I want to get the most out of my day. For my startup, but also for my family (I have a 1.5 years old adorable little boy) and for myself (mostly by doing sports and sleeping sufficiently). I tried to cram as much in my day as possible while still spending at least 30 minutes per day on sports and sleeping 6.5 — 7 hours a night. In the past I also tried to gain more time by reduce sleep to 5–6 hours. This somewhat worked in terms of time available and I could still be productive, but things stopped being fun. I lost my humour. The book When inspired me to try a different, data-driven approach.

Same hours — more result

The approach is not about cutting sleep and not about outsourcing tasks. Outsourcing and automation is good, but it does not always apply, e.g. when you want to spend time with your son or girlfriend. Instead I started to monitor myself. Every 90 minutes of each day over the course of 3 weeks I evaluated my physical condition and mental alertness on a scale of 1 to 10. I also took notes on eating, breaks, being outdoors, drinking caffein and doing sports.

I love to have data but I do hate self-tracking by manually taking notes, so this was challenging. The main goal was to find my circadian rhythm. After 3 weeks I sat down to evaluate the result. While the data looked messy when looking at the different cycles at the same time, there was a very clear overall pattern throughout the day.

Some of the data series not aggregated
All data points aggregated by number of measurement (instead of daytime), “1” stands for “first record of the day” (0 minutes after getting up), “2” is 90 minutes after getting up etc.

Consequences of three weeks self-monitoring

This little experiment was very helpful for me. Not because all insights were surprising. Everybody expects to feel a little down after lunch. But what really helped was knowing the details, for example the fact that my low point is not after lunch but only after 4.30 pm or about 11 hours after waking up.

My low point is not after lunch but exactly 11 hours after waking up

Timing of highs and lows

The curve of how alert I felt changed depending on when I got up in the morning. But the overall sequence of highs and lows was almost always the same. The strongest high is in the morning approx 1.5–3 hours after getting up and lasts about 2–3 hours. Followed by the first trough, which lasts for about an hour. The second trough hits a lot later than expected: Not after lunch but at 4.30 pm, consistently 10–11 hours after I got up. After this the second high follows between 6.00 to 7.30pm, but it was less strong than the first one.

Safeguard the highest high and focus

The time starting 1.5 hours after getting up is now sacred to me. I felt so much better during this time than the rest of the day that this is the perfect time to do challenging, interesting and complex things that require a good mood and motivation. Even though I don’t realise it each day doing the same tasks at a different time with less energy causes my to needing a lot more time for these.

I avoid doing emails or other boring things during this time. And I reduce interruptions as much as I can. Reading and responding usually does not speed but depending on how I feel and it is also a waste of good energy.

Phone calls are a different story, though. Going by the book “When” I mentioned above, the fact that the highest high is in the morning is a very universally common phenomenon. So when I have to do phone calls for which I need other people to agree on something with me (e.g. selling them our product), the high level of energy and good mine (mine and others) helps a lot being more successful.

Shortening the time “getting high”

I am not yet sure how this will affect the duration of the high, but I learned that I can shorten the ramp up time by doing sports in the morning. Actually doing sports boost my overall feeling across the day so the earlier I do it, the more I get out of this effect. Usually I am not a morning-sports person, but this insight helps me getting over this.

Actively planning with my rhythm

Before this experiment I never actively planned my day by my mental alertness. It was just too fuzzy. Luckily the data shows me that my condition throughout the day is so consistent that it is easy to plan with it.

The data shows me that my condition throughout the day is so consistent that it is easy to plan with

For example I usually spend the first hour after he wakes up with my son before my girlfriend takes over. I try to get up so that I can 30 minutes of sports before he wakes. Then I will be at my best when I start working. I also try to plan the major thing for my focus time so that I can jump right into it without needing to organise myself.

Dealing with the lows

Lows may still be good to do boring work, but the afternoon slot is really not useful at all. I will try to shorten this low by strategic napping. Until then I also like to go outdoors, going for a walk or doing something for fun, e.g. spending time with my son or calling a friend.

The morning is always better

No matter how good or unfit I feel on a day, the morning time is always the best compared to the rest of the day. When I have to do chores like going to a doctor for a regular examination, buying groceries etc. these are now banned from the morning forever.

Is that all?

I don’t believe in magic bullets and tricks to make you X times more productive with a simple trick. But I strongly believe in consistent small changes that give you a few percent with each thing you change. With my self-observation I now have a good baseline of data to run additional experiments. The next thing I will try is to do a nap in the afternoon in order to reduce the second trough. After this I will check if a 20 minutes nap will enable me to shorten my night sleep a bit without feeling bad.

For you to try

If you also want to self monitor (I recommend it), here are a few things I learned that may help you

  • Keep it simple: After the experiment I really only used the times and figures for mental alertness. Physical was no real difference and the break times were too hard to evaluate in such a short period
  • Evaluate your results not by the hour you took it but by the number of the measurement (1st measure of the day, 2nd measure of the day) so that you don’t mess up your result by getting up later
  • If you care about work skip weekends because your changed activity may require different evaluation
  • Make it quick: Measuring is annoying, so 2–3 weeks should suffice for first insights. When you apply them you can always run another experiment

Reading Tips

If you want to get more out of your date and you are also interested in other methods than just timing I can recommend The 4 Hour Work Week and How to be a capitalist without any capital. Bot books look primarily and input-output and automation methods.

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