Mastering the art of being a slave to your body…and scheduling your whole life around it

October 20, 2008 by Jared Goralnick

Sleeping at one's office desk It’s 4pm, and I could use a nap.  B-bye.

Our body forces moods and energy levels upon us that just don’t work with real world schedules.  Or perhaps those schedules are insufficient.

Sometimes it’s better to be a slave to your body: the benefits are huge.

Ever felt like your body, not your head, was in control?  Ever been tired when you had thought-intensive work, antsy when you were waiting for things, or lethargic at the gym?  I can’t speak for everyone, but time and again when I’ve felt one of these ways, I could’ve predicted it.

I’ve thought a bit about this and now know my body’s rhythms much better: when I’m going to have the most focus, when I’ll have a short attention span, when I’ll likely want to nap, when I’m most creative, etc.  And I’ve got somewhat of a handle on how food and exercise play into these states.

Scheduling Around My Body Rhythms

More and more over the past year I’ve scheduled my days around this.  Have you thought long and hard about your daily rhythms?  By understanding some of mine, I’ve been able to be both more productive and comfortable throughout the day.

For instance, I try to never schedule with people in the morning, even phone calls.  And no email.  The morning is when I have the focus to get something creative or thought-intensive accomplished.

I almost always schedule phone calls or meetings after 2:00, when I have some energy but don’t need to be at my absolute best: when working directly with people, it’s easier to stay engaged and focused (whereas it’s not so easy when you’re, say, alone and writing out a specifications document).  (Conference calls might be the exception—sometimes you need to schedule them when you’ll be able to stay awake.)

A few hours after lunch I’ll be tired…so I never work on the really hard stuff then.  If I have to do intensive work with a client, I’ll make sure a soda is handy.  If I’m at the home office, I might take a nap, watch a movie, or run some errands.  I’d rather sleep from 4-5 and work from 7 -8 if it’s the difference of that hour actually being useful.  And if I never make up that hour later, I didn’t miss much.

When I mention this to others, they often raise the point that working during business hours helps them to not work all the time.  They’re fearful that not observing the business hours constraint might lead to working all the time.

I generally work during traditional hours, but I think it’s more important that I monitor the results of my work and quantity of hours than the specific hours when things took place.

In short, I want to work when it’s most pleasant and when I’m most likely to succeed.  Caffeine can help, but it’s not a perfect substitute.

Putting that Rhythm Information to Good Use

Once you get a handle on your energy-levels, moods, and other quirks about how you are at different times of the day, you can make better educated decisions about scheduling your time. 

To get started with this, try considering some of the following:

  • The price of skipping a meal or eating certain foods (in relation to your mood or energy level)
  • What role exercise has on your energy levels
  • Is taking a nap or siesta possible
  • Working when you have energy and not working when you don’t, even if it means stepping outside of “business hours”
  • (Intentionally) doing personal stuff (like running an errand or going for a walk) during the business day when you’re not particularly focused
  • Doing mindless tasks or errands when you know you’re low energy (filing, going to the post office / bank, reading blogs, making calls about bills, responding to quick emails, even running to the grocery store, etc)
  • Specifically not doing mindless tasks when you do have energy (often people forget this, but the opposite of all this stuff is true: you shouldn’t do trivial tasks when you have a lot of focus.  Instead, find something more challenging and do the trivial task when you’re tired)

It’s dramatic how different my energy, attention, focus, capacity to learn, and other states can be during different times of the day.  For years I never considered this, but now it dictates much of my scheduling.

Have you given much thought to or had success with scheduling around your body’s rhythms?

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7 Responses to “Mastering the art of being a slave to your body…and scheduling your whole life around it”

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  1. Nathan Zeldes

    Hey, great minds think alike ;-)

    I’ve reached much of the same conclusion some years ago, notably to focus my creative work in the morning, and the drudgery right after lunch when I’m less alert.

    Of course this may vary person to person (how I envy the type that can wake up at 5AM at peak mental power!)… In fact I believe there’s a book out there called “Never do email in the morning”, and I’ve always agreed with the idea but not with the hard coding of the time of day.

  2. Josep


    Interesting ideas. In the last weeks I’m overworking and even skipping meals, my schedule is totally crazy and sometimes I feel I go completely on my own.

    I thought about all you’re talking about and reached the conclusion that I’m more productive in the mornings too, so I try to avoid all things that break my concentration, like email, twitter and to a lesser extend the phone.

    I was getting the job done because of motivation, responsibility or whatever you want to call it, but I felt, as you say, I was the slave. I am very confident that things are going to get better and I will be the master again :)

  3. Jared Goralnick

    Nathan, thank you so much for stopping by… I’ve really enjoyed your writing and insight on technology.

    Josep, glad to hear some of this stuff has been helpful for you. I completely empathize regarding how sometimes we have to buckle down and just work-work-work…but we have to make sure that most of the time we’re able to have a sembalnce of balance and respect the limits our bodies try to place on ourselves. Some of that is for productivity, and some of it is even just for the sake of staying sane.

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