Time Management – Making the Most of Our Ups and Downs

When we’re working on improving our time management and increasing our productivity, we’re usually looking for some tip, strategy or tool from outside to help us. Actually, what we may need is to focus on something that comes from inside. We all have natural energy cycles and learning how to work with them rather than against them is a great way to improve productivity.

An Introduction to Our Energy Cycles

Time Management Up_and_Down_GraphWe’re not machines. Our energy levels ebb and flow throughout the day. If we know when they’re at their highest, we can schedule our most important tasks for that time of day. If we know when they’re low, we can use that time for breaks or more mundane tasks that don’t require much mental or physical energy to accomplish.

Research in biochemistry has found that there are certain energy patterns that most people have. They’ve found that from the hours of about nine in the morning to noon, our mind is the sharpest. The early afternoon until about three is the best time for analytical activities that use reasoning and verbal skills. From three to six, the mind becomes sluggish but the body is at its peak.

What does this mean for us? We might try scheduling tasks that require the most focus in the morning hours. Spend the early afternoon communicating with people or solving problems. Save mentally undemanding tasks or physical work for later in the afternoon.

Discovering Our Own Energy Cycles

The research mentioned above found that this pattern is common; however, it’s not the same for everyone. We all have our own unique way of working. The first step in maximizing our energy levels is to discover how we work.

A good way to do this is a chart or a journal. Stop working at certain times throughout the day and write down how you’re feeling. It can be as simple as bullet points. Don’t worry too much about wording. The point is simply to identify our own energy cycles. Or maybe try this: create a rating system of one to five. Five means we’re ready to climb a mountain and one means we’re half asleep. Add some simple statements describing how we feel, and pretty soon we’ll have a good picture of our own energy/work cycles.

Another way to uncover these cycles is to look at our behavior. For example, if there are times in the day when you feel like reaching for a cup of coffee or a chocolate bar, you can be fairly certain that this is when your energy is at a low point.

Time Management – Using Our Energy Cycle Data

Use the data we’ve collected about our energy levels as you make up your daily work schedule. Put the most demanding tasks in highest-energy time slots. And when energy is low, schedule easier tasks or take breaks. These also might be good times to reflect or just relax and daydream.

Though we want to follow our up and down times pretty closely, we also need to stay flexible. Learn to recognize when we’re moving into another cycle and shift tasks accordingly. Most people find that their bodies are like clockwork, and they can make good schedules that need little variation. Still, don’t try to push it when the focus isn’t there.

One great way to increase our energy cycles is to work a little bit of moderate exercise into the schedule. Just a few minutes of daily exercise (I use my Nordic Track) can make a big difference in boosting energy cycles and shortening those low energy spells.


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