It’s your decision, of course, but I’d prefer you read this column after 10 p.m.
Because after 10 p.m. you are more likely to achieve the high-level cognition required to appreciate my brilliant writing style.
You didn’t know? Well, Mareike Wieth, an assistant professor of psychology science at Albion College, knows. Professor Wieth did a study on 428 students, and found that when it came to solving problems that required “novel thinking,” the students’ performance was best at non-peak times of the day, when they were tired.
No wonder you think my brilliant writing style stinks. You’ve been reading it too early.
Or so I recently learned from an important Sue Shellenbarger article in the Wall Street Journal. Titled “The Peak Time for Everything,” columnist Shellenbarger suggests that paying attention to your internal clock will allow you to “Pack More in a Day by Matching Tasks to the Body’s Energy.”
Forgetting for the moment that the only packing you want to do involves packing your bags for a six-month sabbatical on the Bulgarian Riviera, it does seem that the current methods for scheduling our overscheduled lives are not only unproductive and unpleasant, they are also unscientific.
For example, if we listened to science instead of our managers, we’d start to work at noon, when “working memory, alertness and concentration are at their peak.” So, perhaps you shouldn’t go to lunch at noon, or stagger back, half-comatose at 4 p.m. You are likely to miss your peak productive period, which for you would be from 11:58 a.m. to 12:03 p.m.
I’m serious. After midday, “the ability to focus and concentrate typically start to slide,” reports Robert Matchock, an associate professor of psychology at Penn State. “Most people are more easily distracted from noon to 4 p.m.”
This is very good news, indeed, and should be shared with your boss. By not coming back to the office until after the distractible hours, you are saving your company the expense of all the mistakes you would likely make if you were at your desk.
If you question whether it is worthwhile to turn your work life upside down to coordinate your schedule with your circadian rhythms, you should know that in addition to being more efficient, being out of sync with your body clock has been linked to problems such as diabetes, depression, dementia and obesity. (Of course, being out of sync with your manager’s circadian rhythms has been linked to such problems as unemployment.)
Determining the best schedule for you will require some self-observation. As you have probably noticed, the working world is divided between morning people and evening people. Invariably, these people are married to each other.
If you are a morning person, you’ll want to take advantage of the early hours to send emails. “6 a.m. messages are most likely to be read,” says social-media scientist Dan Zarrella. If early morning emails work best, consider how effective you will be if you schedule early morning meetings for 6 a.m., or even earlier. If your boss is not in the office before sunrise, go directly to his home, jimmy the lock and pound on the bedroom door. Once your manager understands that you are trying to maximize productivity, any momentary outrage at being woken up before dawn will quickly dissipate, as will any charges of breaking and entering.
Another critical body clock moment is 2 p.m., which consultant Martin Moore-Ede considers “a good time for a nap.” Including a 2 p.m. nap in your schedule could be difficult, but you could consider moving your 10 a.m. nap to 11 p.m., and shifting your 11 p.m. nap to 2 p.m., which might conflict with your 3 p.m. nap, but if it will help you be more productive, who are you to argue with science?
A final and important scheduling question concerns the best time to eat. Shellenbarger reports that scientists put two groups of rats on the same high-calorie diet. One group could eat anytime, while the other could eat only during an eight-hour period when they were normally awake and active. This seems like a pretty pathetic enterprise, but the results showed that the rats that ate only when they were active “were 40 percent leaner and had lower cholesterol and blood sugar.”
I suspect they were also highly resentful and disgruntled, and spent their days gossiping about the fat rats who could eat anytime. Be honest now — isn’t that what the fat rats in your office would do?
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.