Do you feel you are less productive lately? Do you feel like your achievements per day is less compared to your current capabilities? You are probably right. But, what’s so special about Michael Phelps? We all have 24 hours in a day, how come Phelps is more productive than the average man his age. What’s his secret?
Many people are interested in knowing why some athletes are better than their counterparts. Stephen Seiler, a psychology researcher, is among the first researchers in this field to provide a scientific documentation describing why the most successful athletes performed very well. Seiler monitored the training routines of these athletes in different disciplines. He discovered they were not really followers of the popular phrase, “no pain, no gain.” These elite athletes alternated between training sessions of intense work and recovery periods and easy training.
This is what you will hear from elite athletes and scientific research: Train harder for some period, then have a recovery period before repeating the intense training. This model could be effective for productivity in any other field or profession. A writer for instance may intensely work on a book they are writing when inspiration sets in, then have a time for minor editing and slow progression when writing prior to their next inspiration.
Most productivity gurus will not inform you that your mind and body work in sessions. The information you get from most of them sounds similar: to get the most out of your day, wake up early. They will say you will find it difficult when starting, but you can transform your life when you make waking up early a habit. That’s not it. And these productivity gurus would be wrong.
Do you want to know why productivity gurus are wrong, and why getting out of bed early has nothing to do with enhanced productivity?
Let’s go through a real experience as an example before diving into scientific facts.
A writer, George Umson, tried that method. According to him, “I usually spend at least 9 hours of my day writing. That’s me spending quality time with my PC, so I felt like I was incapable of doing anything else once I was finished. So I started waking up earlier, with the intention to squeeze a morning physical practice into my daily routine. I couldn’t do it. I just kept thinking about the work I was supposed to do and I could not focus on the exercise no matter how hard I tried. By the time I got to the computer, I felt really guilty for not starting earlier and my entire day was practically ruined.”
What action did George take? “At first, I felt getting into a routine was what I needed, so I continued waking up early and doing that workout. One day, it simply hit me: I feel most inspired when I wake up, so that’s my working time. I don’t like waking up early, so maybe I should simply get my healthy sleep and work later all through the day. I work from home, so that’s a manageable routine that actually works. Don’t worry; I still exercise! I just do it in between working sessions, when I know that I need a break from work. I get energized, I take a shower, and I’m ready to continue writing afterwards. I’m not saying everyone will benefit from this system. I’m just saying it works for me.”
So the question now is: Should we do what we feel works best for us?
Let’s see what scientific facts have for us.
There is something most productivity gurus usually don’t mention when talking about productivity, “individuality.” These gurus discovered things that works for them or other people, and they try turning their discoveries into a general/universal rule. It is vital you know that there is no universal rule(s) for productivity, if it does exist, it is not applicable to everybody.
I don’t know if you have noticed that some people are more productive in the morning, while others are at their best at night. This is so because everyone has his/her own circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythm is the physical, mental and behavioral pattern all through a daily cycle. The light-related circadian rhythm makes you go to bed at night and wakes you up when the sun rises. It is the biological clock that triggers sleep as well as make you feel energized at different times during the day or at night.
So how long should one stay asleep (normal sleep time), and when is the right time to wake up?
Well, there is no rule. According to researchers, sleep is related to different genetic, behavioral and environmental factors. The “normal sleep” pattern varies from one person to another, so it is important you understand your sleep patterns and accept it.
You can still push yourself to wake up early if your circadian rhythm determines activity during night hours. Just set an alarm and force yourself to wake up. But there is something you cannot force yourself to do, that’s going to bed early. Your mind will still be awake, and you will only punish yourself by going to bed at 10 PM. That’s because you are reducing your rest hours, and doing that constantly will lead to chronic sleep deprivation.
Do you want to know if you can reset your circadian clock? Yes you can, but it requires individually timed light exposure; this simply means you will have to let the uncomfortable light wake you up early in the morning. This strategy may work for you, or not.
The best question to ask right now is: why? You know you will feel groggy for the rest of the day if you force yourself to wake up early, so why do you want to do that? The number of hours being awake does not change; you will only feel sad throughout the day.
If waking up as early as 6 in the morning does not do the trick, what’s the way out?
It is better you monitor your body’s rhythm so you can identify your best hours instead of forcing yourself to wake up early when you really need to spend more time asleep. What I am trying to say here is that you need to find the time you are at your peak, the time you feel more productive and alert. The tips below can be useful to you.
1. Understand Ultradian Rhythms
Understanding your ultradian rhythm can be useful. It differs from circadian rhythms; circadian rhythm determines how your body functions within 24 hours while ultradian rhythm determines your body’s activity within shorter periods – a few hours. Your brain operates in 80-120 minutes wave frequency cycles. That cycle comprises of activity and rest. For example, when you are awake, your brain as active for 90 minutes, and it will want to rest for 20 minutes after that.
You practically ignore your rhythm when you force your body to wake up early and get the most out of your day. You are likely to wake up during your brain’s rest phase, that’s the reason you feel confused and want to sleep.
So what’s stopping you from allowing your body wake up when it wants to? If you don’t have any important thing to do at a particular time, maybe work, then allow your body enjoy the luxury. If you need to be at your work station early, do not set your alarm too early. Provide your body with quality sleep time.
When awake, you need to consider resting in between working hours. That’s how to understand your body’s ultradian rtythm.
2. Discover your peak moments through experiments
You have to make an experiment to discover your activity peaks. You need a spreadsheet for this task, don’t panic, it will not take you more than a week.
Write a mark on your activity for every 30 minutes when you are awake. Do this in a spreadsheet. If you can create more time to do this, let’s say 3 weeks, you will get a better measurement.
You will observe your activity peaks during this experiment. You will discover the periods in your day you feel most active and awake. That is your prime time. To get the most out of it, ensure you schedule your most important activity during that period. Use that period to do most of your important work if you are concerned on improving your productivity at work, if you are focused on intense training, that’s the best time to train.
3. Create a morning routine that’s suitable for you or works for you
Everyone has an activity or two they love to do when they wake up. Some people prefer working out in the morning, some people prefer walking their pets, and so on. So, what do you love doing when you wake up? What works best for you?
Being completely awake is the most important thing. You will only experience that energy surge if you get quality sleep. After addressing that, you can try different routines in the morning so you can select the one you are very good at.
Waiting for productivity gurus to inform you about what will work for you or what will not work for you is not advisable. Since you are the one who needs to work or who wants to train, then it’s high time you take control and discover what will work for you.