There's a concept in productivity circles that productivity is a measure of "doing" things and you are only productive when you're checking things off a to-do list. Problem is, productivity isn't just an at-work, focused kind of thing. True productivity runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The work doesn't stop at 5 o'clock
If we want to have a truly holistic approach to productivity we need to think about more than the 8 (or 10 or even 12) hour working day and take the full 24 hour period into consideration. All parts of the day are equally important regardless of if they are attached to a paycheck or not. It’s our failure to take the rest of the day into consideration that often has the greatest impact on our productivity. Let’s start with the one we hear most often.
Get some sleep
There’s no question that sleep is one of the biggest victims of our modern drive to be productive. So often we push back on sleep, overdrive our systems through stimulants such as caffeine, or throw off our sleep cycles for not putting down the phone early enough before bed. Based on studies done by far smarter people than I, I’ve assembled a table for myself to see when I should be waking up to best match my circadian rhythms.
Working off the assumption the first sleep cycle runs 90 minutes and then subsequent ones run from 100-120 minutes a 9:00 p.m. bedtime results in a 5:00 a.m. wake up before the next sleep cycle begins. Interestingly enough if you work the math and I have a 10:00 p.m. bedtime I can wake at 5:10 a.m. right at the end of a sleep cycle. The caveat is I am cutting out an entire cycle this way.
Why does this matter?
Have you ever woken up before your alarm clock? You know, your eyes pop open, a sudden fear of having overslept washes over you, only to be offset by a glance at the clock with five minutes before your alarm is set to sound. That’s hitting the sweet spot on your circadian rhythm. Making sure you time your sleep cycles so you’re not struggling to wake up mid-cycle can make all the difference even if you have to wake up a little earlier than you would normally like.
Food and fitness
There’s plenty of content on the internet about the impacts of exercise and diet on your physical well-being so I’m going to focus on how it affects your productivity. We all have peaks and valleys during the day and it’s important to be aware of when we’re at our best, when we’re not, and what are the triggers. Rather than look at the medical reasoning, let’s take a look at how we can use productivity techniques to help our understanding.
Create a personal log
Start by using your favorite note-taking tool to track when you feel your best and when you feel your worst during the course of the day. Don’t tie this to mood; focus on your energy and drive level. This isn’t something that will give you decisive insights in a day or two so expect to take a few weeks to track yourself. There are digital tools that can help with this but don’t feel you won’t be successful without some fancy fitness tracker. A pen and paper are just as good for getting insights into your energy levels.
This isn’t all tie-dye and flowers
Some people struggle with this kind of exercise because they consider it to “touchy-feely” to be of any practical value. I’ll challenge you to change that thinking. For example, if you were setting up a solar cell to power a water pump, would you configure it so it only works when the sun is out or would you find ways to conserve and store some the of peak energy and find alternative ways to supplement your power sources when the clouds come out? Focus on the realistic parts of the problem: doing the right things in the right ways at the right times.
TL;DR - How can I be productive 24 hours a day?
Know what you can accomplish best in each hour. If it’s work, optimize the work. If it’s eating, optimize the food. If it’s sleeping, well you get my drift. Consider everything part of your productivity system and you’ll quickly get a sense that success is more than checkboxes and bullet points.
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