Don’t Set a Clock Be a Clock
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
During the 24 hours we are allotted daily, each of us is more productive at certain times than others. To set ourselves up for peak productivity, we must observe then harness the highs of personal energy rhythms.
Enhancing productivity is about managing energy not time. I didn’t get that until I left the corporate world and started writing full time. Through experimenting, I discovered what happens when I let my energy, not the clock, dictate when and how long I produce.
I learned that I could work deeply for about 90-minutes before my body organically signaled to me that I was ready for a break. Only after personal experimentation did I discover that my 90-minute energy cycle is not unique to me. It represents a pattern among humans. It turns out that our energy functions according to what psychophysiologist Peretz Lavie called “ultradian rhythms,” or natural cycles that take place during the day.
Ultradian rhythms feel like this: energized for an hour or two, then the mind wanders. Drowsiness and lack of focus creep in. The peak productive phase of the ultradian interval occurs every 90-120 minutes; the 30-minute low-energy stretch follows; and then another peak performance cycle.
When you are working on a project and have difficulty holding onto ideas, or words stop making sense, likely 90 minutes have passed. You are at the low energy stage of your ultradian cycle. You don’t need a clock to tell you that; you are the clock.
We all have a sense of our energy levels throughout the day – when we feel productive, alert, tired, excited or groggy. Our bodies send clear signals when we need a break: fidgeting, hunger, lethargy and distraction. Often, we attempt to power through the slump with caffeine, sugar, energy drinks, or dogged determination, sending our body’s stress hormones — adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol – into overdrive.
Flogging ourselves to work during periods of low energy courts poor performance and burnout. Sustainable productivity requires that we acknowledge our body’s natural rhythms and align them with our periods of work and relaxation.
“As every great athlete understands, the highest performance occurs when we balance work and effort with rest and renewal,” writes Tom Gibson in an online blogpost, We Are Not Linear Processes, for medium.com.
“The human body is hard-wired to pulse, and requires renewal at regular intervals not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally. If you understand these patterns of organic human labor and work with them, not around or against them, you can do better work. Our understanding of work has been determined by our machines. Steady, linear output is much easier to account for, and we’ve made that the baseline for how we think about work. However, this has nearly zero relevance when we came to understand the workings and outputs of organic, living processes. We need to start thinking of productivity and output in cyclical, rather than linear terms.”
Through experimentation, you, not the clock, become the authority on your energy rhythms and how best they support your ventures.
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While we often imagine ourselves as machines –
which move linearly – we’re actually organisms,
which move cyclically. And to do our most
creative productive work, we need to step to that rhythm.
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Tap Your Rhythmic Strengths