You’re waking up, taking a short look at your to do list, and immediately want to hit the sheets again? By Golly, how in earth are you supposed to handle all that crap? Heck, you’re not even in the mood to get out of bed in the first place. Rest assured, you’re not alone.
Though 2 people sobbing don’t make it any better. Luckily, sciences got our backs.
According to their research, working before 10am can be considered torture, as it’s biologically unnatural.
In the interview, Dr. Kelly stated, that “Before the age of 55, the circadian rhythms of adults are completely out of sync with normal nine-to-five working hours, posing a “serious threat” to performance, mood and mental health.”
Bamm. Take that Boss and skrew you waiting costumers, from now on I’ll sleep in! (Well, maybe better not.)
But timing isn’t only something to consider in our everyday working life, it also plays a vital part in our free time, and how productive we are at improving in our hobbies, achieving worthwhile stuff, or just getting bothersome a.o.bs done.
To be really productive, we need one thing: energy (and maybe some absence of distraction). I’m not talking about some mythical esoteric wiggle stick energy, but rather if we have momentum, are awake, saturated, and feeling like we are ready to tackle whatever this cruel world throws at us.
In their book “The Power of full engagement”, the authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz are making it perfectly clear that managing your energy, and not your time, gets you where you want to be. They’re not claiming, that timing doesn’t play any role whatsoever. Timing actually is in a symbiotic relationship with our energy level.
But wait, you probably won’t need a captain obvious (and a whole article) to just tell you that you should schedule your most important work on times where you’re the most energetic. Just in case you also didn’t know, you should drink 2 litres of water each day, and don’t forget to breath in and breathe out regularly to prevent suffocation.
It’s also about our inner clock!
Circadian Rhythm and our inner clock
Basically, the circadian rhythm helps organisms to adapt to daily reoccurring phenomenons and has a period length of about 22-25 hours. Hence, these rhythms allow organisms to anticipate/prepare for regular environmental changes, and help them best capitalizing on certain resources.
This period length is the time our inner clock operates on. As it’s not always exactly 24 (Research suggests its about 24 hours and 11 minutes ) hours, like my completely worn down Russian watch, from time to time it needs some cues and readjusting.
The most obvious cue is the tilted rotation of our earth, which causes the differing light situation commonly referred to as day and night.
Here are some features, of the human circadian rhythm.
As were not relying solely on the sunlight anymore to get our daily workload done, the cues for our circadian rhythm have changed. Artificial light, shift work, jetlag, and multiple other factors mess with our inner clock, and thereby also our energy level.
The french adventurer, and underground explorer Michel Siffre spent months underground in caves, with only artificial light and no other cues from the outside world on what time it actually was. His findings (backed by other scientists) were that without natural cues like the sunlight, our rhythm tends to shift to 48 hours, instead of 24 hours.
Also, studies found that if artificially alternating (21h, 24h, 27h) the periods of day and night rhythms of fruit flies, they didn’t live as long as their colleagues being kept in their natural 24 hour rhythms.
Some other studies I once stumbled across (but can’t retrieve right now) suggest that when shortening the periods, the amount of underwent rhythms until they organisms die stays the same, but due to shorter circles the organisms die considerably faster.
Unfortunately until now no study found a proof that by extending the period time, organisms might liver longer. Though my google fu could be weak, and I just didn’t find any. If you happen to be luckier (or more sophisticated) than me, please post a link in the comments section and enlighten us :).
Your best time of the day
Now it’s some time for some proper self-analysis. Got a pen and some paper ready? Great.
- When during the day do you feel the most energetic? At what time of the day are you the most concentrated, most pumped, most enthusiastic and ready to tackle the world? Personally, I’m a night owl, and terrible in the morning. You might even have multiple peaks. Keep in mind, that after lunch we often get tired because of all that food in our stomachs. There surely is a reason to siestas.
Hint : Don’t solely rely on your own judgement, ask around how people perceive your energy levels during the day. Though most of the day, people only care about themselves, they might not give you exact numbers (Alas, if you’ve got a dedicated stalker, now would be a good time to ask him for his observation data), but they probably can sense when you’re on a low. Especially when they’re your colleagues and you see them on a daily basis.
- Isolate 3 90 minute periods, for your most energetic moments. 90/60/90 might win you the looks of guys and some beauty contests, but in terms of productivity, 90/90/90 is the shit. In 1993 Anders Ericsson, a performance researcher, discovered that 90 minutes of concentrated work, followed by a break, give you the most bang for your buck. These 3 cycles also give you the freedom, to most often find some spare time where you can squeeze in your productiveness. 90 minutes may not sound like a lot, but in total that’s 270 minutes of pure energetic productivity. Or 4 and ½ hours if you wish. Let’s be honest, even though we’re paid to spend 8 hours a day in the office, I rarely know anyone who is capable of working 8 hours straight, while constantly being on a peek and productive, day in, day out. (Unless you’re a soccer mom binging on Ritalin…) Use these 90 minutes, to work on the most challenging tasks. Other less demanding tasks, like meaningless meetings, some quick research, or stuff that can be handled on the go shouldn’t clogg up your productivity zones.
Hint: Get a timer app. I personally prefer the impetus timer for android, as it’s free, and I also use it for workouts.
Hint 2: Don’t overdo it. 270 minutes really are enough. Use your breaks in a recreational way. Go for a walk, read a book, have a snack, or stalk that piece of gorgeous DNA facebook. You earned it! Though walking around or a short exercise might be the best, as it can enhance your memory, and even boost your creativity. For me, as I just finished writing the first draft of this article, I’ll have a nice foam bath :).
- When are you distracted the least? When you want to drive a nail into a wall, it’s more effective to use a hammer, than a flip flop. Holding the hammers handle at the lowest point, gives you the most force, i.e efficiency. When you want to really nail your tasks, your most productive (efficient and effective) times of the day should be distraction free (at best). As there are two types of interruptions, planned, and unplanned, this won’t always be the case. You can schedule your work around the planned interruptions (picking up the kids), but for the unplanned ones, it’s easiest to find times where there generally are very little distractions. (Late evenings, or early morning for example.)
Hint: When you’re living in a thin walled apartment, a “thriving community” as travels ads call constantly busy and noisy places, or just are easily distracted by sound, consider getting headphones , or turn on the Tv with a movie you already well know as a form of white noise generator. This also helps building a strong routine, as the headphones or the movie can act as a cue.
Hint 2: Turn off your phone already. Though I love chatting with my friends and hearing their stories (which tend to be awesome, but also super long), it just pulls me out of the zone and I again need some minutes to focus again.
Putting it all together
Listen to your body, he knows when you’re the most energetic.
Get enough sleep, there’s no sense on sleep depriving yourself to get more done, as you’ll just work slower and less concentrated. What’s true for muscles, also accounts for our brain. We don’t improve during the workout, it’s the resting period where our body recovers, our muscles grow, and our strength improves.
Don’t clogg your 90 minutes of productivity with a.ob. Focus, and take care of the important and demanding tasks.
Try to avoid distractions during your 90 minute schedules, but don’t throw a tantrum if something unforeseen happens. If you can’t change it, you might as well enjoy it.
Yes, there will be days where you still will feel like not doing anything. In order to build a good routine, you might want to force yourself to just 5 minutes of concentrated work (like I’m doing right now. Must resist urge to turn on phone and call Sam about the awesome book I just read). Again, it doesn’t have to be 5 minutes, or 500 words, it’s about training and conditioning yourself.
When should you start?
Well, when in doubt, the best time to start always is now!