Scheduling Your Day with Natural Energy Patterns


Ryan Battles  •   Personal Growth

Scheduling Your Day

If you’re following along with the blog, you’ll know that this is week number three of my gainful unemployment. One of the biggest challenges that I’ve had to face this week is maintaining momentum, and knowing exactly what to work on. The former I handle through a mixture of Trello, Evernote, and Google Calendar. One of the biggest tricks however, is to maintain that momentum–To manage my energy throughout the day.

I have found that I have a new mixture of demands as I go out on my own:

  • Blog posts I want to read
  • Books I want to read
  • Podcasts I want to listen to
  • A family I want to enjoy time with
  • Home projects I can tackle
  • Applications that need built
  • Friends I’d like to meet with
  • A team that needs managed
  • Blog posts that need written
  • A body that needs exercised
  • Social media that I need to leverage
  • Emails, tweets, phone calls, SMS, interruptions, etc.

I can spend almost an entire day on any one of those tasks, even though that isn’t perhaps the best use of my time.

I am also discovering that certain parts of the day lend themselves to certain activities.

Early Morning (6:00 - 9:00)

The temptation here is to sleep in until I naturally wake up, then linger in bed, checking my phone, making a liesurely breakfast, playing with the kids. Some mornings, I need to plan to do just that.

However, the early morning is also the time I feel the most refreshed, the most thoughtful, and the most creative. There is something that happens to me when I leave the house early and hit my favorite French bakery for a cup of coffee. Being one of the first in the doors as they open, greeting my friends that work there, and cracking open my laptop as the sun pours in the open wooden shutters.

The early morning is my best time for reading blogs posts, reading books, writing blog posts, and personal journaling.

Mid Morning (9:00-10:00)

If I’ve spent the morning exercising my brain, I’m typically ready to head outside for a hike in the metroparks. This is also a great time to get outdoors because the morning dew is almost gone, but the cool of the day is still upon us.

If I’ve spent the morning reading, I might go without headphones on the walk just to digest the thoughts that I’ve swallowed during the morning time. If I spent the morning writing, I’m typically ready to have more content dumped into my head, so I listen to a podcast while I hike. This hike serves as a mental refresh before my next two hours before lunch, the late morning sprint.

The mid morning is my best time for getting some outdoor exercise in, and either reflecting on the morning’s readings, or taking in a podcast.

Late Morning (10:00-12:00)

This is the point in the day where I either make the decision to be productive, or I get de-railed by an unnessecary errand, spend too long engaging and following links on Twitter, or reply to emails that don’t necessarily need a reply right now. It’s where I have to make chose the important task, not the urgent one.

If I don’t have a task goal for this time I typically don’t sit down at my computer and knock anything out. I tell myself that it is too close to lunch, which I’ll break for anyway, or I’ll let myself believe that something that is in front of me is the most important task to do.

Discipline must prevail.

So, to make sure that I have a goal for this time, in my daily to-do planning I specifically assign a concrete task to this time, something that can be done in about two hours. I am still energized from the morning, the day is still new, and I’ve just refreshed my eyes from staring at my screen. Time to do so again for a little bit.

As far as location goes, I typically chose either a library or coffee shop between the metropark I spend my time in and my home. This cuts down on unnecessary travel, and by not going home right away, I don’t run the risk of cutting into this 2-hour block by interruptions at home.

The late morning is my best time to knock out a specific, 2-hour task on my computer before lunch.

Lunch (12:00 - 1:30)

If I’m being honest, I take about a 1.5 hour lunch. I have to factor in a recess, right? If I’m eating at home, I spend extra time with the kids before naps. If I’m meeting someone out, that time is easily taken up by driving.

The Mid Afternoon (1:30 - 3:00)

After lunch, I hit a lull. If I sit at my computer, my mind will wander into Twitter land, I’ll read article after article, or get caught-up in YouTube suggested videos. My mind just doesn’t rock it at this hour, so I have resolved not to force it.

This is the best time to do something away from my computer, like fix the toilet, organize the crawl-space, or run some errands. Errands rock at this time because you’ve beat the rush hour traffic, and you aren’t hungry, so there’s little temptation to buy unhealthy food or hit a drive-thru.

The mid afternoon is my best time for working on a household project, or running errands

The Late Afternoon (3:00 - 5:00)

Okay, errands done, home projects complete, two hours left in the work day (if you want to call it that, since mine typically involves grocery stores and looking for bald eagles, I guess it’s more accurately called “Productive Time” than a workday). I have found that about 3:00pm I get a second spurt of energy for the day, and I am motivated to finish projects before 5:00 hits. Again, this is a great time to have a specific task assigned to complete, but for me it is less important than the 10:00am slot because I actually am motivated to finish up the day with a bang.

I typically like to work this last sprint from home, instead of a coffee shop, so I don’t have to deal with 5:00 traffic heading home, or load up on caffeine so late in the day. If I’m lacking in energy, a little green tea paired with this playlist typically get’s me going.

The late afternoon is my best time for knocking out another specific, 2-hour task on my computer before the day is done.

Epilogue (5:00pm - Bed)

Obviously there is dinner and friend/family time going on after 5:00, but from a work standpoint, the beauty is that I have already accomplished 6 high-impact hours of work, ran a few errands or worked on something in the house, and about an hour of recreational exercise. My evening is now mine to do what I want with it without a feeling that I have to get something else done.

It is tempting to crack that laptop back open and work on some more of the stuff I truly do enjoy working on, but it is so important that I not do this, for my own situation, as it encourages me to ask my wife what I can do to help, how her day was, or doing something fun with the kids and/or neighbors.

So that’s my ideal schedule, and one that I can adhere to most days of the week since an emphasis is on playing off of the day’s natural flow, and my own natural energies and motivations.

What about you? Any tricks or activities that you’ve found are way easier to accomplish at a certain point during the day? I’d love to hear about them in the comments, as I’m continually learning what works and what doesn’t both for myself and others.