On one of our recent walks to the movie theater, I recall my older brother talking about his struggles with sleep cycles. For as long as I can remember, my brother’s sleep cycle has always been changing and really weird.
You see, he works late at night when everyone is asleep. Or at least he has a tendency of doing that.
For a lot of people it may be considered odd, but as we were talking about sleep cycles, one thing my brother said stood out.
“Maybe this is the best time for me to work.”
Indeed it’s weird and goes against our traditional means of working hours, but for my brother, it’s quite clear he is most productive late in the night.
This is drastically different than myself where I can easily adapt it but prefer being the early riser and working early in the morning.
This all underlies one particular thing and that is the sweet hour of productivity. It’s a particular time (or hour) where we are at our peak performance and can get a lot of shit done.
It’s an interesting philosophy of productivity, but finding it is even more troublesome as each person works differently.
Going back to my brother and I, we both have utterly different work cycles and yet we are both productive individuals despite that.
So how exactly can we find that sweet spot for ourselves?
And even when we find it, how can we leverage it?
Below is a method you can consider to accurately track and identify your peak hours. Furthermore this tracking system can help in discovering habits that help you and others that slow you down.
The Ultradian Rhythm
The first aspect of the tracking system takes up something that is called the Ultradian Rhythm.
The ultradian rhythm is basically a series of peaks and valleys where we work best and need rest. The periods of heightened productivity vary from person to person but they fall between 90 to 120 minutes over the 24 hour cycle we all have.
Anyway during those peak cycles, at the beginning we are highly energized and motivated. As we get closer to the end of that cycle, our focus and energy is drained and we need a period of recovery.
With this particular theory in mind, it actually doesn’t make sense to work longer hours. As many have reported, working 50 hour work weeks actually decreases your overall output.
Instead what is smarter is to identify your peak times and work on particular things during that time. During your peak times you want to focus on tasks that require more thinking power and are complex in nature.
During non-peak times you want to switch gears and work only on things that are more relaxing and aren’t as demanding.
If this sounds familiar it honestly should be. Another technique that this follows is called the Pomodoro technique.
The idea behind the Pomodoro technique is to work and take breaks at 20 minute periods throughout the day.
Even though this method is a highly productive method, I don’t believe it’s as accurate as this one.
Of course the ultradian rhythm isn’t for every one, however this works as a solid foundation for what will be coming up next.
At this stage though, this method can work for people who are just entering the self-employed sphere. Also with companies taking a more relaxed stance to hours, knowing when you work best is smart.
The big question is finding these peaks and where exactly do they fall in for the time being.
Discovering Peak Hours & Days
Of course, you can spend a lot of time guessing and following your gut feeling to determine the best time to do work. However, there are people who have put together systems that can help us track our productivity hour by hour.
Chris Bailey took a year off of his work and spent all of that time tracking three things tied to his productivity: motivation, energy, and focus.
As far as getting accurate numbers you do have to guess those numbers from hour to hour.
Even though these numbers are pure guesswork, you are tracking something measurable. Furthermore you don’t need to get strung up about the numbers as well. Work with how you are feeling overall during those hours.
The idea behind the tracking is that you want to be tracking for a few weeks. Once you do that, you will notice trends with regards to your work life. You’ll notice what hours you are highly motivated but also days as well.
In theory, the more that you record, the more that graph will adjust and accurately pinpoint the best hours and the best days for you to do your work.
On days or hours you work best, you want the heavier lifting work. Again the things that require more brain power.
On the days or hours you are lower, give yourself a break and do simpler tasks.
Another Approach: Journalling
Another approach you can consider as well to ensure better accuracy is to journal your day. Because journalling will prompt us to look over our day we can accurately write down how we are feeling about the day as well as the work that we did that day.
The journalling overall doesn’t need to be incredibly detailed, a quick blurb is really all that you need. The chart I provided above has a note section at the end.
The idea behind the journalling is spotting outliers within your work. Both positive as well as negative ones.
For example, when I’m in a highly writing mood, I often take time out of the house and work at a café. I have myself some chai tea and I write several articles in a span of four or five hours non-stop. These days are so important to me that I take at least one day per week to having a day like that.
At the end of the day, you want to be leveraging the outliers and the hours where you feel particularly motivated. By taking this time for self discovery you can uncover what sort of activities you can do to boost productivity.
Whether it’s a day where you need to get out of the office or practicing a ritual, you can figure out when is the best time to do those things.
For more effective self discovery, take time to ask questions. Some questions that come to mind are:
“What sort of rituals help me be more motivated, energized, or focused?”
“What activities do I currently participate in that drain my energy?”
By answering these, you can remove those things that don’t serve you and double down on the things that do.
Don’t Stress Over The Dips
At the end of the day, you want to be smoothing out your productive space and making the most out of the times where you are most focused.
In the end you will be leveraging those peaks while smoothing out those valleys.
That being said, there will be times in those productive hours where you won’t feel as motivated or energized or focused.
The idea is to not get stressed out over those particular areas. At the end of the day we are all still human.
There are times where our body will tell us “hey I need a break” and will force you to power down.
At least for a little.
It’s during those times where you can switch gears and focus on something more relaxing.
Either way, don’t stress over them.
I have only recently stumbled on this myself and I’m curious to try this out. I’d also encourage others to try it out and see where it takes them as well.
Even though there is a lot of guesswork that goes into it, at the very least you can discover what exactly is draining your energy and what is energizing you.
To your growth!
Eric S Burdon