You begin your day. You are fired up to hit a homerun on your “to do” list. Then somewhere along the way, you’re distracted, or you slow down, or your energy level drops. Day draws to a close and you’re far from satisfied with your output.
Disappointment and a sense of inadequacy creep in. What just happened? You’d love to cut out more time for family, friends, and recreation. Will there ever be enough hours in a day?
Sadly, the answer is no, and yes. If you’re wondering if you can add more hours to your day, sorry buddy but it’s just not possible. Is there a way to do more work in less time without sacrificing quality? Yes!
Remember that moment when you were in “the zone” and you finished that presentation in no time? How about that huge problem that was pulverised after a quick brainstorming meeting? If super amazing CEO’s and top level managers can have superstar achievements without losing their wit-you most certainly can too. And you have done it several times already, you just need to learn to become more aware of your body’s rhythms and make working in “the zone” a habit.
Work Around Your Peak and
Observe which hours of the day you are at your best—focused, alert, and excited. Is it in the morning, at noon, or at night? Or does it happen in waves? According to a scientific study, our body follows an ultradian rhythm where our alertness level goes up and down following 90-minute intervals.
Maximise your high points and optimise your low points! Schedule your day to include work suitable for different energy levels.
Apply a bit of strategy here: Are there heavy duty tasks that need you at your very best? Planning and brainstorming require a lot of focus and juice. On the other hand, clerical and automatic tasks are less draining. Use your best hours for mental athletics and have a few less brainy tasks ready for your low points.
Ever noticed how an hour of mental work could drain you? But usually, after a 10-minute break, you are energised and ready for another round. But if you keep working, your attention dwindles and what normally takes you 5 minutes to figure out now takes you 15 minutes to digest. You are at your valley, my friend. Perhaps if you slow down for a few minutes, you’ll be at your peak again.
Depending on your body rhythm, your day’s energy level and challenges for the day or week, the breaks you need may vary. But the key is, whether you will be slowing down for 5 or 60 minutes, you should not feel guilty about it. Much like a rubber band being stretched backward, your mini breaks can work to fire you up for your next task.
Don’t Just Flow, Explode
Contrary to how easy the word “flow” sounds, riding your peak moment does not mean taking it easy. Do take it easy when you are resting but make the most of your peak state by giving it everything you’ve got. Studies about Flow Science were originally about athletic performance and isn’t sports anything but taking it easy? To maximise peak state, don’t just flow through it, explode! Did you know that top-tier violinists practice in 90-minute bursts for only half a day? No, they don’t sweat it until their fingers bleed. But during each of 90 minutes, they focus hard and practice hard. Being busy the whole day is not equivalent to being productive. Learn to explode during your peak hours and this makes all the difference.
Know Your Top 3
By now it’s obvious that productivity is not like clock work; rather, it is like riding waves. Therefore, flexibility is key. Flexibility is not doing what you feel like doing whenever you feel like doing it. It means attacking a week or a day prepared with your top one, two, or three priorities. With these top non negotiables, you can make the rest flexible.
Discipline Yourself to Rest
Research proves that fifteen minutes of rest or power nap can result to more output than thirty minutes of pushing yourself when you are physically and mentally drained. Rest need not always be sleep. It can be as simple as getting up to stretch for a few minutes. Talking with people may require energy but it can also pump you up after hours of paper work. If you’re the type who needs variation, consider alternating computer work with relational work, or other activities that relieve you of stress. But when you can hardly keep your eyes open, it might be time for a legit break.
Some of us find it difficult to focus almost all the time and some of us find our energy level easily drained if not mostly on the low. Often, this is because our physical energy level is depleted due to lack of rest, sleep and proper diet. Our physical state affects our emotional state, which in turn affects our mental alertness. Great physical health is correlated to optimal mental states. The best athletes and violinists get enough sleep. Highly productive professionals should too!
Not all of us however, have the freedom to be super flexible given our kind of occupation. But these are principles that can be applied creatively at varying degrees. Why not test these principles and share the results with your boss before proposing the viability of a flexible work schedule? A lot of companies now allow work-from-home arrangements. Management may be hesitant at first but when the result proves profitable, who knows the bosses might consider.
If you are a freelancer or entrepreneur, you have more flexibility in your hands. All it takes now is some discipline on your end. If you have people working with you, involve them in this project so you can share with them any success derived from it.
Achieving a balance across critical areas of our life-finances, family, relationships, and health-makes us truly wealthy. But one cannot be left out for another. Health is wealth, they say, but so is family! And we need finances to support our loved ones. Many of us feel that 24 hours a day is not enough to be successful in ALL these areas. But that is a lie! I know it because I was once on that work-but-no-rest treadmill that put my health and relationships at risk. But I did not stay there. I learned how to put a premium on my time and health, and learned to maximise my energy so I can increase my financial productivity as well as have time for family.
Without a doubt, people who work with their body’s rhythm perform better than those who go against it. If you do this, you can “add” hours to your day without losing sleep and sanity. By recognising how your body and brain functions, you can maximise to your peak, medium and low points, as well as recognise that it’s time to take a break when you hit bottom.