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Continuing our series on Finding Focus in 2010 – click here to subscribe and never miss another post.
I have sincere apology to make. This is for anyone who has ever come into contact with me in the morning before my first cup of coffee. You may know me as the “live life to the full” writer of Less Ordinary Living, however before 8.30am when the caffeine kicks in, I look and act like a bedraggled plane crash survivor who has spent 3 years surviving on berries in the jungle. If you’ve experienced this I am truly sorry.
The serious side of this it that we are all subject to natural body rhythms that control our energy levels each day. During our development we find our unique pattern that works with our metabolism, lifestyle and preferences. By adulthood, the Circadian Rhythms we have developed become deeply ingrained. Understanding and working with these rhythms can have a huge effect on our ability to focus and be effective every day.
I only recently became aware of my patterns. I find that I start the day with fairly low levels of energy and these slowly pick up during the morning. Typically by 9am I start to get into the zone and am in a good place to focus (after the coffee kicks in!). The energy levels pick up and continue rising until about 1.00pm. At this point, my energy drops off a cliff for most of the afternoon. However weirdly (but not uniquely) a second wind start to kick in late afternoon and I get another power surge that can last until 8 or 9pm. After that, things tail off to the end of the day.
So what is your daily pattern? Take a minute to draw a graph on a piece of paper and put time on the X axis (starting from when you wake up and ending when you hit the sack). You can then map energy levels on the Y axis. Think through a typical day and your relative levels of energy during the day and start to map this on the graph. Most people have varying levels of energy during a day and so you will probably get some kind of curve or wave. If you’re not sure, take a day or two to watch yourself and your energy levels throughout the day until the pattern emerges.
The key now is to use this information wisely by matching activities to energy levels. When you are putting together your daily plan, try to schedule your highest priority activities which require the most energy and concentration in your times of peak energy. It is much easier to focus and avoid distraction when we our energy is at its highest. Likewise, if you have an obvious lull during the day, this is a great time to either knock off some of the tedious, easy chores that need to be done, or to schedule in some personal care time (exercise, mediation, reading). Much better to use this time productively than to waste an hour looking up America’s Next Top Model on Wikipedia (not that I’ve ever done this, obviously).
Experiment with what works best for you each day. Because of my pattern, I have deliberately moved my lunchtime back to about 1.30pm to take full advantage of my first high energy peak. I’ve also found that scheduling meetings and phone calls for my traditionally “low energy” times forces me to concentrate and can make this formerly dead time much more productive. As you get more confident you can guide others to make sure that meetings happen at times that work best for you.
So apologies again to anyone who has met the Phil “pre-coffee” monster! For the rest of you, please do give this a try and leave a comment to let me know how this works out for you in becoming more focused.