Last Updated Jun 2, 2011 1:53 PM EDT
Back in the factory, you were stuck. Clock in, do what you were told, and clock out. As we have shifted off of the farms and out of the factories, much of our work has shifted away from physical labor toward mental labor. If your job is physical or repetitive, it doesn't matter when or where you do it, but if your success depends on cognition, creativity, or concentration, you need to take full advantage of both when and where you do your work.
You can have all of the time in the world, but if you don't have energy, you'll be listless and unproductive. Having sufficient physical and mental energy is crucial if you want to achieve professional and personal success.
Time-Shifting I define time-shifting as engaging in activities at optimum times based on recurring and predictable daily energy cycles. Why do surfers pay so much attention to the daily changes in the tides? They are trying to find the optimum time to catch the best waves. Guess what? Within your body there are also "waves" that shift throughout day.
Chronobiology is the science of how our biology is influenced by daily time cycles, or rhythms. An important time cycle in this field is the circadian rhythm, defined by Monash University as "the normal sleep-wake cycle that allows the cyclical release of hormones and restoration of energy, and allows optimal body functions during the day."
At certain times you may have much more mental energy, and at other times, more physical energy. By studying your circadian rhythm, you can determine and then predict your peak energy times. Unlike ocean tides, your peak energy waves occur at the same time each day.
How can you take advantage of your body's natural daily cycles? Review the graphic below. Research shows that for the majority of us, there are specific times in the day that are more optimum for certain activities than others.
(Biological clock image by YassineMrabet, Creative Commons 3.0 license)
9am - noon This is the best time to perform analytical skills because we are our sharpest mentally. This is probably not the best time for exercise since both blood pressure and the blood's clotting ability increase, which cause a decrease in blood flow to the brain and heart. This is the most likely time for strokes and heart attacks.
Noon - 2pm Verbal reasoning ability and ability to maintain mental alertness peaks.
3pm - 6pm This is when we are the most sluggish mentally. Drowsiness, daydreams, and lapses in concentration increase. This is a great time for physical exercise because we have the fastest reaction time, high body temperature, and the greatest muscle strength and cardio efficiency.
How can you use this information? Think surfing. Time-shift your activities to take advantage of your natural circadian rhythm. If you have any control over your schedule, you should schedule mental activities in the morning. That is, do your daily mental heavy lifting first thing in the AM -- write that report, brainstorm new projects, analyze the latest financial projections. Never schedule non-critical meetings or appointments before noon.
View your calendar through your circadian rhythm lens to determine the optimum work-time schedule for you. Schedule your teeth cleaning appointment for 5pm, not 9am. Block out two hours in the morning to write that speech, not after lunch. Exercise in the afternoon, not immediately after waking up.
Whatever you do, just don't schedule an important meeting at 8:30am...
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