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Knowing your diurnal rhythms

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A common trait of a successful businessperson is their ability to play to their strengths. Yes, they are constantly trying to improve their weaknesses as well, but the focus is on leveraging strengths.

Another trait of a successful person is the ability to manage their time. The higher up the organizational chart a person climbs, the more they have to do and the smarter they must work to get it all done.

A key part of getting it all done is knowing what to do, and when to do it. That is where the concept of diurnal rhythms comes into play.

Some of us are morning people, and some of us are afternoon or evening people. Different people perform best at different times of the day. This is due to their diurnal rhythms. In many cases, we must overcome these cycles and just get the work done. In other cases, when we have some latitude about when certain tasks can be done, it is best to schedule some tasks in the morning, some at mid-day, and some late in the day.

I try to schedule my days around the reality that I am a morning person. When it comes to tasks that require concentration, creativity, and hard thinking, I can get more done between 7 and 9 a.m. than I can during the entire rest of the day. Yet by 3 p.m., I feel mentally dull and decisions that would have been a breeze at 7 a.m. are a challenge. I have known many people like this, but an equal number that are better later in the day.

Ignoring our diurnal rhythms, or not having the tasks of our day organized, all but guarantees that we will get less done and do lower quality work. But following these tips will help anyone be more successful and find greater contentment in their work:

If you are not fully in touch with which parts of your days are your best for concentration, begin to take note. Talk to co-workers, friends and family.

Organize your common tasks by the degree of concentration required, such as:

Planning and problem-solving require some of the highest level thinking, and should be scheduled for the time during the day when you are at your intellectual best

Meetings and most correspondence typically require mid-levels of concentration

Routine tasks, those you have well mastered or that are easy for you to perform, are best relegated to the low points of your days.

Coordinate with co-workers and your supervisor to explain what you are doing, why you are doing it, and ask for their support and cooperation.

As a morning person, I often will try to be among the first people to arrive at work in the morning, ideally with an hour or two of almost total quiet by myself. I refine my plans for the day, solve difficult problems, prepare complex conversations, and do big-picture thinking.

By mid-morning, I am ready for the onslaught of meetings, both regularly scheduled and specially schedules.

By mid-afternoon, when many morning people will involuntarily cease to be productive, I like to perform a vital leadership role known as MBWA — Management by Walking Around. I roam the building, talking with co-workers as I run into them. Conversations are rarely more than a moment or two, but sometimes result in a follow-up scheduled meeting to continue the conversation. It might be a quick check-in on the status of a project, or a friendly inquiry about how their family is, or if they had pursued that hobby I know they love.

Playing to our strengths like this does improve our productivity, but it also reduces burnout. We work smarter so that we don’t have to work harder and longer.


Dave Bartholomew is the founder of Ascent Advising LLC, working with “corner office” people around the globe to define and achieve their unique definition of success. He and is wife, Nancy, co-founded Simply Living Farm, a shop in Leavenworth providing goods for a sustainable life. He can be reached at Dave@AscentAdvising.com.