When we’re working towards creating something extraordinary with our lives, we need to make good use of our high-energy moments whenever we have them. For some people this is easy — they have naturally high levels of energy the majority of the time. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone.
Just as we all have different levels of energy to work with, we all have unique energy patterns too. There are a number of things that can affect these levels and patterns, including our hormones, sleep, nutrition, and activity levels.
Since most of those factors can be adjusted by our behaviors, it’s possible for us to tweak our habits so that our energy levels and patterns are positively affected. It doesn’t mean overhauling your whole life, though. Often, simply observing your energy patterns will be enough to help you manage your highs and lows throughout the work day.
Observing Energy Patterns
The way we fuel our bodies has an immense impact on the patterns of our energy levels. You probably have a good idea of the minimum number of sleep hours you can get by on in a single day. But do you know what your optimum sleep pattern should look like?
Leading scientists have argued for decades that 7-9 hours of sleep per night are optimal for the average adult. However, there’s recently been some speculation on this. Sleep scientists have gone as far as telling us what hours are ideal for bedtime and have focused heavily on our actual sleep patterns, called circadian rhythms.
Circadian rhythms — the pattern of sleep behaviors and cues that take place in a single 24-hour span — can be affected by things such as your hormones, light exposure, and other external factors. When your circadian rhythms get out of sync, your sleep cycles and hormones get thrown off too.
Fortunately, it’s possible to retrain yourself to have a more “natural” or beneficial circadian rhythm. You can make an effort to block out all light when you’re sleeping, limit the amount of blue light you see as the evening gets later by installing special color blockers on your electronic devices (or just avoiding screens), and adapt your bedtime and waking time, to name a few things. However, studies have also recently shown that there’s only so much you can do to change yourself from a habitual night owl to a morning person. The best solution is to try a few things for a week or two at a time and see what works for you.
Think about the types of food you generally eat. Do you know what kinds of things give you the most energy (without a subsequent crash)? How often do you exercise? What’s your energy level like when you cut physical activity out of your daily routine? To get a true snapshot of how your energy levels ebb and flow, all of these questions need solid answers.
Start paying close attention to the way you feel at certain points throughout the day and how any alterations in your sleep, exercise, and eating habits affect you. As you do this, you’ll likely find yourself experiencing similar energy patterns on a daily basis. Perhaps you feel energetic in the mornings and begin to see your energy levels drop off toward the afternoon. Alternatively, you might feel energized and ready to get things done after dinner.
With some simple personal observation, you’ll get a good understanding of how your body feels during any given part of the day. Additionally, you’ll start to get an idea of how your energy levels are affected by your environment and other external factors. By observing these things over a longer period of time, you’ll also begin to see long-term cycles that add even more value to your day-to-day observations.
All of the information gathered during your time of observation will allow you to structure your day – and even your month – around your anticipated energy levels. By planning in this way, you’ll be able to leverage these patterns to become much more productive.
As you tune into your body’s energy levels, there will be times of the day that you find yourself thinking very clearly. These periods generally go hand-in-hand with a moderate amount of energy, meaning you’ll likely find yourself feeling energized enough to think clearly, but not so energetic you can’t concentrate.
During high-clarity periods, it’s best to plan on doing things that require more brain power. This might mean you are working on strategic projects or it could be your time for planning how to tackle your most important work.
For example, you might be completely clear-headed for the first hour of the morning before everyone piles in for the day. Use that time to do your high-level thinking, to get your mind set on what most needs to happen today, this week and this month towards your goals. Maybe you’re more clear after lunch, when the flurry of activity for the day has died down — whatever time of day you’re most clear and focused, don’t let it go to waste.
In addition to the times of moderate energy and clear thinking, we often find pockets of time when your energy levels are very high. These times will be our most productive periods and should be used for the most important work for the day. By doing your crucial work during your energetic periods, you can ensure the work is done well and on time, without feeling like you must use every ounce of energy to get through it.
It’s important to note that energetic periods, just like every other period we’ve mentioned, may happen at any time of day. Cycles of high energy do not necessarily fall into the traditional 9–5 work schedule. This means you may need to adjust your routine in order to take full advantage of your energy patterns.
Some of us experience restless periods throughout the day when we just want to move. During these times, it can be difficult to get work done, as we’re fidgety and distractible.
Instead of attempting to work during restless periods, consider using this time to get in your daily exercise. Not only will this make good use of the restless energy, but it will also increase your overall energy levels by getting your blood pumping and releasing uplifting chemicals into the brain.
If you must work during restless periods, consider doing tasks that require less focus. First, take a quick walk or stretch your body to calm yourself a little, then clear your emails, prepare your Bunker space or return phone calls you’ve been putting off.
Low Energy Periods
Finally, we must address low-energy periods. These are the times that tend to stand out most – when your brain feels foggy and you probably want nothing more than to hang out on the couch or even go to bed.
Work done during low-energy periods will probably not measure up to the level as work done during high-energy periods. During these times, it’s best to stick to less important tasks or simply allow your body to rest and wait until your energy levels are higher.
Creating a work schedule based on your energy patterns can make a world of difference in the quality of work you produce. Additionally, this type of highly-specified schedule has the ability to make your work more enjoyable by ensuring you are in the mood to focus when you need to be.
Need a way to get your colleagues on board with the idea of planning your day around your energy levels? Try The ONE Thing’s Wellness Challenge — a 66-Day Challenge to build up healthy habits in your team without putting too much pressure on people.