In life, timing is everything. And perhaps nothing illustrates that more than the field of chronobiology.
Chronobiology is dedicated to trying to figure out biological rhythms as they relate to psychology and productivity.
Breaking Down the Field of Chronobiology
Productivity is big business. There are books and seminars aimed at helping everyone unlock their productivity and find motivation so they can reach their full potential. What chronobiology can do is help us understand the patterns relating to our productivity. It shows that there are periods of peak brain function every day, and times when we’re working with our lowest brain function.
Understanding your chronotype can help you determine when you’re most likely to be productive. By figuring that out and doing your tasks or work at a time when you’re likely to rock them, you can reach your fullest potential in terms of engagement, creativity, and focus.
What Is a Chronotype?
Have you ever heard of Type A personalities? It’s a label given to people who are driven and highly competitive.
A chronotype is similar to that type of label. Your chronotype is determined and labeled according to your natural biological rhythm. You can either be identified as a lark, which is a person who naturally likes to head to bed early in the evening and get up early in the morning, or an owl, which is someone who likes to go to sleep later at night and wake up later in the day.
Owls are slightly more common than larks. But in the middle of this territory, there are other categories, known as lark leaning or owl leaning. That means you have a little more gray territory -- you’re a bit of a mix between the two. Experts say, however, there are more lark leaners than owl leaners.
Other people may not be categorized as either type -- they fall into neutral territory.
To make things a little more confusing, some experts don’t use the examples of owls and larks. They divide the chronotypes into four animals -- wolf, lion, dolphin, and bear. This naming system was made popular by Dr. Michael Breus in his book, The Power of When.
He chose these animals because their circadian rhythms -- or sleep-wake cycles -- matched up best with each chronotype.
Of these four types, bears are the category more than half of the population falls under. This type follows a typical circadian rhythm, waking up in the morning and chugging along just fine until a mid-afternoon slump.
To help you classify your chronotype, here are the best sleep schedules and productivity times for each type.
- Bear: A sleep schedule of 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. works well, with a productivity window of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Lion: These early risers do well with a sleep schedule of 9:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., and have a productivity window of 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
- Wolf: The best sleep schedule for wolves appears to be 2 a.m. to 10 a.m., and they are most productive between 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
- Dolphins: Dolphins don’t have a universal sleep schedule that all of them do best on, but a good ballpark is midnight to 7 a.m. and productivity appears to be best around 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Since dolphins have a hard time turning off their overactive minds for sleep, experts suggest that they stop using devices like tablets and smartphones an hour before bed to avoid overstimulation.
How Can You Tell Your Chronotype?
For those who love taking quizzes, there is a questionnaire called morning-eveningness that you can take to determine your chronotype under the lark or owl scenario.
If you don’t relish the idea of adding a quiz to your to-do list, you can use an alternative method of determining your type. Envision that your days are free. If they were, what time would you arise and what time would you head to bed?
From there, you’ll calculate your midpoint of sleep. For example, if you’d go to bed at 10 p.m. and wake up at 6 a.m., your midpoint would be 2 a.m. That would be considered a lark.
According to the science of chronotypes, if your midpoint falls before 3:30 a.m., you’re a lark. Those who reach their midpoint after 5:30 a.m. would be owls. The others -- between 3:30 to 5:30 a.m. are in the middle ground.
Figuring Out Your Most Productive Time
Once you know your chronotype, you can rely on what we already know about energy levels to figure out your most productive times.
One thing scientists know about energy is that people usually have three stages. There is the peak, the time when your energy levels are the highest. Then there is the trough, which is your lower level of energy. The trough is followed by a recovery phase.
For most people, the peak is fairly early on a day-to-day basis, the trough comes at midday, and recovery can be between afternoon and evening. Owls, however, hit all these phases later in the day.
To take full advantage of your most productive, energetic moments, you should plan work or activities that take a lot of concentration or attention to detail fairly early in the day if you’re a lark, while owls might benefit from putting this work off until the late afternoon or evening.
During the trough period of your day, you should do the grunt work -- those tasks that don’t require a lot of focus but still have to be done. That could include paying bills, answering emails, and sending out those links for Zoom meetings. That kind of work is perfect for when your mood and energy levels plummet. You’re still getting stuff done, but you don’t have to be at the top of your game for it.
The recovery phase is the time to do work that requires insight, such as brainstorming sessions. For larks, that will be during late afternoon to early evening.