Finding your “biological prime time” is a great concept but not always able to be applied depending on what situation you are in. That is why you can either adjust your work to suit your Prime Time or you can help your body adjust so you can turn things on when necessary.
Years ago I read Sam Carpenters book Work The System about his life taking a rather beleaguered company (and his tired self) from failure to profitability and beyond. It made me think…sheesh…my life as an athlete really didn’t teach me about this at all.
See, as an athlete, you are usually thrown into a rather rigorous schedule that doesn’t really take into consideration your biological rhythms.
No, practice is at 6AM. Or 9. Or 1. Or 6 at night.Game Day can be all over the place. I once trained in France prior to the Olympics and we had a session at 2…AM!
Whatever works for the program is considered first, regardless of what is best for the athlete. Granted things like weather and available resources affect that, and that’s fine. But it’s not thinking “athlete first”.
When I lived at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, NY we were up early to hit the ice house. Then we had breakfast. Then we hit the weight room at 9AM. Then lunch. Then a nap. Then afternoon workouts. After that it was sled work and free time and dinner. (And usually a late night party or two.)
When you’re young you don’t really think about this stuff. You just do. And today’s athletes in sports and life are bombarded with technology that messes with our body clocks and our biological rhythms. (More on that in a moment)
Your Vacations Reveal All
Whether you’re at work or you’re in school or in training, I like to say that your vacations reveal all. When you take away most, if not all of your responsibilities, your body will show you what it really likes to do and how it prefers to work.
Most likely you will stay up late and wake up a little later. Some of my athletes will completely switch their daily schedule like they are living in a foreign country.
They may take a nap in the afternoon or no nap at all. They might “come to life” late in the evening.
When you don’t have a set schedule your body will tell you, on a macro level, when it wants to go to bed and how long it wants to sleep which can be quite revealing.
On a micro level you will start to learn just how much your energy level fluctuates on a daily basis.
My work with young athletes and entrepreneurs shows me that technology has messed us up so bad that some of us don’t even know what our energy levels are let alone when they happen. People are either awake or they are asleep, oblivious to the natural ups and downs of daily energy.
For my athletes in life who have more routine schedules, and have had them for a long time…they can start to think about their natural body clocks a little differently and can adjust their work day accordingly. (For my athletes in sports and life who need to be “up” at a time when their body is normally “down”, we’ll cover that in a moment.)
Energy, Focus…Motivation: When Is It Best For You
You can have lots of energy but have no focus. You can wake up motivated to change your life but have no energy. Finding your EFM sweet spots are important.
One way to find your sweet spots are to actually track how you are feeling on a daily basis. If you can do this for 21 days you will have a very robust set of data.
You can set up a very simple Google Doc and rate your self on a scale of 1-20 on each of the three areas: Energy. Focus. Motivation.
Here are a few recommendations on how best to do this:
- Eliminate caffeine, alcohol, and any other meds you might be taking. You may want to consult your doctor if you’re on anything prescribed. Or at least be aware of the affect of these meds on your body and when you take them. This can be a complete pain in the you-know-what, but if you really want to get solid data then you’ll want to do this. Also, eliminate any Red Bull’s, Monster Energy Drinks, caffeinated teas, etc.
- Turn off your alarms. If you can swing it, turn off any alarms so you can wake up naturally.
- Eliminate unnatural light sources at night. Get off your phone and don’t watch tv. Read a book and listen to your body. You will start to notice that your body is getting tired and it may go to bed earlier than you’ve gone to bed in a while. Remember, we’re trying to find your natural bio rhythms so turning off the unnatural light sources that keep you up late can make a huge difference.
- Record how you feel every hour: Set up an alarm on your phone so it goes off every hour. (Don’t be setting them to wake you up while you’re sleeping because that’s dumb.) The idea is to remind yourself every hour to track your energy, focus, and motivation.
- Keep your diet…normal: Diet has a massive effect on energy and also mood. If you eat a pizza you’re going to want to take a nap or go to bed after you eat it. So for the purpose of collecting your data keep your current diet the same. Once you have the data you can then see about how your diet might be affecting your bio rhythms and what you can do about it.
- Aim for 21 days (or longer): The more data you have, the better. If you are coming off some very intense work/training phase you may want to give yourself 3-4 days to unwind and get back to your normal. But after that you will start to see some pretty significant trends.
When you have a solid set of numbers you can noew use those numbers to become more productive, have better performance, etc. By knowing when you’re up and when you’re not you can start to schedule your day around those peaks and valleys.
Maximize Your Energy Peaks and Valleys
Identify your biological prime time zones and take advantage of them. These are the times when your energy levels and usually your focus and motivation are the highest. Take advantage of that. It doesn’t make any sense to schedule your highly impactful activities when you’re sleepy after a meal does it?
I like to think of it like wrestling an alligator. When do you want to do that, when they are on land or when you’re in the water? (Not that you want to wrestle an alligator at all, but if you did…)
Personally I schedule my writing first thing in the morning when I’m fresh. It takes me a bit to get going but after about an hour from waking up I’m good to go and my mind is fresh. Afternoon? Fuggedaboutit.
Maximize Energy Low’s
There is a general understanding that a portion of the population benefits from biphasic or polyphasic sleep. That means that they sleep in segments throughout the day and not just one big chunk at night. This makes a lot of sense because most people would agree that there are times during the day when they really just want to have a nap. For most of us that’s after lunch time.
Personally, I love taking naps and they don’t have to be epic at all. Sometimes I will lie down and set an alarm for twenty minutes. I will often drift off to sleep even for just a few minutes and wake up refreshed. If I tried to power through that time I’d be a non-productive mess beating myself up that I wasn’t getting anything done. But with the nap I feel great and then come back with a vengeance in the afternoon.
Sometimes, a 45 minute nap is golden. Especially on Wednesday when I’ve put in three solid days of work. If you are “anti-nap” check out my article on sleep cycles and why you’re so damned tired all the time.
Here’s a couple more tips on how to make the most of your energy low’s
- Do something that takes less energy: I mean duh, right? But seriously. If you’re trying to do higher math when you really need a nap, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot. Organize a filing cabinet. Enter some receipts. Alphabetize your book shelf.
- Recharge: Did I mention naps already? I did? Because I could really keep talking about how great they are.
- What have you been eating?: Ok, now is when you can start to look at what you’re eating. If you ran down to the deli with your coworkers and had the chicken parm with a coke, you’re probably feeling the effects of the carbohydrates in your system and are having a sugar-low. Again, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. It’s going to take some discipline to make a better dietary choice but you can do it.
- Find an appropriate energy boost: If you have to work through a time when you know your energy is going to dip then it’s ok to reach for a little pick-me-up. Unfortunately, many of the athletes I work with grab highly caffeinated energy drinks packed with sugar and this really isn’t necessary. I don’t drink coffee, but I will take a caffeine pill here and there. I can control the dose much better than trying to grab a gree-tea or something else. The key here is to grab a little, not a lot. You don’t need 400mg of caffeine when 25 will do for you. Start small and then work up as needed.
When you know when your natural energy highs and lows occur, you can adjust your day accordingly to what your body is naturally wired for and not what you’re forcing itself to adapt to.
Schedule your high impact tasks when your energy, focus and motivation is high. Schedule low energy tasks when your energy is low or take a nap. If you have to work through an energy low be aware of what you’re eating that may cause an energy low and then be sure to grab just a little pick-me-up if you need it.
Understanding your body and how you work on a daily basis takes a bit of awareness and a bit of tracking, but once you know what’s going on with your body your productivity will soar.
Olympian Jonathan Edwards
Founder - The Athlete Breakthrough Blueprint
Olympian Jonathan Edwards is the Creator of "The Athlete Breakthrough Blueprint": The world's only mental performance training program for aspiring athletes with big dreams. Over nineteen years he has worked with athletes who have gone on to or competed in NCAA D1, D2, D3, MCLA D1 and D2, the Olympics, NHL, MLL, NLL, NFL, and others. Feel free to link to this article from your blog and share it with an athlete, parent, or coach who would benefit from these concepts.