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Hit a Lull in Productivity? Blame Circadian Rhythms


Have you ever noticed that you hit the wall at work around the same time every day? It’s not just because you had a big lunch, or didn’t get enough sleep last night. Some times of day are just better for productivity than others. It might have to with our circadian rhythms. Read on to see what times of the day your body and mind are most alert, and when you just need to call it quits.

circadian rhythm

(Photo Credit: John Ryan/Flickr)

A typical day for a professional usually looks something like this:

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Arrive to work

Deal with emails for an hour or so

Dive into important tasks/projects

Eat lunch

Say, “Aw, man, I don’t want to go back to work,” a dozen or so times

Get back to desk

Spend 30 minutes trying to refocus, but to no avail

Attend drawn-out meetings for a couple hours

Get back to desk

Try to focus, but can’t because the “wall” has been hit for the day

Proceed to watch the clock till it’s time to go home

The problem is that this typical workday routine is all screwed up, if you compare it to our circadian rhythms, or our internal clocks.

“Although managers expect their employees to be at their best at all hours of the workday, it’s an unrealistic expectation,” writes Christopher M. Barnes at Harvard Business Review. “Employees may want to be their best at all hours, but their natural circadian rhythms will not always align with this desire.”

When are the most and least productive times of the day?

Barnes points to research that shows that we’re most productive a few hours after starting work, and then again around 6 p.m. Productivity fades after lunch and this dip lasts until about 3:30 p.m., at which point we start gearing up for that second peak at the end of the working day. 

What does this mean for you? If you’re a manager, you can support your reports by planning their days to take advantage of these natural peaks and valleys. If you’re in charge of your own schedule, to some extent, you can plan to do important tasks when you’re most likely to be productive.

And if you’re one of the lucky few who has true autonomy at the office, you might even squeeze in a nap during your lulls. It’ll boost productivity, fight sleep deprivation, and make you feel better to boot.

Tell Us What You Think

When are your peaks and lulls throughout the day? Share your experience with our community on Twitter and see if you can’t find a circadian rhythm match!

Leah Arnold-Smeets
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