (if you can) or taking a short walk. If you have a suspicion that your space is poorly ventilated, an air-quality meter can confirm (available online for about $150). Plants help to absorb CO2 (Sansevieria trifasciata, the snake plant, is especially effective) and to produce oxygen. (Bonus: They also make you more productive.)

3. The mistake: You down an energy drink the afternoon before an evening of partying.

woman drink straw

We've all heard about the danger of blacking out when mixing alcohol with energy drinks (which is why premixed alcoholic energy drinks have been largely banned by the FDA). But now, a new study at the University of Michigan finds that drinking a caffeinated guarana-ginseng-sugar spiked beverage in the midafternoon -- even hours before a night of boozing -- can also put you on the fast track to intoxication. The stimulant kept users jazzed up well beyond happy hour, so they felt less tired and tipsy than they actually were -- leading them to down more rounds than they would otherwise.

The solution: In lieu of anything caffeinated for a midafternoon energy boost, spring for low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese (a small protein snack increases alertness and motivation, explains Judith Wurtman, PhD, co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet). Alternatively, spring for any of these unexpected vending-machine pick-me-ups.

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