Estimated Reading Time:3 minutes, 11s.
Podcast Length22 minutes, 25s.
Our energy-per-hour isn’t consistent, and because of this, neither is our focus nor productivity. Luckily, though, there are a few ways to calculate exactly when you have the most energy throughout the day, so you can work around how much energy you have; doing more productive and meaningful things when you have the most energy, and less important things when your energy naturally dips. (My cohost Ardyn and I dig deep into this idea in this week’s episode of Becoming Better—the link to play the episode and subscribe to the podcast is at the bottom of this post!)
There are three main ways to calculate when your energy peaks. Here are the best methods, inspired largely by Dan Pink’s fantastic book, When, on how to time your life:
- Easy enough, and pretty accurate. Think about a free day—the weekend, or a weekday when you don’t have much to do that day or the next. Ask: when do you usually go to sleep on these days? When do you wake up? Finally, what’s the midpoint of those two times? (E.g. I go to sleep at 11 p.m. and wake up at 7 a.m., so my midpoint is 3 a.m.) Find where your midpoint lies on the chart below.1
- Easy, but less accurate. Ask yourself what time you wake up on weekends (or free days). If it’s the same as weekdays, you’re likely an early riser. If it’s a little later, you’re probably somewhere in the middle. If it’s much later, especially if it’s 90 minutes or more, you’re probably a night owl.
- Difficult, but most accurate. Chart your energy levels. I recommend collecting data every hour, for two or three weeks, so you can find a general pattern. If you really want to get an accurate reading, I suggest cutting caffeine/alcohol/sugar during this time. Here’s an article I wrote a while back on how to calculate your “biological prime time” using this method.
Once you find out when your energy peaks, there are a bunch of ways to work around these hours. You can:
- Block off that time in your calendar. I like to block off 10 a.m.-noon in my calendar most days (this is when my energy peaks). When you block off your peak energy time in your calendar, people will just assume you have meetings or other important commitments during that time, and are unlikely to ask for your time then.
- Take advantage of energy dips by doing creative work. You’re more creative when you have the least energy, because your brain is less inhibited, and doesn’t hold back on the ideas it generates. Take advantage of this by working on creative tasks when you have less energy.
- Work out, take a break, and clear your mind when your energy dips. This way you can further build up how much energy you have in your focus hours.
- Mind the prime times of people around you. If you have people that you meet with often—or live with!—pay attention to when they have the most and least energy. If you work with a bunch of morning birds, you may make your team a good deal more productive by scheduling big meetings and projects for the morning, and not deferring important work to later in the day.
- Mind your constraints. It’s great to know when your energy peaks, but you should also work around the constraints of your life. If you have lots of energy midmorning, but yet you find that you’re the most productive in the early morning before your spouse and kids wake up, then it’s likely worth doing your most productive activities then.
If you’re looking to work around your energy levels, the three strategies above, as well as Dan’s book, When, will come in handy—they certainly have for me. As Dan puts it: “I used to believe in ignoring the waves of the day. Now I believe in surfing them.”
Source for this chart: Dan’s book. He repurposed it from world-renowned chronobiologist Till Roenneberg‘s research. I’ve lightly modified the chart to fit this article. ↩