Time is more than sand slowly sifting through the hourglass of life.
In fact, according to Daniel Pink, there’s a perfect time for all the tasks in your life. From quitting your job, to asking for a raise, to going to the doctor (go in the morning!) to answering emails. Every task and every event has a time and a place that works best for your unique biological and psychological clock. I’m sure you’re wondering, when is the best time for you?
First things first, what bird are you?
In his book, When, Daniel Pink describes how each of us moves through our day in stages. We have a peak, a trough and a recovery stage. Depending on what bird category you’re in—Lark, Owl or Third Bird, you will move through those stages at different times during the day. Here's a breakdown of each:
- Lark – You get your energy during the early hours of the morning. Your peak is earlier than most.
- Owl – Your peak is later in the day. You tend to get your energy in the late afternoon or early evening.
- Third Bird – You are somewhere in the middle.
Top of the peak
So, what does it mean to “peak”? During our peak stage, we are at our most alert. For larks, this happens in the morning, for owls in the evening. During our peak productivity stage, we should focus on the tasks that take the most brain power and focus. It’s when we are our most vigilant and able to ignore distractions. The peak stage is when you do your heads-down, challenging work.
Headed down to the trough
There’s almost no need to describe the trough; we’ve all been there! It’s the time of day when you tend to stare off into space, and you have to reread the same sentence five times to get the meaning—basically, when focusing on one thing seems really hard. The trough, which for most happens in the afternoons unless you’re an owl, is when you lose the focused energy of the peak. This is a great time to do all your administrative work. These tasks include answering emails, filling out expense reports—anything that doesn’t take a lot of focused concentration.
The recovery phase, which again for most of us happens in the late afternoon or early evening, is perfect for brainstorming. During recovery we aren’t as vigilant as the peak phase, so we have the ability to think beyond the box and brainstorm new and exciting ideas. It’s also a great time to put your thinking cap on. Many of us are so busy with day-to-day tasks, we forget that sometimes you need to give yourself permission to slow down and think about a problem instead of simply going through the motions. You may surprise yourself with the new ideas you come up with.
The sad truth: we’re not scheduling our days properly
Think about your day. What do you usually do first when you sit down at your desk? Let me guess, answer and read emails. As mapped out above, this should be a task for the trough phase. Answering emails in your peak is wasted energy. Plus, doing administrative work first thing tends to suck even more of our productive energy away and might even lengthen our trough phase. Leaving major projects for the afternoon is a big mistake. Take these examples, for instance:
Research shows that students who were randomly assigned to take tests in the afternoon scored significantly lower than those randomly assigned to take them in the morning. Additionally, researchers at Duke University analyzed 90,000 surgeries and found that harmful anesthesia errors are three times more likely for procedures that begin at 3 pm than at 8 am. And researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that nurses and doctors in hospitals are less likely to wash their hands in the afternoons.
Now spread the word
During AE everyone is firing on all cylinders and the to-lists are seemingly endless. Taking control of your day and scheduling your work based on your personal peaks and troughs will help your productivity and overall mood. And this isn’t just for you. Ask your team members, “What bird are you?” and take their answer into consideration when scheduling meetings or problem-solving sessions. Hint: if you have an owl on your team, don’t schedule an intense strategy meeting early in the day. You’re not going to get their full attention or participation.
We’re not machines! It’s natural to have a lull in your concentration. These timing tips are a great way to take advantage of your peaks and troughs in order to maximize productivity and accomplish so much during this busy time of year.
We understand you’re taking care of a lot, but also remember to take care of yourself. Check out our video below with some great tips to stay healthy during AE.
We know it's that time of year. Take some of the stress out by reading our guide below for proven and impactful benefits communication techniques.