Learning to Learn: leveraging your circadian rhythm

There are a few distinct, precious moments of heightened sensory elation that we can achieve through unique actions; whether that be hitting the sweet spot on your driver from the tee box, tossing that crumpled up piece of paper that started out as a great idea and delivering it perfectly into the waste basket 10 feet away, or something as simple as arriving at the perfect adjective when telling a story to a friend.

Achieving a greater sense of cognitive ability when interacting with either the external environment around you or the internal synapses of your own brain is an equally satisfying accomplishment that many believe would lead to immediate success. There is no special formula for arriving at a heightened rate of learning, enhanced memory, or sudden talent for verbiage; however there is a proven internal process that you can utilize in order to maximize your work output, in channeling your Circadian Rhythm.

(Note: this is in no way a science journal on neurology, but simply tips on how I utilize my circadian rhythm to my advantage at work.)

For some quick background on circadian rhythm, liberatingself.com states clearly:

“The secret behind this strange phenomenon is a biological clock in our bodies, which keeps us warm and alert during just the ‘right’ times of the day. When our sleeping habits are properly in sync with this biological clock, dubbed the circadian rhythm, we experience a burst of energy throughout the day extending into the late evenings.”

Throughout any average 8 hour work day, there tend to be moments where I notice peaks in alertness and creativity, and other times where I struggle to generate ideas and comprehend complex issues. In following the cycles of my own cognitive abilities, I have been able to channel my meeting times, presentations, and meal breaks to coincide with my most efficient day- – a day that revolves around my circadian rhythm. It just so happens there is scientific support for this efficiency!

From about 8:30am to 11:30am, and again from 4:30pm to 6:30pm, I cannot avoid having feelings of heightened aptitude, increased awareness and even enhanced coordination. It turns out that my body is actually operating at a heightened level, through biological changes in metabolism, blood pressure, and melatonin secretion.

While there’s no scientific guarantee that you will find success during the same periods that I do, I can share some tips on how to find your unique circadian rhythm and leverage it for success.

  • Spend a few days tracking your levels of focus, energy, and hunger. Grab a notebook or piece of paper and write down how you’re feeling at the top of each hour. Take it a step further by assigning a number from 1 to 10 to the feeling. For example:

    • 8am – Focus level (8)

    • 9am – Focus level (9)

    • 10am – Focus level (6)

    • 11am – Focus level (3.5)

    • 12pm – Hunger level (4)

    • 1pm – Hunger level (8)

    • 2pm – Tiredness level (5)

    • 3pm – Tiredness level (6)

    • 4pm – Focus level (5)

    • 5pm – Focus level (7)

    • 6pm – Energy level (8)

  • Try to identify a pattern in the levels of focus and energy you track. I guarantee you’ll find one.

  • Once you’ve found your pattern, begin scheduling your work days accordingly. Make a list first thing in the morning and designate time frames for each of the tasks you need to accomplish that day, arranging lunch and fresh air breaks for the times when your focus is low (and hunger is high!).

Keep in mind that your findings from this little experiment are not haphazard. Listening to your body is the first, and most important, step to achieving maximum productivity and information absorption.

As you continue to go about your work day and look for inspiration to channel the next big idea, or try to maximize the idea generation of your business plan, attempt to channel those times of the day where your circadian rhythm is in full swing, and you may just develop an idea you may not have otherwise constructed.

Once you unlock the efficiency of your own biological processes, you can enjoy the successes of dancing to your own circadian rhythm.

Some additional reading on Circadian Rhythm and channeling your inner-biological efficiency:

http://lifebyexperimentation.com/2011/04/productivity-hack-do-something-at-the-right-time/

http://voices.yahoo.com/how-most-productive-following-circadian-2335428.html?cat=72

http://liberatingself.com/productivity/circadian-rhythm-morning-motivation-and-productivity/

And lastly, did you know: The navigation of the fall migration of the Eastern North American monarch butterfly to their overwintering grounds in central Mexico uses a time-compensated sun compass that depends upon a circadian clock in their antennae (Wikipedia)

Jordan Rappaport (@jmrappap) is an International Strategist for Bank of America, one of the largest financial services companies in the country. His interests include technology, entrepreneurship, and motivational techniques, and his hobbies are rooting for the Indiana Hoosiers and making witty puns. 

About Jordan Rappaport

Jordan Rappaport (@jmrappap) is a Product Development Strategist for Bank of America, one of the largest financial services companies in the country. His interests include technology, entrepreneurship, and motivational techniques, and his hobbies are rooting for the Indiana Hoosiers and making witty puns.
  • Mary Thomas

    Great post. I agree that a focus for learning and understand your learning pattern is essential for progressing and developing your knowledge.

    Also, I would suggest learning tools to be accompanied by such techniques. http://www.examtime.com/ is a perfect example of this.

    • Jordan

      Thanks for the link! In addition to our biological natural efficiencies there are plenty of resources to enhance productivity even further. I will be sure to check this one out.

  • mindfulmeasures

    This is a great article on how to maximize our productivity by
    understanding our circadian rhythm. I particularly appreciated her
    advice on tracking it so that we can understand our rhythm.

    When
    I presented similar information to a group of Co-Masons, they noted
    that our circadian rhythm shifts throughout the year. Perhaps it would
    be a good idea to track our circadian rhythm a couple times throughout
    the year. Eventually, once we become in sync with our rhythms, we will
    be able to feel when we are acting in conflict with them.

    Know thyself.

    To thine own self, be true.

    • Jordan

      Great idea to think about seasonality of how your body’s efficiency changes. Sunlight is a key driver of circadian rhythm and seasonality most definitely alters the internal timing of when peaks and valleys in productivity occur. This is probably another reason why workers tend to be less energized in the office during the winter

      • mindfulmeasures

        Jordan, I was wondering if there are ways to shift the Circadian cycle effectively? Obviously there are methods of overcoming a state temporarily, but is it possible to make a lasting shift? Or would the resulting out-of-phase create havoc?

        • Anna H

          There are ‘light therapy’ options available to shift your cycle, but it requires maintaining a strict sleep schedule. I haven’t done it myself. Melatonin is also an option.

  • Stan Bush

    I was sent here by a co-member of a G+ group. They are called “The Circadians”. This is a great article for everyone in our group to read, and I appreciate you writing it! And I appreciate Jaap for sending me here!

    • Jordan

      Sounds like a great G+ group, I will have to check it out!

  • Anna H

    The problem with this, however, is that some people (like me!) have circadian rhythms that don’t match up with their jobs, or with the regular “9-to-5″ workdays. For example, I have delayed sleep phase syndrome (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delayed_sleep_phase_disorder). That means that my body likes to go to sleep around 3 am and wake at 11 or noon. Unfortunately, I have a job that starts at 8:30 am! So it’s hard to work during the day when I feel most alert in the evening.

  • Patrick_Mullins

    Recently a lighting lab test was published showing cool-white vs warm-white effect on Melatonin, greatly affecting Circadian rhythm.
    http://www.omicsonline.org/a-working-threshold-for-acute-nocturnal-melatonin-suppression-from-white-light-sources-used-in-architectural-applications-2157-2518.1000150.php?aid=19503
    More info is available, public needs to know how to handle this until the lighting issues are made more healthy.

  • http://www.ApprenticeMarketerGazette.com Fran_C

    That is great information Jordan and I plan to check out the links to additional reading that you supplied.
    Fran