Your energy level during the day
I often see how people start off their day at the office with a coffee, some gossip, and a look through the news on various portals, and afterwards reply to the various e-mails that they received since the evening before. But many of them are completely unaware of the fact that by doing so they have already used up one half of the best quality time available to them in the day.
Shortly after, they prepare themselves for activities that require sizable energy levels and real concentration, and so, when they encounter substantial resistance and difficulty, they get frustrated or start to think that something is wrong with them. The problem, however, does not concern how we should force ourselves to work, but rather how we ought to arrange our tasks so that they are suited to the varying levels of energy that we experience over the day.
In order to get a better understanding of the issue, try drawing a chart plotting your daily energy level – mark the hours from midnight to midnight on the horizontal axis, and a scale of 0 to 100% on the vertical. When you sleep, your energy level is equal to 0. It starts to rise once you get up, soon attains a maximum, and thereafter – right until the evening – it fluctuates considerably. Correct? When do you have your natural energy ups and downs? How long do they last?
Let me show you my own chart, one that I have scrutinized hundreds of times during training courses; needless to say, it is characteristic of office workers:
Your energy level changes strongly
Once you plot the chart, you’ll begin to understand that the level of your vitality tends to vary significantly during the day and that your “power peak” – which occurs only once daily – usually lasts for some 3 hours.
Obviously, exactly how our energy level develops is impacted by a great many factors – it will be slightly different between individuals, while even one and the same person will observe differences from day to day depending on mood, season, or quantity of sleep, to name but a few determinants. One fact, however, is of prime importance – if we want to use our time wisely, we have to become sensitive to changes in energy levels.
I know people whose “power peak” occurs between 8:00 and 11:00, but there are those who take a longer time to get going, reaching their peak energy level at around 23:00, just when the former are getting ready to bed or already fast asleep! Neither group is “better”, however any attempt by those from one to apply the methods of the other will be doomed to failure from the start. Thus, it would be completely natural for the first group to study techniques that enable the effective and efficient utilization of the early hours or help fight off distractions, while members of the latter (to the horror of the former!) familiarize themselves with methods of getting out of bed before 10:00!
What does an energy mismatch lead to?
When people attain their “power peak” and start to tackle less demanding jobs, such as sifting through the mail or reading simple articles, but later have problems with completing more difficult tasks, they very often think that they have a problem with motivation. They try to motivate themselves by force, by plunging into their activities. But their bodies stage a physical protest.
Clearly, it is sometimes very important to get going with this or that task irrespective of one’s energy level, or indeed a lack of motivation, but such violence should not occur too frequently, for in the longer perspective there is a real risk of burnout. I frequently see how enormous a difference can be brought about in what people call their level of motivation solely by the improved utilization of their brief energy peaks.
For it is not important when you have energy ups and downs – what counts is that you are aware of when they occur and how long, more or less, they last.
Protecting your “power peaks”
First and foremost, therefore, you must determine the approximate hours when your energy peak occurs, and then strive to protect it no matter what. For the majority of office workers, these could be the hours between 9:00 and 12:00, while others may experience their “ups” a few hours earlier or later.
Usually, we attain the zenith of our capabilities only once daily, and commonly for no more than 3 hours. It would, therefore, be idiocy to waste our best energy on rubbish!
So how do you protect your “power peak”?
- Plan activities in advance, so that at the set time you’ll simply get to work, without undue deliberation or agonizing over whether to do this or that. Setting priorities should prove very helpful!
- All urgent matters, the very existence of which could distract us or make us incapable of effective action, should be taken care of first.
- Switch off all the applications and other stimuli that could sidetrack your attention, or at least reduce their number to the bare minimum. You can put internet communicators into the “do not disturb” mode, and turn off synchronization and internet access in your telephone – or you can switch your phone off or simply put it out of sight. Finally, you can use techniques similar to the Pomodoro.
- Or talk to your coworkers or household members and arrange some simple and clear rules to help protect this precious period of time.
Use your “power downs” wisely
Obviously, our goal is not just to make productive use of merely three hours in the whole day! The majority of people have one or two serious energy downs daily, and these can be managed just as efficiently. For office workers, the first such energy crisis usually occurs during lunchtime – at around 12:00-13:00 – and lasts 1-2 hours. Some people experience their second “power outage” between 16:00 and 18:00.
Many attempt to “make it through” this period, but in reality it’s an excellent occasion to perform tasks that do take up some time but at the same time do not require a considerable level of energy – good examples would be tidying up your e-mails, ordering files on your hard disk drive, completing forms and documents required in line with company procedures, settling business trips, or holding certain meetings.
When planning your day it is worth marking tasks that require above-average and moderate energy levels in a legible way, so that you can perform them during your energy ups and energy downs respectively.
Your energy level and working in a team
After a discussion concerning energy levels and the matching up of tasks I frequently hear that the concept sounds very romantic, but unfortunately it cannot be applied in the office environment, where various needs and perspectives collide. People consider that you cannot egotistically cut yourself off from the whole team just because you have attained the peak of your capabilities in a given day.
When, however, I meet with whole teams and we proceed to a discussion of these issues, it turns out that practically everyone is wrestling with the same problems. And all that is really required is to sit down together, call things by their names, and jointly agree on sensible rules of procedure.
A few rules that I have seen in action in various groups: (maybe some will prove an inspiration!)
- We do not touch upon topics such as politics or religion before lunch.
- The time between 10:30 and 12:00 is sacrosanct – we avoid being noisy and getting in each other’s way unless it is absolutely necessary. All discussions concerning projects and so forth are to be held at a distance from others.
- At 10:30 we stick a card on our door requesting everyone to come around later, and then shut it and keep it firmly closed until 11:30.
- Once a day, and for exactly one hour, everyone can place a special flag on their desk, which acts as a symbol informing that “this is my super-productive time, please do not disturb – unless there’s a fire raging”.
- All teleconferences held before lunch are to be organized as far away from others as possible, in order not to disturb. We use the teleconference hall or sit down in an acoustically friendly spot.
- And, finally, if we have a meeting between 10:30 and 12:00, this means that it requires an extraordinarily high energy input from those participating.
During the day our vitality fluctuates up and down. An awareness of this fact will help us to plan more effectively, and at the same time avoid burnout and motivational crises. Some people are amazed at how much more they can attain if they just rearrange tasks so that they are optimally suited to their varying energy levels.
Within the team, achieving such a match-up requires a somewhat different approach, usually based on an honest and open conversation and the acceptance of a few rules. Those who make the effort invariably notice an enormous change for the good.
I wholeheartedly recommend that you take a look at how your energy level develops through the day, and also discuss the issue – together with the potential consequences – with your team members.