The Circadian Rhythm

You know how you often wake up without an alarm at about the same time every day? That’s your circadian rhythm, which works as your body’s internal alarm clock. Being aware of your circadian rhythm might just be the key to improving your productivity and even your quality of life.

Your circadian rhythm follows a roughly 24-hour cycle, and respond primarily to light and darkness. On average, after the workday begins, we take a few hours to reach our peak levels of alertness and energy — and that peak does not last long. Not long after lunch, those levels begin to decline, hitting a low at around 3pm.

We often blame this on lunch, but in reality this is just a natural part of the circadian process. After the 3pm dip, alertness tends to increase again until hitting a second peak at approximately 6pm. Following this, alertness tends to then decline for the rest of the evening and throughout the early morning hours until hitting the very lowest point at approximately 3:30am.

There are of course individual differences in circadian rhythms. Some people have a circadian rhythm that is shifted in one direction or the other. People referred to as “larks” (or morning people) tend to have peaks and troughs in alertness that are earlier than the average person, and “owls” (or night owls) are shifted in the opposite direction.

Perhaps the best productivity hack is just listening to our own bodies. By following our circadian rhythm we can ensure we’re working at our peak performance rate, and get the most out of our day.

Summing-up: Managers must see past their own biases if they want to optimize schedules in order to match the most important activities to the natural energy cycles of employees. Managers who do this will have energized, thriving employees rather than sleepy, droopy employees struggling to stay awake. Your most important tasks deserve employees who are working when they’re at their best.

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