Over the last few weeks, I’ve been paying attention to how my energy levels change on a daily basis and how that impacts my productivity. As an experiment, I started mapping the various times of the day with my energy levels and work output. It’s been an enlightening experience.
I tend to be the most productive a couple of hours after waking up for about 4-5 hours. That’s when I pack most of my high-priority work tasks. Once that’s done, I exercise for an hour or so which makes for a great cognitive break. I hit a major slump after about 8 hours after waking up so that’s when I do the tasks that don’t need focus. I try not to work during the last 3 or 4 hours of the day and use that time to socialize, wind down, and read fiction. This works out well for me.
But I know that this isn’t the same for everyone. A good friend of mine is very productive as soon as she’s awake. Another friend works in the afternoon and packs in all his other stuff (such as exercise) first thing in the morning. Yet another friend loves working through the night. Your energy levels are uniquely your own and it will help to study them. Then you will have the data to go about aligning your tasks with your energy patterns.
Maintain a time vs energy and concentration log
On a sheet of paper (or on a word processor on your computer), break up your day by the hour and at the end of every hour, write down a) what you did during that hour, b) what your energy levels were like and c) what your focus was like. If you’d like, give each of these (energy and focus) a rating out of 5. But also write down notes. Ratings are good but an explanation will help you a lot more while analyzing the data. If you’re feeling extra enthusiastic, you can create a graph with time on the X-axis and Energy and Focus on the Y-axis.
Map activities onto various time blocks
Once you’ve understood your energy and focus patterns, map your daily activities to the various time blocks. Be sure to pack your top-priority items to the times you have the most energy and focus available. Also be sure to add hygiene activities such as exercise and downtime because they are what make the productive times productive. I cannot emphasize this enough.
Test run and course-correct
Once you’ve created your daily rhythm, test run it for a few days. You might find that the plan needs tweaking. You might need to swap activities. You might discover that your current sleep and wake up times aren’t optimal and have to change that. Whatever the case may be, understanding your energy patterns will be the starting point to better productivity.
Doing this has helped me a lot. For one, I don’t feel like I’m wading through molasses by trying to do intense work during the low-energy times. I now feel like I’m getting the most important work done when I’m in my best mental and energy state.
Try this out for yourself. I’d love to hear how your energy and focus change at different times of the day.