A psychologist helps you decide when you should be doing your most focused and deepest work, and when you should be doing less cognitively demanding work.
Are you feeling like a burnt-out zombie, trudging through each day? Do you feel “crazy busy” yet get to the end of each workday having no idea what you actually achieved?
It’s time to wake up and smell the chronotype (and coffee, because that helps, too). Your chronotype is the natural 24-hour sleep-wake cycle that influences the peaks and troughs of your energy throughout the day. It can make all the difference in preventing burnout and boosting your energy levels.
ARE YOU A LARK OR AN OWL?
Around one in 10 people are what chronotype researchers refer to as larks. Larks are stereotypical morning people who happily jump out of bed at or before sunrise without having had to set an alarm.
You will recognize larks as those smug members of the 5 a.m. club that you see posting on social media about how much they have achieved before everyone else has dragged their sloth-like bodies towards the first coffee of the day. (At this point, I should confess that I am a lark. I promise not to show off about the fact that I’ve been writing since 6 a.m. this morning. But, since you asked, I have been.)
Larks are deeply irritating to owls (and let’s face it, anyone who is not a lark). Owls sit at the other end of the chronotype continuum. They represent around 20% of the population. As the name suggests, they come to life at night.
Everyone else is a middle bird. They are neither bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning, nor burning the candle well into the night. Middle birds tend to follow the rhythms of a lark, albeit delayed by a couple of hours.
Larks and middle birds experience peak cognitive alertness in the two hours after they are fully awake. They have a post-lunch energy dip and then experience a second wind in the late afternoon. Owls’ days follow the reverse pattern. Now, you might be thinking, “Isn’t this distinction between morning and evening people just an excuse for owls to justify staying up late on a Netflix binge? Or for larks to be sanctimonious members of the 5 a.m. club?”
Not at all. It turns out that understanding our chronotype and structuring our work around it makes us a whole lot happier (not to mention a lot more productive) at work. For example, research conducted in Iran with 210 healthcare workers found that larks experienced more enjoyment at work if they worked morning shifts. Likewise, owls received more joy from work if they were rostered on for evening shifts.
When writing his New York Times bestselling book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, author Dan Pink began digging into this research. On discovering that he was a middle bird, he completely restructured his workday.
“I changed my schedule so that on writing days, I set myself a word count and in the morning I’ll say, ‘Okay, today I have to write 700 words’ and I won’t bring my phone into the office with me, I will not open up my email, I will not do anything until I hit those 700 words and then I’m free to do other things,” Pink explains.
“I use the early to midafternoon typically for answering email and filing and scanning things—the kind of stuff that doesn’t require a heavy load,” says Pink. “And then when I come out of the trough at around 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I tend to do interviews or things that don’t require me to be locked down and vigilant, but just to be open to possibility, open to ideas, and a little bit more mentally loose.”
As a result of sticking to this schedule, When was the only book Pink submitted to his publisher on time.
PUT IT INTO ACTION
- Start the process of restructuring your day by completing the Morningness/Eveningness questionnaire here.
- Plan your workday based on your chronotype. Use your score from the Morningness/Eveningness questionnaire to help you decide when you should be doing your most focused and deepest work, and when you should be doing less cognitively demanding work.
- Use these guidelines below to help structure your day:
For larks (definite morning):
Deep work: 7–10/11 am
Shallow / Light work: 11 am–2 pm
Rebound (for additional deep work): 2–4 pm
For middle birds (moderate morning/evening and intermediate):
Deep work: 9 am–12 pm
Shallow / Light work: 12 pm–2-3 pm
Rebound (for additional deep work): 3–5 pm
For owls (definite evening):
Deep work: 4 pm onwards
Shallow / Light work: 1–4 pm
Rebound (for additional deep work): 10 am–1 pm
This article first appeared in https://www.mckinsey.com
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