Everyone has their own unique rhythm – early bird or night owl. Try to use this simple worksheet to to track your energy levels through the day. You might know this already, or try tracking for a few days and see what pattern comes out. Then schedule your brain work to your energy peaks.
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Know the Post-Lunch Dip?
I remember the all-day management committee meetings in hot, window-less, low ceiling rooms with people presenting at a video screen at the other end of the room. The post lunch dip coincided with the fifth dry presentation for the day. Sitting there with drooping eyelids, stifling yawns and unable to concentrate. My colleague told me his secret to looking alert during these meeting. He’d push his fingernails hard into the palms of his hand so the pain would keep him awake. That sounds like self-inflicted torture, only slightly worse than the torture of the meeting. But what if we could schedule our work to work when we are the most energetic and productive. We’d get more done.
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We are not Machines
Unlike a computer, people cannot work continuously processing information. We have body clocks that set a rhythm through the day when we are more alert than others. Most people have an attention span of about 20 minutes. We will be more productive if we focus for 20-25 minutes and then take a break. Within the cycle of the day there are times when we are more productive and creative. Exploit these peak times to do “real work”, the creative thinking, project planning and deep thinking.
Find your productivity peaks
Everyone has their own unique rhythm – early bird or night owl. Watch this video and then use this worksheet to track your energy levels through the day. You might know this well already, or if not, try tracking for a few days and look for a pattern.
Schedule your brain work to your energy peaks
I hear the skeptics saying but my day is full of meetings, calls, emails – I can’t schedule my time when I’m more productive. However, a change of even an hour can make a difference. I am an early bird and would get into the office, bright and early at 7.00am-7.30am and then…open up my email and waste my time answering emails. Nothing usually that super urgent. Then it was into meetings, calls, a few breaks here and there. Usually by the time there was another clear hour to get into some “real work” it would be 5pm to 6pm. After ten or eleven hours already working it was hard for me to get much productive brain work done then.
So I switched and kept that first hour and a half free from emails and quick to do’s. I’d come into the office and get straight into one of my projects. Ok I admit I’d always scan the emails to see if there was something urgent or not. And it was hard to be so disciplined, not to look at the email and start answering, then they answer back and then twenty minutes of my productive time is gone. But when I did achieve it, I felt good because I’d made some progress on some of the impactful projects. The feeling of achievement would give me an energy boost for a few hours, or until the next energy killing meeting.
So try to identify your productive peak. Schedule your creative thinking and important project work to be done at this time. This doesn’t have to be a big change, just a small adjustment of an hour or two.
And as for those after lunch meetings when you can’t stay awake – tell your colleagues that you have an injury that means you have keep moving, stand up and pace at the back of the room….it’s hard to fall asleep standing.