Ep. 4 – Productivity: Why When Matters

Today we are digging in to productivity principles. And I’m going to start, once again, with a BLOT, a bottom line on top. And here are three things that we’re going to work through in this episode. 

First is figuring out why when matters when it comes to being productive. The second is identifying our own natural preferences. And the third is starting to think ahead to how to protect our peak time in the future. 

In this episode, we’re going to talk about why when matters. Specifically, we’re looking at chronobiology. This is a field of study around biological rhythms. Think of it as your body’s natural timekeeping. I like to think of it as the factory settings for when I would be most inclined to eat, sleep, exercise, and produce. 

It’s usually about that third-day-of-vacation feeling, where you start thinking about, hey, this is my hard wiring. This is how I would most prefer to do things. When we know more about Chronobiology, we can then plan our day around peak performance for productivity, wherever that’s possible for us. 

In order to really dig into Chronobiology, it helps to first know what is our chronotype. That’s a very specific term, but it’s really more about when are you naturally inclined to do different things during the course of the day. The next part I’m going to talk about with chronotypes comes from the fantastic book by Daniel Pink called When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. In this book, he explores all sorts of elements of time. On this specific topic, though, I’m going to share a lot around the chronotypes, and how they affect the stages of timing in a productive day. So this goes back to why does when matter. 

The concept is around understanding your natural inclination, as I’ve already said, for different activities and how that can change over the course of your day. The book walks through how we move through three specific different stages in a day. And knowing your chronotype is the start. A lot of framing in this space is usually centered on whether somebody considers themselves to be an early bird, a mid-morning person, or a night owl. Now those are all colloquial terms. But really, it just means are you more inclined to be up and going earlier in the day, or are you more focused and active later in the day. 

We’ll walk through a little bit of each of those. And then be thinking through what that means for you and how you experience it. And some of the social overlay of how we’ve been conditioned to adapt to our days. 

But for a lot of us, up to 80% of people, are typically in the morning category, either really early birds or people who are more mid-morning. That means that they are more productive typically in the first part of the day. Daniel Pink really takes it down to saying, for those morning-oriented people, you’re going to hit your most productive time about three hours after you wake up. 

Now, I’m going to pause right here and say in our digital age when we wake up can mean a lot of things. For some people, especially when we’re talking about fewer things better, it’s not just activating the brain, it’s really that mind-body connection. So if you’re the type of person who wakes up, maybe it’s because your phone went off next to you as your alarm, and you grab that same device and you start activating your brain by opening up emails and apps and text messages before you even getting out of bed, before your feet have even hit the floor, you are actually altering the course of your chronobiology. 

One of the best things that you can do if you’re looking to boost your productivity is to physically get out of bed when you wake up. Don’t worry, you can take your device and go sit in a nearby chair. But your body needs to know that you’ve woken up before your brain does. So physically getting out of bed is super important. And this also applies late at night, too. For those of you who say I went to bed at this time, but really there’s a lot of technology in between when you got into the bed and you actually fell asleep, that’s important, too, for altering those biorhythms. 

But coming back to the stages of the day, if you are morning inclined, and we will definitely talk about you night owls, don’t you worry. If you’re morning inclined, you’re going to feel more productive about three hours after you wake up. So think about if that clicks in with you. This stage is known as your peak, that’s when you’re going to likely be in your best mood, you’re going to have the most amount of energy, you’re probably going to be a lot more focused, you can concentrate and get maybe tackle larger things or take on multiple tasks.

Well, you’re also gonna see, if you’re in the morning group, the next stage that you’re gonna move to is about seven hours after you woke up. This is called your trough— TROUGH. It’s where you’re going to see a major drop in your mood and your performance. 

For me, and I’m definitely an early bird, that’s usually going to be my trough after lunch. You’re going to find me being most productive before lunch and hitting that trough afterwards. 

A few hours after the trough comes what the recovery. That’s where you get a rise in your mood, not necessarily as high as when you were in your peak but you’re definitely more creative, you’re more likely to be social, collaborative, maybe you can go back and finish something you started earlier in the day. You’re probably good at editing, reviewing work from other people, whatever that means to you, you’re gonna find that more in your late afternoon or into early evening. That is your recovery. That’s usually the cycle of your day. 

Now, for the night owls. You’re going to go through those same stages, you’re just going to go through them in a different order or at different times. Typically, because of academia and professional settings, people who are natural night owls have been conditioned to be more early oriented, because that’s when schools would start or when jobs would start if you weren’t in control of your shifts. 

That doesn’t mean that night owls can’t be productive within their roles or within their schooling. It just means they have different preferences for it. So typically, they might be waking up and coming into the stage of their trough. That’s within their first few hours of waking. Now, they can show up for those early morning meetings or shifts or classes. But they may not be at their maximum peak performance. They’re likely then going to move into their recovery. And that’s where you’re going to see them cross over with a lot of those early birds. They’re going to be able to be collaborative, do some brainstorming. Again, they may not be their full peak – that’s going to come later in the day – but they are going to be able to pull up and focus. They’re not going to be as inclined to be interrupted or the rest of it. 

A very interesting thing that these studies have shown is that night owls tend to be able to extend their focus longer than early birds. And it’s because they’ve been more cognitively ambidextrous. They almost had to be. They’ve been showing up and living in this early bird world for so long that they have those skill sets to do it. 

And it’s important to note that the studies of chronobiology aren’t proposing that any one type is better than the other. It is purely reflecting on our different wiring and understanding that not only our own timing matters, but also how we interact with people around us. Doing that helps to unlock not just our personal and professional relationships, but our own outputs and have larger harmony within the flow of our lives.

When you’re looking at it from a professional or even an academic standpoint, it’s important to understand regardless of your preference and the time of day, most humans have about a two-hour capacity—a cognitive capacity for when they can withstand back-to-back meetings, classes, conversations. After that, our brains and our bodies need time to reboot. Even with the most focused energy, after two hours we are going to be depleted cognitively. 

We’ll talk more about rebooting in future episodes around productivity. There’s many, many topics on this. But for right now, what’s important here is understanding your own wiring and preferences. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t adaptive to the environment around you. It just means that once you’re really dialed in to what you’re able to do, then you’ll be able to do it faster. You can accelerate and amplify the components of your life. 

For me, because I’ve been a morning person, I used to think well, then I’m going to frontload my schedule with meetings and classes and activities. That way I’ll have the whole afternoon to be open and produce. But what I learned through the study of this work was to switch that around and to protect my peak so I can be productive and creative and move things along, faster. And I’ve absolutely learned how to move administrative tasks or repetitive things to that area where I’m in my trough. And then the recovery allows me to finish or begin something more collaborative. 

So that’s a lot of information, once again. But it’s also important to note that time isn’t always in our control. But a lot can be. 

Once we understand this foundation of how we are wired, then it is up to us to bring forward the conversations and self-advocacy, whenever possible, and see, hey, can any adjustments be made here? Maybe not every day, but more often than not?

Also it’s important to learn about this in terms of how it interacts with other people in our lives. To help understand is there a reason why my child struggles doing homework during this time? When is the right time to approach my partner about this topic? 

And what are the elements, especially if we’re doing professional settings and collaborative work, to understand and considering globalization, neurodiversity, and the other elements there. How can we give consideration and courtesy and get back collaboration and output? 

Finally on this topic, a few things I want to leave you with, just start considering and taking note of where things seem easier for you during the day and where they don’t. That’s important information because, again, not all days are alike. But you might start to see that sense of the rhythm. 

And wherever possible, protect your peak. Really be looking after your calendar to get that sense of where are you able to amplify what you’re doing. It’s less important that hours on the clock sync up as your ability to be focused during those hours. So be mindful about where you can refresh yourself as you move through the stages. 

Being thoughtful of, especially when you’re in your trough, a little hydration, a little movement and see how you can come out of that trough or go through it a little more smoothly. Take note of your preferences, your obstacles, and your environment. This helps set the foundation for you to amplify your actions and ultimately find you’re able to do fewer things better and faster. 

That’s the goal. Thanks for joining me.

Until next time, take good care.

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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.