Below is an article that I have recently written for the Modern Business Life website (http://www.modernbusinesslife.com/), and I thought I might share it here as well. The essential purpose of the article is extend on David Allen's insights and discuss how one can work smarter by knowing their own circadian rhythm. If you would like to view the whole article and/or comment, you can do so at http://modernbusinesslife.com/?p=131 . Enjoy, I would love to hear your feedback.
James is a sales representative for a medium sized consulting firm, and his daily responsibilities include preparing presentations, following up with clients to seek feedback and gauge satisfaction levels, and scheduling sales meetings to try to convert prospects to active clients. Recently, the amount of prospects has heavily increased due to the rising need for consultants in the field in which his consulting firm operates. While too many potential clients should be a good problem to have, James is finding that he is quickly becoming overwhelmed with the work he must to do prepare and present his sales pitch, and at the same time continue effective customer relationship management. Every morning James comes into work, sees the pile of work in front of him, and begins to take small chucks. However, like a foot print in the sand on a high tide beach, it seems that any space he has made for himself is quickly re-filled by the next morning when he arrives at work. Short of hiring on another worker to help with these daily responsibilities, what is James to do in order to avoid a certain total meltdown, burnout, or short circuit. One might suggest that James simply needs to work harder. However, the answer is in working smarter... not harder.
One way to be more effective and efficient at your work is to make sure that you are not only working, but working on the right things at the right times. Biochemical, physiological, and behavioral studies have shown us that the body operates in cycles. This rhythm has come to be known as the "circadian rhythm" (circadian literally translated from Latin for "around the day"). These cycles can be queued by external stimuli such as sunlight, or darkness... but when these factors are removed, the human body still adheres to it's own rhythm of just over 24 hours. During this rhythm, processes like body temperature, brain wave activity, and hormone production surge up and down as your body adjusts. So then, it stands to reason that you will be far more productive during times when your brain wave activity and energy levels are higher, as opposed to the hours when it dips. Much of finding your own circadian rhythm has to do with paying attention to what your body is telling you. David Allen discusses this subject in his book entitled, "Getting Things Done". In this book, he states that his energy levels are the highest around 2am, and this is when he does his best work. Knowing his rhythm helps him to produce a better result by planning his tasks according to his circadian rhythm.
I would extend Mr. Allen's point however, to suggest that outside of your "around the day" rhythm, each person also has an "around work" rhythm, which I have coined as your "circalabor" rhythm. This rhythm is based on a regular 8-10 hour work day, and I believe that while the rhythm may be differently for everyone, it applies equally to everyone. Think about it... on mornings when you come in earlier, do you find that you get more done and are more motivated that the mornings you come in late? Perhaps you find that in the 1-2 hours after lunch, your mind begins to wander and you start to surf the internet or become generally less productive. Maybe in the late afternoon, your motivation level is low as you are anticipating going home, and your productivity begin to slouch. These are all indicators of your own circalabor rhythm, and the key to working smarter is aligning your daily tasks with this cycle.
For example, perhaps James finds that the hours of 1:00 - 3:00pm are his most productive hours, when his energy level is raised and he is highly motivated. He should work to schedule his sales presentations to important prospects during this time, as to deliver the highest quality presentation that he is capable of. However, perhaps during the hours of 8:00 - 10:00 am he is slow to get started and needs some time to ramp up. This would not be a good time to schedule his big presentations to clients if he can avoid it. However, this 2 hour slot of lower performance does not need to be a waste. In this time, he can work on the more routine tasks such as checking his email, preparing power points for presentations, etc. These items require less engagement, but nonetheless still must be done.
The key to working smarter then, is to align the things that you must do at work with your own circalabor rhythm. What a waste it would be working on the low mental engagement items during a time when your mind and body are working at full efficiency and productivity. This would leave the truly important tasks for times when you are not physiologically prepare to deliver the best results. It is in doing these sorts of tasks at the wrong time that causes burnout, underperformance and frustration to occur. Referring back to our original example... while working smarter in this way is not a "cure all" for James' excessive task list, it will ensure that he is working to the full efficiency of his ability at any given time on tasks requiring no more than what his physiological state can support at that time. This will help James to work smarter, and eventually conquer his "Everest" of awaiting actions.