Biological Prime Time: How to Plan Your Way to Improved Productivity

written by Dan Silvestre
Energy Management, Productivity

biological prime timeI want to let you in on a secret that will change your life, one that will apply heavily to biological prime time. 

Productivity tips do not work on a “one-size-fits-all” basis.

The reason?

What you do throughout the day and how you do it is going to vary greatly from person to person. 

Although many of the techniques I discuss are extremely helpful in allowing you to boost your productivity, you must first understand how you work and how to get the most out of your time. 

This begins with a concept known as biological prime time

If you want to structure your day in a way that is more efficient for you, let’s walk through what biological prime time is, how you can calculate it, and what you can do with that data to become far more productive all around. 

Biological Prime Time: What Is It?

Biological prime time is a term that was created by Sam Carpenter in his book Work the System.

Put simply, understanding your biological prime time means learning when you are most energetic and developing a schedule around those periods of energy peaks and energy dips.

It’s important to know your biological prime time because it will define how you work. 

For example:

Let’s imagine you have been on the hunt for productivity tips. Someone may recommend that you take on some of your most important work in the morning (I know I have) so that you can tackle other work later in the day. 

However, the person giving this recommendation may be highly-motivated in the mornings, whereas you may be someone who does their best work in the afternoons or the evenings. 

This is why you may find that some productivity strategies are not working for you, especially if you are modeling them specifically after someone else’s schedule and recommendations. 

Of course, there is a scientific reason behind the energy cycles you experience. In fact, it is something that we’ve discussed in the past. 

The Role of Ultradian Rhythms in Your Biological Prime Time

Chances are that you’ve heard of something known as a circadian rhythm, which is the 24-hour cycle that serves to control our daily schedule of sleeping and waking. 

However, inside of that 24-hour cycle exists another set of cycles known as ultradian rhythms. 

As I’ve covered before, ultradian rhythms (also known as the Basic Rest Activity Cycle) are cycles consisting of approximately 90-minutes of high-frequency brain activity followed by around 20-minutes of low-frequency brain activity. 

As humans, our brains are only designed for high-energy and focus for about an hour and a half before they crave rest and rejuvenation. 

It is during these 90-minute marathons that you are more capable of taking care of your important tasks, leaving 20 minutes to either take care of minor tasks or spend time engaging in activities that allow you to relax and reenergize. 

Identifying your own energy cycles gives you the ability to take advantage of those peaks and dips to get more done. 

But how are you supposed to uncover your own energy cycles and learn more about your own working habits? 

Although this process is slightly extensive, it is quite easy. 

Let’s dive in. 

How to Uncover Your Most Energetic Periods

Calculating your biological prime time only requires one tool. This tool can either be a notebook, a spreadsheet, or even an app, but it must be something where you can record all of your observations so that you can return to them later. 

Once you have this tool prepared, here are the necessary steps and tricks to begin effectively calculating your biological prime time. 

1. Set Aside Three Weeks of Your Time to Conduct the Experiment

As it is with most experiments, more time will yield more data. 

If you only track your productivity for a couple of days, you’re not going to have a clear picture of what your typical energy levels look like, which defeats the purpose of this exercise. 

The general consensus when it comes to the appropriate amount of time to calculate your biological prime time is about three weeks. This should be plenty of time to learn more about what your daily energy levels look like. 

Of course, if you want to engage in this experiment for longer, that will provide you with more data. However, there will need to be a cutoff point. 

Otherwise, you will end up taking too much time learning more about your natural cycles and losing out on the potential productivity that your data is revealing to you. 

2. Record Your Experience Based on a 1-10 Scale

The biggest question that people will have when they approach this experiment is: “how am I supposed to accurately track my energy levels?”

The best way to do this is to assign each hour of the day a number on a scale of one to ten, with one being very low energy and engagement and ten being the highest. 

From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed, this number scale will help you record your overall energy levels in a way that’s easy to understand, especially when you look back on three weeks of data. 

Just make sure you carefully consider your energy levels before you record them. If you give certain hours the incorrect rating, this could ruin your data and make it harder for you to take action on your observations. 

3. Avoid Any Depressants or Stimulants That Could Impact Your Data

For many, coffee is something that they rely on in order to get through the day. 

Although it may be difficult, you must stay away from any depressants or stimulants throughout the duration of your experiment. 

This means no coffee, alcohol, or other impactful substances that could negatively impact your readings. 

That said, some people may have developed a dependence on some of these substances. What are you supposed to do if you rely on caffeine or other substances to get through your day? 

The best course of action to take is to start calculating your biological prime time only when you’ve successfully weaned yourself off of that substance. 

For example, if you notice that not getting your daily coffee fix gives you severe side effects, wait until you’ve reached a point where skipping a cup of coffee no longer impacts you negatively. 

Only then can you start recording your energy levels accurately. 

4. Do Your Best to Stick to Your Current Schedule (If Possible)

Sticking with your schedule provides you with a type of self-awareness that is essential to getting more out of this process. 

Once you begin going through your schedule, as you normally do, with the intention of recording your energy levels, you’ll start to cultivate an awareness about where you’re really struggling throughout the day. 

This will then trigger the lightbulb needed to create real change once you have all the necessary data. 

If you have a daily schedule that you currently use, continue to use it throughout the course of this experiment. You’ll see the difference that this exercise will make once you begin working with your energy rather than against it. 

Using Your Biological Prime Time to Get More Out of Your Daybiological prime time

So, you’ve made it through three weeks of recording hourly data. What’s next? 

Once you have the data you need, the next step is to identify trends within your data that reveal peaks and dips in energy levels. 

Let’s imagine that, throughout the majority of the experiment, you’ve found that you’ve had higher energy ratings throughout the afternoon. This would tell you that these time periods may be the best times for you to tackle some of your most intensive work. 

On the other hand, you may have had energy ratings of four or below in the mornings, which may reveal that it is best to tackle less demanding tasks when you first get up. 

Of course, understanding the data is just the first step in getting the most out of calculating your prime time. If you want to make sure that you’re using this data successfully, here are the next steps.

Develop a Schedule Around Your Data

It’s rare to have a schedule that aligns perfectly with your energy levels. 

As such, it is vital that you create a new schedule around the data that you’ve collected. 

Set aside some time to block out chunks of time based on the energy rating trends you’ve found in your experiment. 

Start with your most productive periods first, scheduling in these 90 minute periods so that you have a better overview of when you’re going to be getting your most important work done. 

Once these have been scheduled, turn your attention to periods where you experience lower energy. These can be utilized to take on less demanding tasks that need to get done but shouldn’t turn your focus away from your major projects. 

Afterward, figure out where you’re going to fit activities like going to the gym, taking breaks, or other items that are important in your day-to-day life. Make sure to leave room in your schedule so that you can move things around if you find that something is not working out for you. 

You will need to get used to your new schedule.

However, you should find that you’re accomplishing far more using this data-based schedule than one that is based on more traditional schedule layouts and routines. 

Assign Tasks to Yourself Based on Peaks and Dips

Energy peaks and energy dips determine what type of work you will be doing throughout the day. 

Setting a schedule can help you determine which hours will be best for certain types of work.

However, you must go one step further to assign tasks that correlate with those varying energy levels. 

During blocks of time where you find you have the most energy, assign yourself work that you may feel too unmotivated to do during other periods throughout the day. Put simply, if you can’t maintain your focus on specific tasks during your least productive hours, you are going to want to make sure these are being done during your energy peaks. 

As for your energy dips can be used to focus on tasks that are less engaging or even work that requires less energy from you to complete. You will also want to make sure you are getting plenty of breaks throughout your day and using energy dips to relax and reenergize rather than just power through more work. 

Remember, even if you try to fill your dips with less demanding work, you can still experience burnout as a result. 

Find Appropriate Tasks for Your Downtime

Hard work demands harder play. 

You can’t come back to your work feeling ready to take it on if you’ve never truly walked away from it.

Although it can be okay to occasionally use 20-minute breaks for things like emails, you should also be focusing on making sure that your breaks leave you feeling well-rested and excited for your next time block. 

Some activities worth pursuing during your recovery period include:

  • Engaging in relaxing exercises like meditation or yoga
  • Cleaning your space
  • Having a healthy snack (not something that only temporarily boosts your energy like sugary foods or coffee)
  • Stretching or engaging in some light exercise
  • Watching funny or inspirational videos
  • Having a quick chat with someone
  • Getting out in nature (if possible)
  • Setting some personal goals 

Your body is like a battery. If you continue to take from it without recharging, you’re going to have no energy left to take care of your important tasks. 

Moving Forward

Better productivity begins with self-awareness. 

It is only when you understand how you function and how you can use that to your advantage that you can begin to reap the benefits of other productivity tips and tricks. 

Before you dive into some of my other content: 

  • Record Your Energy Levels: We all have different periods throughout the day where we feel most energized. Pay attention to what your body is telling you, write it down, and start to notice where the patterns lie
  • Schedule Accordingly: Patterns make room for systems. Having this data is crucial to developing a schedule that is right for you. Once you have this data, block out your time based on your energy levels and what you’re most looking to achieve during these time chunks
  • Work Smarter, Not Harder: There are plenty of people who want to muscle through their burnout and work non-stop. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work. Play to your strengths by scheduling your most difficult work during your energy peaks, your less demanding work or tasks during your energy dips, and make sure to get plenty of breaks along the way

With a better picture of how you and your body work, you can develop an ironclad schedule that is best suited for your needs. 

Tags:: Planning, work

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