A lot has been written about personal daily cycles – such as biorhythms (which has its skeptics), circadian rhythms, and ultradian rhythms. No matter where you stand on how much is science and how much is schlock – we’ve all experienced different levels of energy and sharp-mindedness throughout the day. Personally I don’t care if it’s a body clock, psychological, or the cycles of the moon and stars – I know at certain times during my workday I’m better at certain tasks. By tracking and knowing what those cycles are, you can greatly increase your productivity – among other things.
Where Am I Now?
There are lots of tools, techniques, and programs for tracking your daily cycles, but I found most to be overly complex. My goal is to simply capture at what times of the day I tend to be more creative, alert, tired, etc. The easiest way I found, is to use a timer, and every hour write down where I am on a scale from one to ten in 3 areas – energy level, creative level, and yap level. Doing this for a week shows some definite patterns, and I began to structure my day accordingly.
Everyone has high energy and low energy cycles throughout the day. They may be associated with sleep patterns or eating patterns, but knowing when you have more energy is extremely beneficial. Set a timer (I’ve used AlfaClock on Windows and Khrono on Linux) and for each interval hour, write down or mark off where your energy level is – 1 to 10. Are you a morning person – ready to go first thing? Or do you really start to pick up steam after lunch? Keeping track of where your energy level is, lets you better plan things like meetings, writing, project work, and naps (if you’re lucky).
Finding your peak creativity level is a great way to find the best time for things like writing and design. Creative blocks can often be a symptom of working at a time when your creativity level is low. Using the same method as tracking energy level, begin to track when you feel most creative, and when you don’t. This may be a little more difficult to determine than energy level, but over the course of a few days, you’ll begin to see patterns develop.
One area that’s not usually associated with cycles is what I call my yap level – when I feel like talking and when I don’t. When I discuss this with folks, many have one of those ah-ha moments, and realize they too have varying yap levels during the day. I try to schedule calls, meetings, and podcasts during those times when my yap level is up. I find that it’s less strain on my voice. It may be totally psychological, but honestly I don’t care. It works for me, and for those I’ve recommended it to. It may come as no surprise that my high yap levels coincide with high energy levels, and vice versa. My low energy times also become my quiet time, and I use it for processing email, feeds, and other less intensive tasks.
If you are lucky enough to be self employed, or at least self directed, you can use your daily cycles to your advantage. Scheduling work and other tasks around times when you can best accomplish them makes for a more productive day. But even if you have less control of your own schedule, just knowing your cycles can at least help you better mange the time you do have.
Tony D. Clark writes, draws cartoons, designs software and websites, and spends a lot of time talking others into working from home, being creative, and doing what they love. His blog Success from the Nest focuses on helping parents who want to do meaningful work from home and have more time for their families. His weekly podcast The Creative Venture is designed to bridge the gap between creativity and practical business knowledge, helping creative people earn an income from their gifts.