Are you a morning person or a night person? Do you have a lull in energy in the afternoon? Do you find that you get more done before lunch than after?
Whether you realize it or not, you have times of the day that are more or less productive. These differ from person to person, but everyone has them. These are your natural energy rhythms and it’s important to discover them so that you can use them to your advantage and increase your productivity.
Some people wake up early and in the first few hours of the day get more done than most people do the rest of the day. Others spend the day puttering around, seemingly wasting the day away, and then come alive when the sun goes down.
In order to increase your productivity, you need to work with your natural rhythms. Without realizing it, you may be working against them. For many of us, the regular 9 to 5 schedule is not suitable. By trying to work these regular hours, you may be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
What if you have to work 9-5? In that case, you can still use your rhythms to their advantage by identifying the right times of the day for the right kinds of tasks.
How to Discover Your Rhythms
First of all, you may already have some idea of when you work best. If the above questions I asked triggered an immediate answer, you’re already on your way. You may already know that you work best at night or in the mornings.
If you don’t, it’s easy to discover your natural rhythms. You can do this by monitoring your feelings and energy level throughout the day. This is a simple experiment and the results may surprise you. You may discover things you never knew about your energy patterns.
Get a notebook or a day timer. Decide on a regular time throughout the day to “check in.” You should have at least one check-in for each part of the day (morning, noon, afternoon, evening, night, etc.) but the more often you check-in the better.
For each check-in, jot down a quick note on how you’re feeling or how your work is going. You could create a system such as a number from one to five. Five means you’re blazing right along and getting things done; one means you’d be better off taking a nap. By making your check-ins quick and easy, you can check-in more often during the day, which makes your results more accurate.
It’s a good idea to set a timer for your check-ins so that it’s not something more to worry about.
If you continue doing this check-in consistently for a week or two, you’ll start to see patterns emerge. You’ll begin to understand which times of day are your best and which are your worst.
Rearrange Your Schedule
If you’re in control of your schedule, there’s another experiment you can try which is more complex, but also a bit more interesting. Each week, arrange your schedule differently. The first week, perform certain tasks in the morning, other tasks in the afternoon, other tasks in the evening, and so on. Or you can pick random times to work on different tasks. Then, the next week, switch it up. Continue switching it up and eventually you’ll discover what works best for you and will easily increase your productivity.
This experiment is more involved than the previous one, but it can yield some truly interesting results. It allows you to actually experience different work patterns firsthand.
Whichever experiment you choose, take the data and create a schedule from it. Create a routine for each part of the day. It’s good to have a daily routine because your mind and body get used to doing the same things at the same times. You create an expected behavior and this makes it easier to stay focused. Of course, you should always be flexible and change it up from time to time if you feel your focus flagging.
It can be difficult to plan every single task that you perform each day. For this reason, it may be useful to create task categories. These are categories such as:
- Critical thinking tasks
- Mundane tasks that don’t require a great deal of focus
- Tasks that require creativity
- Physical tasks
- Social tasks where you have to communicate with others
You can plug each task into one of the above categories. For example, social media, email and meetings might go into the social category. Trying to come up with product ideas or writing content would be creative tasks. Critical thinking tasks include a great deal of problem solving.
This way, you can decide on a schedule that looks something like this:
- Early Morning: Critical thinking tasks
- Late Morning: Communications
- Afternoon: Routine tasks
- Evening: Creative tasks
An easier method is to simply identify the focus level you need for each task. You can create your own rating system or just identify those that require a great deal of focus. You can then identify your level of focus for each part of the day and then schedule your tasks accordingly.
Taking the time to discover your natural energy rhythms can do more than increase your productivity, it can also help you to enjoy your downtime more.
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Till next time
Mike Gardner is The Time Doctor