Ever notice how there are parts of the day where you feel significantly more in “flow” than other times? When your productivity doesn’t seem to take any effort? When there’s a rhythm and momentum to your work that feels less like a slog and more like a symphony?
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s probably because you’re not taking advantage of your Biological Peak Time.
Among the many reasons remote work is exploding in popularity, it’s adherents consistently report higher levels of productivity and efficiency. A big reason for this is that they aren’t hamstrung to the arbitrary 9-to-5 schedule of the post-industrial age — their biological clock naturally guides them towards working in the hours they’re most productive.
These hours are known as biological peak time, and they’re different for everyone.
On a fundamental level, humans have a distinct “energy curve” that’s dictated by our circadian rhythms. There’s a large body of research outlining a pattern for the average human:
To start the day it takes a few hours to reach peak levels of alertness and energy
After lunch/noon, those levels begin to decline, plateauing at 3pm
Alertness starts increasing again until hitting a second peak at 6pm
Alertness declines again for the rest of the evening all the way until 3:30am.
Energy levels start rising again for the rest of the morning until noon again the next day
Before even getting into individual differences, it’s painfully obvious why the modern 9-to-5 is so unproductive — some of our most productive hours are spent either sleeping or commuting home from work.
These are general trends, however — they’re rather high level, and represent the average. On an individual, day-to-day basis, your energy levels might be diametrically opposite to the norm. Your own biological peak time is affected by circadian rhythms, but it’s also influenced by your environment — your diet, your exposure to different types of light at different parts of the day, the level of stress in your work, etc.
Needless to say, one of the most important “biohacks” you can do to improve your productivity is to identify the periods of the day where your body and mind and truly ticking and schedule your most important work around those times.
There are 2 ways to identify your biological peak time.
The hard way
The hard way is what I like to call a “productivity audit”.
First, figure out some way to quantify your “flow”. The easiest I’ve found is to assign a subjective measure of your current energy levels on a scale of 1–10. Some people like to break it down into energy, focus & motivation.
Now, every hour and every day, chart those results. Don’t look at past results while charting to bias yourselves, just give an honest accounting of how focused, energetic & productive you currently feel.
Run this audit for 3–4 weeks. While some people cut off all caffeine, alcohol, alarm clocks, etc. to get their “natural peak time”, I find that that’s not really helpful — for a lot of people, it’s not realistic to completely abandon those things anyway, so you’re better off determining your peak times given your normal routine.
After completing your audit, aggregate the results, and you’ll start noticing patterns. It won’t necessarily be a sharp spike every day (although for some people it is) — the more common pattern I notice is the camel-pattern of 2 local maxima of productivity throughout the day.
The easier way
Alright, here’s my shameless plug — I got so tired of running these audits for my clients month after month I decided to come up with a smarter strategy. As it turns out, your Biological Peak Time isn’t just the period where you’re more productive at banging away at spreadsheets — it’s when your entire presence, body and mind are operating at a more effective and energetic function.
It stands to reason, then, that your performance on very mundane tasks should also improve, correct?
So, I thought of the simplest possible test of energy and responsiveness and tested it out on myself, my team and my clients: tapping your fingers.
As it turns out, the theory was correct. During biological peak times, your efficiency in virtually everything increases, and it’s particularly potent in simple react-response activities. So, I built an app that takes advantage of this principle.
All it takes is tapping your phone a few times throughout the day, and the app will identify when your peak times are. Instead of spending 3–4 weeks in an audit, you can start being more productive within a day — and it’s free.
Now, if you’re really serious about it, you should use both of these strategies. Combine the app data with an actual full-scale audit and you’ll be surprised how accurate you can pinpoint your productivity peak — for some people I’ve worked with, they’re able to identify their productivity periods down to the nearest 30 minutes.
The bottom line
Knowing your Biological Peak Times doesn’t mean cramming in more and more work into fewer and fewer hours. While it can certainly be used for increasing your sheer throughput, I find the real advantage comes in just being able to take parts of my life back.
Once I identified my peak times, I reorganized my professional life around those hours. Now I can spend less time doing the same work I used to do, while relegating my unproductive hours where it matters most — to my family and loved ones, who bring the most value to my life.
It’s less doing, after all.