Productivity and Circadian Rhythms

Productivity and Circadian RhythmsIn the last article we talked about how important productivity is in the time management arena. The fact is, the more productively you use your time, the more you can get done — or the less time you’ll need to spend at it.

Just the other day I had an important job to get done. One of my wife’s clients needed some important paperwork prepared and I was there to help her get it all organized.

It was mostly rote work, just reading through files and entering information into some spreadsheets (my wife does all the important stuff — it is her business after all). I arrived about 9:30 after a 2 1/2 hour drive. I got right into it and was on a roll for about 2 hours.

Then I started to get a bit slower. I took a quick break and ate my lunch. But I was not getting things done as quickly. And I made a few mistakes that I had to go back and correct.

But we had to get as much done as we could, so I kept on. About 3 in the afternoon I started to feel the energy rise. I was back on the roll I’d been on through the morning. I was doing things more quickly and less likely to make a mistake. I kept on it until it was time to leave at 6, but I could have gone on.

Even though I was there from 9:30 to 6, the amount of work I was able to do was greater for 5 of the 8.5 hours I worked.

And I knew that this would be the case. And it all has to do with sleep research.

The Background — Sleep Research?

Lately I’ve been learning a lot about sleep. It is a fascinating subject and the research that has been done in the past 1/2 century is phenomenal.

So, big deal. Bill’s been learning about sleep. What does that have to do with the price of tea in china? Or productivity for that matter?

Well, one of the concepts that I’ve learned about is circadian rhythms and it has a direct impact on your productivity.

Daily Rhythms

The term circadian is a Latin word that means “about a day.” It is used to describe the natural rhythms that occur in the bodies animals (and possibly plants). Typically, it is used in relation to sleepiness and alertness, but other biological rhythms follow a circadian cycle.

In our bodies there are 2 balancing tendencies — one towards sleep, the other towards alertness. There are many processes that provide pressure one way or the other.

The circadian rhythm is an alerting tendency that occurs naturally in your body. It will provide a varying amount of alertness during the day. It provides the least amount of alerting force during the night time — this allows you to sleep.

The most is during the late afternoon into the evening hours. This is to help keep you awake while the sleep debt (one of the opposing forces) is building.

Not surprisingly, there is another peak in the morning when it is time to wake up. But many people are surprised to find that there is another low point in the early afternoon.

You have probably experienced this and attributed it to the effects of digesting your lunch. But think about it, do you get tired after breakfast? What about after supper? Not unless we’re talking about Thanksgiving dinner 8=)

So digestion isn’t the cause of the afternoon drop. It is your circadian rhythm.

Productivity and Your Circadian Rhythm

Well, now that you have way more information that you wanted but probably not as much as you need, what does this have to do with productivity?

Simple. It has to do with your scheduling sweet spots.

Every day your body will be building an increasing sleep debt. Your circadian rhythm will cycle through to counter that sleep debt. You will have 2 periods every day where you are able to work at your peak — one in the morning and the other in the evening.

These peak times will be your times of highest mental, physical and emotional performance. No matter what you are doing, these times will be the ones that you can do it best.

Find the Rhythm

Not everyone’s rhythm is the same, so the morning peak for you may be from 6 to 9. Maybe it could be 9 to 12. Usually, your evening peak will be 10 to 12 hours later.

I’m not going to tell you what your peak times are. That’s your job.

Take the time to assess your alertness at least once an hour for the next week. Estimate it on a scale of 1 to 10. Keep a diary of what you find. At the end of the week you’ll see that there are definite peaks in your day.

With this knowledge, you can now schedule things that you need to do so that you can have your peak mental alertness when it can help you the most. Use these hours to work on your money makers or multipliers or whatever else is most important to you.

Be careful to resist allowing the mundane tasks to encroach on this precious time.

Now that you know how circadian rhythms can affect your productivity, how are you going to rearrange your schedule?


Bill (LoneWolf) Nickerson

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