The Rhythm Method of True Productivity

by Annie

in motivate schmotivate, ruthless productivity

Image of woman in slippers and work dress, hair in curlers, working on computer

No, not THAT kind of rhythm method — that’s a whole ‘nother kind of creative productivity, if you get what I’m saying, and I think you do.

Energy Ebbs and Flows

During any given day, your perceived energy level is going to increase and decrease over the course of the day. That much isn’t news to anyone, I’m guessing.

What might be news, however, is that there are different kinds of energy.

There’s creative energy — the energy that writers, artists, choreographers, composers are familiar with, the force that fuels the creation of stuff. (It’s not just for artists, though — creative energy can be put into engineering, coding, high-level mathematics … )

There’s also physical energy — the force that fuels your workout or physical labor.

There’s intellectual energy — what you use to learn new skills or subjects.

And then there’s something I’ll call repetitive task energy, for lack of a more elegant term. It’s a less complex kind of energy that’s great for somewhat mindless tasks — things that you repeat over and over without much thought.

And when most people complain about not having enough “energy,” then unless they’re suffering from physical illness, are under the influence of various kinds of medication with sedation effects, or are suffering from a fairly significant case of sleep deprivation, they’re really talking about a misalignment of task + energy. 

They’re trying to write copy for a website when their creative energy is in a slump (but their repetitive task energy is on the rise).

Or they’re struggling to keep in the hoops game when their physical energy is fading (but their creative energy might be peaking).

Like that.

And when you’re familiar with your particular ebb/flow patterns, you can use those energies to maximum efficiency. In short: you can rock your productivity like nobody’s business, turbo-charging each task and getting it all done in record time, with the least amount of effort.

Tracking the Rhythms of Your Energies

The first step to using your own energy flows to maximum efficiency is to track the way they naturally increase and decrease over a period of time. There’s no hard and fast rule about this, but in my experience, two weeks of information provides a decent sample.

The way you do this completely depends on you. Something as simple as one of those $1 wire-bound pocket notebooks and a pencil will do just fine. Or you can get creative and use charts or a text file.

Periodically, check in with yourself — this should take only a few seconds — and rate how much energy you feel in each category. If you’re working on a creative task and really feeling the flow, mark yourself at a 9 or 10; if the thought of doing 100 jumping jacks right then and there makes you feel vaguely nauseated, rate it a 2 or 3.

The trick is to do this consistently over time. You can do it hourly, if you can remember to do the check-in that frequently. Every two or three hours should be fine, though.

Tip: Set a simple timer to go off every hour. You can use a calendaring app to do this as well: just set up a recurring appointment that lasts 1 minute every one or two hours, with a pop-up alert or reminder.

After you’ve collected two or so weeks’ worth of information, you should be able to discern some patterns. You’ll probably find there’s a three or four hour block of time that recurs daily in which your creative energies are at a peak; a two or so hour period of time where your physical energies are at their highest; an hour or so for repetitive task energy; and a few hours for peak intellectual energy.

Use Your Energies to Schedule Recurring Tasks

Once you know what and where your peak periods of energy are for each category, you can use a concept called chunking to schedule those tasks appropriately.

Chunking is a really basic but incredibly powerful task management method that, when implemented consistently and in conjunction with your peak energy periods, can super-charge your productivity. There’s nothing magical about it, to be sure. You simply group like tasks together.

For instance: I chunk email tasks in three half-hour groups every day. You could chunk all your blog writing or content creation work together. Or you could create a chunk for phone calls.

Chunk your recurring tasks in the peak period for the appropriate energy, and you’re basically hitting the turbo button. It costs you nothing in terms of effort or money or focus, yet it pays off impressive dividends. That’s what we call a no-brainer, kids.

Dealing With Off-Peak Tasks

But sometimes you can’t schedule your stuff at the right time. You might have to take someone else’s schedule into account, or maybe a client’s in a different time zone. Or you feel most creative late at night, but you have to get up early with the kids.

Don’t just discard the whole notion. Simply knowing the times when your energies are most likely to peak — and just as crucially, knowing when they’re gonna bottom out on you — is powerful info. And you can also artificially tweak your energy levels, to some extent.

If you have several weeks, you can develop a trigger — a relatively uncommon word, phrase, scent, or action that connects in your brain to a certain kind of task. Gaming yourself like this is troublingly simple. Scents are particularly powerful triggers. Natural essential oils are really good for this purpose, actually. Pick one that’s pleasantly energizing for you and keep a small vial on hand. Take a whiff — do the task — take a few more whiffs while you’re performing the task — lather, rinse, repeat. Over the course of a few weeks, your brain will start to associate the scent with the task in question, and — even better — the associated energy level will rise a bit, too.

You can also use positive self talk to increase your energy levels. Basically, this is the psych-up — familiar to every person who’s ever tried to work up the courage to ask out the hot guy or babe on a date. Only this time, the hot guy is actually the off-energy task — or maybe it’s the energy you need … I don’t know, anyway, it works. It works even better when you couple it with light physical activity — jumping jacks, jogging in place, a little electric boogaloo around the living room.

You won’t get a super-charge of energy using these methods, mind you, but they should give you a little extra boost to get the job done.

Powerful Tools for Productivity

Being aware of  and consciously using your ebbing/flowing levels of the various kinds of energy won’t suddenly conquer procrastination, overwhelm, or other productivity killers. It can, however, kickstart the feeling of “flow” or purposeful alignment that makes many tasks much more pleasant and makes you much more time- and energy-efficient.



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