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miml your team are less productive in the afternoon

3 min read: A typical film industry day runs something like 8am until 7pm, when filming stops for the day. That’s not to say everyone’s working an 11 hour day; there’s lamps to be set up and struck as well as prep for costume, make up, art department etc either side of that. It’s a long day.

It always struck me as crazy that at around 5pm on a day like this, the production would supply small triangular sandwiches by the tray load alongside some kind of bulk buy cake like millionaire shortbread.

Actually, not always. As a young runner with no money and no concept of nutrition I was very glad of the free feed towards the end of the day. But as I spent longer working on film sets I realised that these sandwiches coincided with a frantic last couple of hours of work where intelligent decisions came slow or not at all, small injuries were frequent and everyone was starting to flag.

Armies, film crews and construction teams all march on their stomach and you can see the logic in providing fuel going into this last push of the day.

But as knowledge of nutrition and productivity became more widespread, as people got wise to the science of work, it seemed crazy to me that producers kept asking caterers to provide carb heavy slabs of stodge at our most exhausted and vulnerable point in the day.

Everyone’s brain finds it difficult to say no to a sandwich let alone a slice of cake or a donut after 8 hours working hard under hot studio lamps.

Accredited practising dietitian Jemma O'Hanlon says that the amount of carbohydrates we eat at lunch can affect how sleepy we feel afterwards. Of course.

"Carbohydrate containing foods such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes boost the production of a neurotransmitter known as serotonin, which can boost our mood but also make us feel content and possibly sleepy”.

Adding sleepy to an already exhausted workforce and wondering why productivity drops is daft. And the refined sugars in the cakey “treats” have a similar spike then crash effect.

On a long running comedy show I had the opportunity to survey my colleagues and find out exactly how they felt about this afternoon snack. It turned out that almost everyone would have preferred fruit or nuts or protein of some sort. It also transpired that more than half of the sandwiches were being put in the bin and empty trays were taken back to the caterers. The caterers in turn reported to the producers that all the sandwiches were being eaten and so the producers kept ordering more.

We’d always done it this way.

After surveying the crew again and establishing everyone’s preferences I was able to go to the producers and caterers and ask them to try a change. We eventually swapped in crudités with high protein dips and fruit bowls although, Production, fearing a backlash from the sandwich loving traditionalists (who didn’t exist!) alternated day about with the old style afternoon snack of sandwiches and cake.

Option A being contrasted with the new option B gave an even better opportunity to explore the effects of our afternoon snack on productivity and the results were as you’d expect. On the high protein, high energy snack days the afternoons were more productive than the carb dump, sugar spike, energy slump days.

There were a lot of other factors at play and no control group so you couldn’t really call my survey scientific but it was definitely interesting.

Every construction site I visit has a largely beige menu full of carbs with double servings of slump.

There’s no shortage of genuinely scientific studies into nutrition and the effect of diet on cognition, energy and productivity yet every construction site I visit has a largely beige menu full of carbs with double servings of slump.

If you want to make it more likely that your team get less done in the afternoon give them a high carb lunch.

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