Time Management Skills – Up Time/Down Time – Managing Your Energy Cycles

Human_EnergyAs we improve our time management skills and increase our productivity, usually we depend on time management tips, or a time management strategy or tool for help. But we really have one of the major time management tools built into our bodies. We all have natural energy cycles called our “Circadian Rhythm” (from the Latin; circa, around or approximately, and dies or diem, day – approximately a one day cycle) and learning how to work with it rather than against it helps improve productivity.

Our Personal Energy Cycles

We’re not machines. Our energy levels constantly go up and down throughout the day. Energy level at its highest? That’s the best time to schedule our most important tasks. Energy level at its lowest? That’s the best time for breaks or more routine tasks that don’t require as much mental or physical energy to accomplish.

Research shows that most people have “energy patterns.” The research reveals that during the morning hours, our minds are sharpest… leading to the natural lunch break to “replenish.” Early afternoon, with the fresh fuel for thought from lunch is good for analytical activities that use verbal skills and reasoning. After that, our minds starts slowing down again, but our bodies are at their peak.

What do we do with this? Schedule mentally demanding tasks earlier in the day. After lunch is time for problem solving and communications. Schedule mentally undemanding tasks or physical work (maybe this is the best time for your workout?) for later in the afternoon.

Mapping Our Own Energy Cycles

Though this pattern is common, we’re not all the same… each of us has our own unique body cycles. So step one is to discover how you work.

Your daily planner or a chart or journal is a good tool for this. For several weeks, pause several times throughout the day. Record how you feel. Just a quick note, but be consistent in your descriptions so you will be able to spot patterns later as you analyze your notes. The point is simply to identify your own key energy times. For instance, you might create your own rating system from 1 to 5. A five… you’re ready to climb a mountain. A one… you’re ready for a nap. Simple statements or phrases help you remember how it all fits together later.

One of the indicators is what you are actually doing. When, during your day, would you REALLY like a cup of coffee or a candy bar? That’s probably a low energy point – note that in your record.

Use Your “Energy Cycles” for Your Own Time Management

After a few weeks, information you’ve recorded in your time management planner will show the pattern of YOUR “Energy Cycle.” Merge this information with your planner as you make the time management schedule that works best for you. Demanding tasks belong in peak energy times. But for low energy times, routine tasks and breaks are best. These low energy times may also be good for reflection, daydreaming, even a quick catnap… I’m sure you have experienced the “flash” of inspiration to a problem that occurs as you just, “let your mind wander” for a few minutes.

Your energy cycle certainly should drive your schedule, but stay flexible. As the name Circadian Rhythm implies, it is approximately a day. Your high and low energy times may shift a bit as time goes on, so learn to identify these shifts and adjust your schedule accordingly. Once we discover our cycles, we can make well adapted time management schedules that needs only minor adjustments. But if our minds aren’t there, we need to change what we’re doing to make sure that our minds are sharpest when they are needed most.

A final note: Working a little bit of moderate exercise into our days generally increases our overall energy levels. Sometimes, even a brief pause for some stretching can help clear our minds, enhance our thought processes and make our, “high energy” times last a bit longer so we get more done each day… and then we can have more time outside of work.

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