Have you ever felt that afternoon dip in productivity? Perhaps you thought it’s a food coma or I need some coffee. It’s actually more complex than that and it happens to almost everyone in the afternoon. It’s all about the cognitive abilities of our minds.

The it’s the afternoon and I’m tired feeling is a crossover of two different biological systems: the circadian system and the sleep debt system. The circadian system climbs upward all day long, which is what makes you more alert, focused, and ready to get productive work done. This system, of course, drops sharply when you’re going to bed. The sleep debt, for most of us, starts in the early afternoon. It’s the dip after you’ve been in a circadian rhythm.

If you typically wake up in the morning and get started with work at 8:00 AM or 9:00 AM, there’s no way to avoid this.

So how can you get the most effectiveness out of your morning?

Get To Sleep!

One of the best things you can do to be more effective in the mornings is to get to sleep at a reasonable hour and be careful with what you do that night. Everyone says that their day starts in the morning, but their day actually starts the night before. Whatever you’re doing the night before, whether it’s drinking with friends, staying up late, eating a ton of junk food, all impacts you the next day.

Your day starts the night before.

You want to ensure that you get between 6-8 hours per sleep each night. Oxford has proven that if you sleep 5 hours or less per night, it’s the equivalent of being drunk or tipsy. Your mind is altered because it didn’t get enough rest. It can cause a lack of empathy, processing information, ability to handle people, become overly impulsive, and impaired thinking. Not the best attributes of an engineer.

Because of the lack of sleep, you feel foggy all day. Why does this happen?

Your prefrontal cortex cannot gain the ability to have your mind come into focus because of the lack of resources it has available. Think of your prefrontal cortex like a CEO – it keeps things in your brain running. Without it, your brain is like a racquetball court.

Sleep 6-8 hours per night and ensure they’re quality hours.

Waking Up Early

As you learned in the opening paragraphs of this blog post, all humans have a circadian system that climbs upward all day, but what goes up must come down. At some point in the early afternoon, you’ll become a bit foggy, tired, and essentially working at 60-70% capacity. Because of that, it only makes sense to get your cognitively demanding work done in the morning, but what does morning mean?

Not everyone wants to be part of the 5:00 AM club, but you should try it. If you go to bed at a reasonable time, say, between 9:00 PM and 11:00 PM, that means you’re getting 6-8 hours of sleep if you wake up at 5:00 AM, which is all you need. At that point, you can do morning activities like go to the gym (which is phenomenal for focus, energy, and productivity), take the dog out, pack school lunches, all of the things you’d be running around for and getting stressed out about in the morning because of the lack of time. Once you get all of that done, it’s maybe 7:00-7:30 AM and you have a solid 6-7 hours before the circadian system begins to go down.

That’s a lot of time to stay focused, be productive, and put out the quality work you want.

Keep Good Habits

The last bit, and perhaps one of the most important, is to keep good habits. Habits are the lifeline of everything we do, good and bad.

Going to the gym makes us feel better, and in turn, we’re more productive throughout the day.

Donuts make us want to lay on the couch and binge Netflix.

The ability to not only create good habits but to keep them going is absolutely crucial to success.

Think about when you go into a dark room, what do you do? You turn on the light. That’s simply a habit that’s ingrained into your mind. All habits can be ingrained just like that.

Below is a list of good habits that you should try doing for a more productive day.

  • Go to the gym
  • Eat better and fewer carbs
  • Be active
  • Stay focused (no distractions while working)
  • Clean room/office and desk
  • Keep the morning for your more cognitively demanding work

Keep good habits and in turn you’ll be rewarded as an effective engineer.

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