Knowing Your Body Clock

Over the last few days, I’ve started reading Dan Pink’s new book, “When”.  Pink has written numerous quality books including, “To Sell is Human”, “Drive” and the wildly underrated “Free Agent Nation” which was a decade ahead of its time.

In “When”, Pink investigates the science behind timing which is something I’ve become acutely interested in over the last couple of months.

Here’s the thing, most of us “feel” that we get better work done at certain times of the day – we consider ourselves “night owls” or “early birds” depending on what you think your preference is.

You’ll note that I said, “you think your preference is” – I didn’t make a conclusive statement.

One thing is pretty much agreed by all chronobiologists, people have a definite rhythm to how they perform during the day.  This is often referred to as a circadian rhythm or your natural flow.

Interestingly, as I learned in this book, there’s an area of your hypothalamus called the “suprachiasmatic nucleus” which is about the size of a grain of rice that controls this rhythm in humans.  Fascinatingly enough, that rhythm is about 24 hours and 11 minutes long which is just more than a day and we use social cues to re-adjust our natural body clocks and compensate for the difference.

That’s all awesome, but who cares.

Well, these chronobiologists also found that there isn’t one pattern, but two:

  1. Peak, Trough, Recovery
  2. Recovery, Trough, Peak

“Larks” or morning people are those who make the most rational and clearest decisions during the early part of the day before lunch, have a lull in the afternoon and then after dinner, they have a short burst of productive mental time.

“Owls” or night people have a tendency to have that short burst of productivity in the morning, the afternoon lull and then after dinner, they have their most productive thinking time where they think most rationally and creatively.

The split between “Larks” and “Owls” is about 75/25 – for every three Larks, there’s an Owl, a similar breakdown to left-handedness.

Like most things of the biophysical nature, what we think and what we know are often two different things.

There are a number of tests you can take to work out where you fall on the spectrum based on your behaviour rather than pure intuition.  This is something I’m exploring myself right now because I used to think I know, now I’m not so sure.

Why is this important?

Well, if you know when you’re going to be at your critical thinking best or your most creative due to your physiology, then that gives you the ability to plan your work around it.

For example, I’m writing this email at 3:45pm – this is smack bang in the middle of my trough – that’s probably the best time to write these emails.

With respect, I don’t need to be at my creative best or most deeply profound when I create these emails – I just need to be able to string some thoughts together and weave it into a story.  In fact, having done this for nearly two straight years every day, writing these is almost like muscle memory now.

Again, that’s perfect stuff for the trough.The other two ends of the spectrum are more challenging.

If I can establish when I’m really my most productive for the longest stretch, then I could plan my important creative and critical thinking projects for that time of day and use my recovery period for things that require me to think, but maybe not for as long of a stretch of time.

I started waking up really early prior to Christmas and getting in a couple hours of work from 5am through 8am.  At the time, the quality of the work “felt” great, but I know that many of my best ideas and longest stretches of productive work “seem” to happen at night.

See those words I’m using?  Feel… Seem…

That’s because I’m not entirely sure.  I’m subjectively assessing something that in fairness has a scientific basis to it.

I need to be better than that and come to a landing.

I think for people who are creating their own side hustle businesses, this area of study is potentially groundbreaking.

One of the biggest problems that people tell me about is how they struggle to get anything or everything done.  If you know when you’re the most productive during the day and when you do your best critical thinking, then you can specifically plan around that time.

Maybe that means from 9pm – 11pm, rather than watching Netflix, you sit down and write something.  Or rather than going to Yoga class after you drop the kids off at school at 9am, you head straight home and put in three hours of work.

I’m not saying don’t watch Netflix or skip Yoga, what I’m saying is, if you’re having a mental lull at 1pm, isn’t that the best time of day to do something like Yoga?  Or maybe watch the latest episode of The Good Place?

But again, this isn’t “feel” here – this is science and biology.  A great deal of research shows that you’re going to fit into one of two categories, if you squander that time doing the ironing or going for a run, then you’re making things harder on yourself.

Either way, I recommend you pick up Dan Pink’s new book, “When” and figure this out for yourself – I reckon it could really help you.

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