When it comes to being more productive, a lot of us focus on our energy levels. If only we weren’t so tired at the end of the day, we might be able to accomplish a little more with our evenings! This puts us on the right track, it’s certainly more useful than focusing on time – which most of us have more than enough of (otherwise, how did you find time to watch that boxset of Lost?).
But where this is going wrong is in its focus on creating more energy. As it happens, this isn’t that easy to do – which is probably why you haven’t done it already. Sure, changes in diet, a new training program and perhaps some lifestyle alterations can all have positive effects on your energy levels – but it’s hardly going to be transformative. You might come home feeling really rather beat instead of completely beat but you’ll still struggle to write the next great novel, or to work out for five hours straight…
So what can you do instead? The answer may be to shift focus and to instead look at making the most of the energy you already have. And that all comes down to the way you time your activities.
Working With Your Rhythms
Our body operates on a series of rhythms and cycles and this applies to everything from our appetite, to our moods, to our energy levels. There will be points in the day when you feel more energetic than others, there will be times during the week and there will be times during the year where you have more or less energy.
The trick to maximizing your productivity then, often comes down to simply scheduling more tasks for when you have energy and for actually letting yourself relax when you know you’re not going to get the best from yourself.
So many people fail to do this and that’s often what leads to them wasting evenings and just not getting all that much done. Perhaps this sounds familiar. How many times have you tried to force yourself to be productive during the evening before bed, only to waste that time watching YouTube and really not being all that productive at all? Then, the next day when you would normally have plenty of energy, you just feel too beat and exhausted to do anything useful!
If only you had allowed yourself to relax and decompress, perhaps gotten an early night, you would then feel refreshed and full of energy the next day, increasing the chances that you would have a productive day.
Examples of Picking and Choosing Your Timings
Everyone is different and what works for you might well be different from what works for someone else. Nevertheless, there are many commonalities when it comes to our natural rhythms and thus there are some strategies that are likely to work for you no matter how or when you work best.
The two times during the day when we usually have the least energy are at 4am in the morning and 4pm during the afternoon. At these points, our core body temperatures drop and we often find ourselves feeling lethargic. Unfortunately, at this point during the working day, you normally still have one hour left of work to be productive.
If you have any measure of flexi-time then, it might be conducive to your productivity to shift your entire day forward one hour, so that you arrive in work at 8am and go home at 4pm. Not only will you beat the worst of the rush hour this way but you’ll also get to pack up and go home just as your body starts shutting up shop.
If this isn’t an option, then you can try using this last hour of the day to do quieter tasks and to go about readying yourself for the next day. This will likely mean organizing your to-do list, clearing your desk or just finishing off any open projects. Don’t start anything new at this point and avoid scheduling important meetings or deadlines.
The first hour of your day is also often likely to be a right off. Many of us experience some degree of ‘sleep inertia’ which is the grogginess you experience when you first wake up, before you have had a chance to shake off the sleepy dust.
While you won’t be able to get the most out of your brain at this point though, you’ll also find that you don’t struggle too much with distraction. This is what some people refer to as ‘zombie hour’ and it’s the perfect time to complete monotonous or brainless tasks.
How do you define a brainless task? A good rule of thumb is that anything you can do equally well with the TV on, might be defined as ‘brainless’. This means packing envelopes of course, answering certain e-mails, editing images, entering data etc. This is a great way to warm your brain up and to get yourself into gear for the more demanding tasks.
Productivity Before Dinner
If you want to make more of your evenings, then a good tip is to avoid scheduling anything for after dinner. Of course we tend to be less energetic after we have eaten as our body is digesting our food and if you eat on the couch then this will have twice as much of an effect.
So whether you want to work out, to tidy the house, or to catch up on your correspondence, make sure you do it before you’ve eaten. This way you won’t find yourself collapsed on the couch and putting off doing it while you fight sleep.
Productive Times of the Week
On a larger scale, many of us will find that we’re more or less productive depending on the time of the week. Many of us struggle with Mondays, which often hit us hard after a long weekend. Likewise though, Fridays often carry the collective lethargy of a whole week’s worth of work. Wednesdays can also feel a little tiresome as they’re smack bang in the middle of the week. If you agree with those statements, then the best evenings to try and do more productive and energy-intensive activities after work would be Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Tuesdays you’re getting in the groove and you still have energy left, while on Thursdays you’re on the home stretch but not quite done.
Going With the Flow
More importantly though, you need to start listening to the cues from your own body and taking them seriously. Your body will let you know when it’s time to rest and when it’s time to be productive and the key is being adaptable to listen.
If you find yourself getting fired up and enthusiastic for something, then capitalize on that feeling and do it right away. At the same time, if you find yourself procrastinating and avoiding work then take a break. And when you do take breaks, make sure that you embrace them fully instead of feeling guilty or ‘half working’. Every break should be seen to be an investment in your future energy levels.
And finally, try keeping note of when you perform your best and when you struggle the most. Look at the different factors that trigger then and try to force your schedule to work around your rhythms instead of forcing your body to struggle through someone else’s timetable.