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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

Sneaky Secrets for Staying Awake in a Meeting

Snoring. Sudden body jerks. Nonsensical murmurs about Justin Bieber and your expense report. These are involuntary sleep behaviors—quirky, uncontrollable actions that your romantic partner may find endearing, but that could swiftly damage your career if they were witnessed by you co-workers.

Unfortunately, though, stretches of sleep-inducing dullness and exhaustion abound in the workplace. Busy schedules mean long work days, red-eye flights, and early morning meetings—and it’s entirely possible that you’ll find yourself in a conference room, sinking into that cushioned executive chair, nodding off.

When you’re dangerously close to falling asleep in a meeting, you must focus every remaining ounce of energy on staying awake. Your career and your pride are at stake (do you really want to drool in front of your CEO?). So here’s your guide to staying conscious in an emergency situation:

1. Make Yourself Uncomfortable

Instead of sitting in a chair that could potentially recline (or topple), stand up in the back of the room, or, if you work in a “cool” office, balance on an exercise ball. Keeping your body active will help your mind stay alert, and you’ll be able to power through the meeting.

2. Participate

This may seem counterintuitive—why would you speak up now, when you’ve had one hour of sleep and three venti mochas?—but participating will help you stay engaged (and, thus, awake). Make eye contact with the speaker, share your thoughts on the meeting’s content, write detailed notes in the margins of the handouts. If you feel your eyes start to droop, focus on the speaker and try to silently paraphrase what she's saying—anything to keep your brain at work.

3. Snack

Ignore any dietary or nutritional guidelines and snack on the first thing you can find. Is it loaded with sugar? Full of fat? Even better. This is not the time to be counting calories. Any type of snack will give you the little burst of energy you need, and the physical act of eating will help you stay awake.

4. Excuse Yourself

If none of these honorable tactics work, and you feel yourself about to face plant onto the conference table, excuse yourself from the meeting. Go to the bathroom and splash your face with cold water. And if you’re still not awake enough to face that board room? Go back to your cubicle (or to Starbucks). It’s better to leave with dignity than to wake up duct-taped to the water cooler with dry-erase doodles on your face. After you step out, send the meeting organizer an email, apologizing that you couldn’t participate and asking for a copy of the deck and handouts.

Photo courtesy of normalityrelief.