Achieve More – Find your Natural Rhythm

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Find your focus

Find your rhythm

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.

Related posts:

  1. Find your Focus – The Power of Now
  2. Find your Focus in 2010 – Feel the Fear and Do it anyway
  3. Think Big and Achieve More – Slow Down to Speed Up
  4. Find your Focus in 2010 – Oprah’s 4 secrets of focus
  5. Six steps to Stress-free Productivity

Comments

  1. February 1, 2010 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Phil, Quite an interesting post! I definitely can see my energy pattern now that you mention it. I prefer to do most of my work in the late afternoon or evening. Conventional work hours never fit into my natural rhythms.

    giulietta
    .-= giulietta´s last blog ..Falling down the rabbit hole =-.

  2. February 1, 2010 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Phil,

    Thank you for this useful post. I know better, but so often I spend high energy time doing tasks that are not very important. Honestly, it never occured to me to schedule phone calls for these lower energy times (something I generally put off more than I should) and like this idea.

    Oddly, my high energy times seem to be early morning through mid-afternoon (and I’m not a morning person, per se) and then the second wind hits around 6 p.m. (which is a great time to do client strategic work and writing because the phones aren’t ringing). Now I really need to think about how I am spending my afternoons.

  3. February 1, 2010 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    Yes, that one cup of coffee first thing in the morning is a wonderfully blissful thing. Magic in a cup, isn’t it?

    My schedule completely changed after kids. I remember a time when 11am was waaaaaay too early for me and 2am was such a glorious time to be productive.

    Now, it is completely reversed. I am best in the morning now and have that lull mid afternoon pretty traditionally.

    It is good advice to track with this and know what to schedule for when. Thanks!

    BTW, how do you take your coffee in the morning? I like half and half with maple syrup or honey. :-)
    .-= Laura Sheman´s last blog ..If You Love to Write, Write! =-.

  4. February 2, 2010 at 1:17 am | Permalink

    I have just recently started to plan my day according to my patterns. For years I woke up between 4 and 5 am but stayed in bed becauese I thought it was to early to get up. I finally realized that my peak hours were from 5-6(after coffee). I always hit a low at 3pm so I take a cherished nap.
    .-= Julia Lindsey´s last blog ..How To Build a Website For Your Book =-.

  5. Phil
    February 2, 2010 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Laura -

    Thanks for your contribution. It is clear that you’ve adapted your patterns to fit with your life and that is excellent. Coffee is a pretty magic thing for doing that! I love a skinny no-foam latte (used to live in California for 5 years, so I also apologise for that). In the morning though it is cafetiere, strong with a dash of milk and sugar. Please keep reading and responding.

    Phil

  6. Phil
    February 2, 2010 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Nanette – Thanks so much for your post and reading LOL. It is so frustrating to me when I waste my high energy times doing things that are unproductive. I know that the afternoon black hole void will come up. However filling that void with calls and meetings has shifted this and now I can feel productive throughout my day. Keep experimenting to find a rhythm that works for you.

    Phil

  7. Phil
    February 2, 2010 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Giulietta – I’m not surprised at all – you certainly don’t worry about convention. It is so lovely to be able to live in tune with our bodies and use the natural energy we all have. Keep doing amazing things.

    Phil

  8. February 3, 2010 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Hi Phil, I really enjoyed your humor in this piece and the content is very insightful.

    It\’s interesting that you bring up coffee in this post. When I was a coffee drinker (from lattes to espressos), I often needed a sugar pick-me-up in the afternoon. Now, as a tea drinker, I find my energy level is less erratic and I don\’t crave sweets nearly as much. Which makes me wonder what would happen if I switched to water and got rid of caffeine for good…

  9. Phil
    February 3, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Belinda – scary stuff. Getting rid of caffeine for good? I admire you for kicking your java habit – I’ve certainly cut down from my days in the corporate world where I was a 3 latte a day guy. I have even started drinking Camomile tea in the afternoons and evenings to try and manage my energy levels. I’m reading Time, a User’s Guide by Joseph Klein at the moment and it reckons that our circadian rhythms are almost impossible to change. The key is understanding them and learning to live with them. I’ll take your lead though and experiment with cutting out the joe!

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