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Using Your Biological Clock to Design Your Career
Do you know your Chronotype? How do you figure it out and use it to your advantage? Are you feeling sluggish or demotivated when it comes to your job search? Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl or, like most us, somewhere in between, you’ve got an internal biological clock that is affecting your life. Learning about your internal biological clock can help you in your search for a new career. For instance, when is the best time for working on your resume, networking or using online tools for support and information?
Scientists, for nearly three decades, have established that all living things-from a single cell organism living in a pond to a multicellular organism living in a subdivision-possess an internal biological clock. The internal timekeepers govern a collection of what are known as circadian rhythms that create the daily back beat of every living creature.
From its infancy, back in the eighteenth century, a new science has emerged which studies the circadian rhythms. It is known as chronobiology.
Chronobiologists and other researchers began looking at the physiological aspects of our biological clocks and have now expanded to include emotions and behaviors. This research has led to the discovery of time-based patterns which affect how we perform and feel and how we can more effectively design our daily lives.
In 2006, Daniel Kaheman and Alan Krueger created the Day Reconstruction Method (DRM). The DRM method had participants rate their previous day based on recollections divided up into sections, likening each section as if it were an approximately two-hour block of time, like a film. They surveyed over 900 American women of all races, ages, education and background. What they discovered was over the course of the day there were persistent patterns.
The participant’s mood rose in the morning hours until it reached an optimal point at around noon. Their mood then leveled off and declined in the early afternoon and began to rise again around five o’clock and rose to reach another optimal level at about seven in the evening.
This rise in the morning, peaking around noon then leveling off and decreasing from around two o’clock until 5 o’clock and then rising again to reach an optimal mood around seven o’clock was also discovered by researchers who used computer algorithms to study the positive and negative language on Twitter worldwide.
In addition, three universities conducted a survey of 26,000 earnings calls for 2,100 publicly traded phone calls. An earning call is one where a CEO reports quarterly on the earnings for his or her company. Keep in mind these CEOs know that a wrong word or statement could send their stock on a downward spiral and, yet, the research found the same pattern. A rise in positive language until about noon, a leveling off and then a spiral into negative language from the 2:00 o’clock period until the market closed at 5:00 o’clock.
Daniel H. Pink describes in his book “When” that “[f]or most of us, mood follows a common pattern: peak, trough and recovery. Further research found that analytical tasks that require sharpness and focus should be done in the morning, for most, and tasks that require insight and creative work should happen in the afternoon hours when those abilities are at an individual’s peak.
Notice I used the words “for most” because for about 20-25% of the population their cerebral functions act in the opposite direction. They have the pattern: recovery, trough and then peak. Understanding your energy patterns can help determine the best times for different tasks in your new career design.
The population is divided into larks, owls and, what most of us are; early birds. The category you fall into is known as your chronotype. Those who follow the morning rise, afternoon decline and rise again of their positive moods are larks and early birds. They follow the traditional peak-trough-recovery cycle while owls experience recovery-trough-peak.
How can you figure out your chronotype? We will use Till Ronneberg’s research to determine it. To begin, consider a typical day off. What time do you wake up? When do you fall asleep? Now take the midpoint, halfway through, and take note of what time it is. For instance, if I usually go to sleep at 11:00 o’clock and wake up at 7:00 o’clock in the morning, my midpoint would be 4:00 am.
If your midpoint is between 1:00 am to 3:00 am, you are a lark. If your midpoint is between 3:30 am and 5:30 am, you are a early bird. And if your midpoint is between 6:00 am and 10:00am, you are an owl.
At least half your chronotype is made up of your genetics. The time you were born also plays a big role. People born in the Spring and Summer are more likely to be owls and people born in the Fall and Winter are more likely to be Larks. Your age also plays a substantial factor. Young children and people over 60 tend to be larks while teenagers tend to be owls and the rest of us are most likely to fall somewhere from lark to early bird to owl.
Once you know what type you are, you’ll be better able to hone your productivity at work, manage your relationships in a more satisfying way and make important decisions with more confidence and clarity. Knowing and understanding your chronotype can also help with your effort to design your right-fit career.
It doesn’t impact some things, it impacts everything.
There is the analytical work that relies on vigilance, sharpness and focus. Then there is the insight type of work which relies on thinking outside the box, creativity and invention of new ideas. These types of work directly correlate with your chronotype.
Your larks and early birds will do best with analytical work early in their work hours starting with the beginning of the morning and peaking around noon. These workers will also tend to do more creative work, or work requiring insight, in the afternoon when their analytical senses are waning. Owls are quite the opposite. They are more likely to be at their peak with their insight and creativity in the morning hours and excel at their analytical skills in the evening.
When you are working on a job search, or designing a new career, it’s best to perform analytic tasks like combing through job boards or LinkedIn searches during your peak analytic work performance time while tasks like resume writing or networking would be best during your peak insight and creativity period.
All this is very helpful information unless you are a bond attorney whose courtroom appearances tend to be in the morning and you are an owl. The reality is there are many of us who can’t pick and choose our schedules in our given line of work.
So, we do the next best thing and if we’re an owl who has court, or important meetings in the morning, we should prepare as much as possible the night before. This way we have the information we need to present along with the questions we should be asking. And, as far as answering questions goes, we would probably benefit greatly from repeating the question out loud before answering it.
Likewise, if we’re an accountant who crunches numbers, we might tell our boss that we work on these types of tasks best in the morning and it would benefit the company if we could finish that work early then attend staff meetings in the afternoon. Likewise, if you’re a lark or a early bird brainstorming sessions are best in the afternoon whereas an owl would do their best brainstorming in the morning hours.
Four tips for a better morning based on the latest research is:
Drink a glass of water when you wake up. It helps ease the dehydration that occurs in our bodies overnight, quells morning hunger and helps you wake up.
Don’t drink coffee immediately after waking up. It interferes with the body’s natural cortisol production and is best ingested 60-90 minutes after waking.
Soak up as much morning sun as possible. Exposing yourself to sunlight signals to your body to cease sleep hormones.
Schedule your talk therapy in the morning, Therapy sessions in the morning benefit from high cortisol levels when patients are more focused on advice given.
There are just a few more points I’d like to make about chronobiology and you and this involves the fun stuff: recess is not just good for the kids. Breaks are extremely important. Taking even short breaks every few hours, particularly when you can be outside in nature, can be a big energy and productivity boost.
And, contrary to the myth that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it turns out that actually it’s lunch who should be wielding that sword. Lunch breaks are critical and lunch breaks where you can get out of the office and socialize, for most, tend to be even better.
There you have it. You know the basics on chronobiology and how the current research relates to your individual chronotype. You’ve learned not only what your chronotype is but how to be the most productive at working on your job search, understanding better your energy levels in your relationships and how and when to take breaks to maximize your performance.
You, also, may be looking at the individuals in your personal and professional lives in a new way. Are they larks, early birds or owls? You have just enough information to do some amateur sleuthing on the side to, perhaps, uncover some of their tendencies too. Whichever bird you are, take this information, then take flight towards a bright future.
Action Items: Sign up for a seven-day free trial of My Career Design Studio and go to the Ideal Day section and fill out what an optimum daily schedule would look like, factoring in things like your chronotype. Then join our Facebook group and share what you found and how you’ll use this information in your career design process.