I was chatting with my friend Steve, who is a time-management guru, about the new MoeGreenbacks blog. When I shared with him that many of my readers are working full-time jobs as well as trying to start companies or side-hustles, he said: “that’s the exciting place where entrepreneurship intersects with time management and productivity.” I was thrilled when he offered to share some tips that’s he’s picked up during his decade-long deep dive into time management.
The Power of the Circadian Rhythm
Many people dream about making more money by taking on a side project. There are lots of great ideas out there. But for a dream to turn into a plan that turns into reality, you also need time, and that’s something there is never enough of. There are lots of experts who will talk about techniques for getting more done in a day by doing things like tracking and prioritizing tasks but seldom do people talk about the power and the weakness of the circadian rhythm – your personal internal clock. But once you understand it, you will be in a far better position to make real progress.
Why? Because our “time” is not constant. We are led to believe that as human beings we maintain a uniform level of energy from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep. But nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, we ride an energy roller-coaster, with our blood chemistry rising and falling in conjunction with hunger, fullness, stress, relaxation, energy, and fatigue.
For example, most people – eight out of ten – feel more energized in the mornings than in the afternoon. Many feel a drop in energy and focus in the middle of the afternoon, which makes perfect sense because part of the circadian rhythm echoes the deep sleep period of the night before. That’s why so many personal time management plans fail. They count on a level playing field that just isn’t there.
So, let’s look at a few ways that understanding your circadian rhythm will help make your side hustle dream a reality more quickly. In this post, we’ll look at the evening. In follow-up posts, we will look at what you can do during the rest of the work day, as well as the power and achievement that comes from regular repetition.
The odds are, much of your day is already full. That’s why you are doing this on the side. But a side project really needs daily attention. It’s likely not going to blossom if you can only give it one hour every second Sunday. So that means regular work is needed, either in the evening or the early morning.
Push Sleepiness Away for One Hour
The problem? Evening work can be sabotaged by your circadian rhythm. When it is left to its own devices it will start getting you ready for sleep. That’s what it is supposed to do. As the sun sets and dusk turns into darkness, your body releases a hormone, melatonin, into your bloodstream. This is the hormone that helps make sleep happen. As you go about your evening activities – finishing dinner, watching TV, the effects of melatonin start to become noticeable. It becomes increasingly difficult to focus or even motivate yourself to take on those demanding skills required to build your side business.
But don’t reach for the Red Bull just yet! You can overcome this naturally. Here’s how: Assign a space for your work that is dedicated to working on your dream. It does not have to be isolated from the rest of the house and family – you don’t have to go and hide in the garage – but it must be a place where you can shine a normal amount of 60-watt light onto your workspace; a place where you can use headphones to listen to “study music,” the kind that blocks out the TV, but does not distract; a place where you can sit up straight and not succumb to slouching (yes, your mother was right).
Set a Finite Time Goal: 60 minutes
Next, set that window up in your head. Promise yourself that this work period will be 60 minutes only. Show your brain and body that this is a finite, manageable time block. This is really powerful. Personal motivation is so much easier when you know when the effort will be over when you can relax. Think about high school gym class for a moment. If the coach tells you to run 5 laps around the field, you know how much that is. You know how much energy you will need to pull together to get through it. But if the coach just says, “start running until I tell you to stop,” you won’t know how much energy to keep in reserve, and that’s stressful. When you set yourself a finite goal, your body responds with the right amount of energy.
Together, these activities will hold the effects of melatonin at bay, for a little while at least. And that’s all you need. An hour per night. This is never about burning the midnight oil. It’s about knowing that you have another hour of productivity in you before sleep sets in.
This short period, this final push before sleep, is something you can do naturally without stimulants. Work for an hour and then stop, regardless where you are in the project. When you do it this way, the melatonin process will resume as soon as you close off the hour. This, in turn, means you will still enjoy a healthy night’s sleep, and you can wake up tomorrow knowing you are one hour closer to your goal.
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Steve Prentice is an author and expert in effective time management. His company, the Bristall Group, delivers time management training, and Steve delivers humorous keynotes on time management and surviving the workplace. His books are available through ManhattanBay Media.