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The Circadian Rhythms of Productivity

If I arrive at the office at nine, my battleship is already sunk. Why? Because everybody gets to the office at nine. And they start sending emails and making phone calls and all of a sudden, the time I thought I had for the things on my to-do list is gone.

If you take a look at your list, I’m sure you’ll say, “everything on here is important.” But if you really look, chances are there’s one thing that has the potential to cause more impact than anything else on that list. And chances are it’s the hardest thing to do on that list. Because it has that big potential, it’s going to require the most thinking, the most effort, the most courage. So, if you’re going to get it done, and get it done well, you’re going to need a block of uninterrupted time where you are clear-headed and full of energy. And the most probable candidates for that are early morning and late night.

Late night is risky though. Staying up late makes it tough to wake up on time the next day. Your schedule becomes unpredictable. You might have a fantastically productive night but work so long that the next day gets thrown off. And that has a domino effect. Before you know it, you’ve been running at 50% for a full week.

If you start early in the morning however, it’s more difficult to work too long. It’s much easier to maintain a regular schedule. And the key to long term success is consistency. On my best days, I wake up at 6:30, start working at 7 and ignore my email until 9:30 or 10:00.

One more thing, Five Hour Energy. You’ve seen the commercials where they talk about the proverbial “2:30 crash.” If you’re a factory worker, you might legitimately need physical energy at 2:30 in the afternoon to get through your shift. But if you think for a living, chances are what you need is to get out of the office. You can stand on an assembly line and work effectively for eight straight hours. You can’t sit at a laptop and think effectively for eight straight hours.

And this is where getting up early becomes an even bigger bonus. If I work from 7AM until 3PM, I’ve already put in an eight hour day. At that point I can leave the office, do something to get recharged, and then work another hour or two before dinner. Not only are those last two hours more effective because I’m fresh, I’m also a lot less likely to be interrupted later in the day.

I still have some days that start at 9AM (and some that don’t end until the wee hours of the morning) but learning to work with the circadian rhythms of productivity and prioritize the most impactful project has made a big difference for me. Here’s to your continued success.

Matthew Wyne
Creative Director