Fast and free shipping on orders over $180
Shopping Cart

Want to Work Smarter? Manage Energy Instead of Time

By Rebecca Kesner

"There just aren't enough hours in the day," she said.

And so that. Was that.

We know the sentiment behind it: there's too much to do, and not enough time to do it.

But can you imagine saying that to your boss? It's not a very 'solutions-based' approach.

And in the absence of being able to contact 'Earth HQ'. And politely ask if it wouldn't mind just slowing down on that next rotation. We need to think of some solutions.

"Work smarter not harder" is a favorite.

If we can optimize the systems and technologies we use, we can get more done. So we use apps to keep us on track, maximize efficiencies and help us get the most from our day.

The machine-centered approach.

Except we're not machines.

If you've ever bought a piece of home gym equipment in a bid to make fitness more convenient. And you're now using it as a clothes airer, you know what we're saying.

It's not equipment we need, it's energy.

When it comes to productivity, even the best app, won't directly boost your productivity. Productivity requires your input. Your brain. Your energy.

If we want to get the best results, energy is where it's at.

Time is fixed. Energy is not.

How Energy Oscillates

How Energy Oscillates

Have you ever noticed a pattern in your energy?

In the morning, we feel energized. We're on a roll, we've achieved a state of flow. So rather than take a break, we ride that wave and push through with the aim of: Getting. Stuff. Done.

But by 3pm, we're starting to flag. We feel distracted. We need coffee, and we start looking for little dopamine boosts on our phone. And once we disappear down that energy sapping wormhole, we're well and truly slumped.

Next step: Beat yourself up about it.

Feel bad about this loss of energy and berate yourself for: Not. Getting. Stuff. Done.

But all of this is completely natural.

Those lulls we feel in our energy, that's our body working exactly as it should. Energy comes in peaks and troughs. And that, is our ultradian rhythm.

Ultradian Rhythms: Peaks and Troughs

Ultradian Rhythms: Peaks and Troughs

Ultradian refers to a rhythm or cycle shorter than a day, but longer than an hour.

In the same way a circadian rhythm determines our natural sleep schedule. Ultradian rhythms are shorter cycles that govern fluctuations in energy, focus and productivity. Humans are designed to pulse between exerting, and renewing energy. Roughly every 90-120 minutes. The peaks and troughs we feel throughout the day are natural, and most importantly, shouldn't be ignored.

What Happens to Our Body During an Ultradian Rhythm?

When we hit that first initial flow state, our brain and body rapidly consume oxygen and glucose. Approximately 90 minutes in, we reach the pinnacle: Ultradian Performance Peak.

Beyond this first 90 minutes of intense effort, that high frequency brain activity starts to take a physical toll:

Increased Production of Metabolic Waste: As cells burn glucose for energy, they produce waste products such as carbon dioxide and water. Additionally, the breakdown of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the molecule that provides energy for cellular activities, results in the accumulation of ADP (adenosine diphosphate) and inorganic phosphate. Which can also be considered metabolic byproducts.

One study suggests that intense cognitive work throughout the day can lead to a buildup of glutamate in the synapses, which is associated with mental fatigue. Glutamate is a critical neurotransmitter for brain function, but its excessive accumulation can lead to feelings of tiredness and decreased cognitive performance. (1)

Oxidative Stress: The increased metabolic activity leads to higher levels of oxidative stress. This is because the process of energy production in mitochondria (the cell's powerhouses) involves the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen. While ROS are a normal part of cellular processes, excessive amounts can damage cells, leading to oxidative stress.

Neurotransmitter Depletion: High levels of mental activity can deplete neurotransmitters, the chemicals that transmit signals in the brain. For example, intense cognitive tasks can reduce levels of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, leading to feelings of fatigue, decreased mood, and reduced cognitive function.

You see, whilst we're at the front end, high-fiving ourselves for burning through our to-do list. Underneath it all, our brains are crying out for a break.

This build-up of mental exertion, if not addressed, triggers a stress response. Which is why 90-120 minutes later, we start struggling to maintain concentration, get distracted and reach for the caffeine.

This is the ultradian trough.

Our body is telling us there are reparations to be done.

What Happens When We Take a Break?

What Happens When We Take a Break?

We know that energy isn't finite. It can be expanded, renewed, and conserved. Energy isn't constant and it's not linear.

But it does need replenishing.

And that's where taking breaks is hugely important. It allows time for the ultradian healing response to take place.

Just how sleep is a time for our body and brain to perform essential maintenance. These shorter periods of recovery allow the same thing to happen for our energy levels.

20 minutes is just enough time for our brain's 'housekeeping troops' to perform the clean-up job necessary for continued peak productivity.

A flurry of activity takes place: detoxification, refueling, reparations and maintenance tasks are all carried out. The result: A reset in energy levels.

An athlete knows the importance of recovery periods for muscles. And just as athletes push themselves past their limits to improve and build. Our energy levels can expand too.

You must expend to expand.

Much like pushing our limits enhances muscle and fitness levels, challenging our energy boundaries also boosts our energy capacity.

But the key is to replenish.

It's only when we manage the cycle of expending and replenishing, that we increase the amount of energy we have. Otherwise, it just leads to burnout.

Five Strategies for Energy Management

Five Strategies for Energy Management

We know what you're thinking, "Please don't tell me to spend 20 minutes meditating every hour. I don't think my boss will allow it."

We hear you.

There's a lot of advice out there that sadly isn't practical for many workplaces.

But we do need to take brain breaks.

So how do we do that?

1. Keep a Diary of Your Energy Cycle

We'd guess that most people feel their foggiest in the afternoon. But we're all different. So keeping a diary of your ups and downs is a great place to start.

2. Get Your Priorities Straight

If you're most productive in the morning, answer emails, make your to-do list. Get your head straight with what the priority is for that day.

Prioritize tasks that require focus and creativity first. Those are the ones that require us to manage our mental energy. Stop short of feeling fatigued and go for a short walk. It's easier to pick back up when we've left on a high, than push through a slump.

If afternoons are not your high point, use PMs for planning, researching and collaboration. Working with others can energize us.

3. Look into Flexi-Time

Do you need to work 9-5?

Talk to the team about flexi-time. Not only will it mean you're working to your ultradian rhythm's strengths, but depending on your job, it might mean more efficient cover for your department as a whole.

For you, it means a slightly longer day, but with more breaks. For your employer it means the team's working hours can be spread across a longer period. Resulting in extended departmental coverage, better response times and a happier, more engaged workforce.

4. Eat to Refuel

Our brains consume about 20% of our body's energy. To maintain steady energy levels, choose foods and snacks that offer prolonged energy release. And aim to replenish every 3 hours. The goal is to avoid feeling hungry without becoming overly full. Opt for complex carbohydrates for lasting energy and incorporate healthy fats into your diet. Steer clear of refined sugars to prevent glucose spikes and the subsequent crashes in energy.

Certain natural supplements may offer long term benefits for your brain. Omega-3 fatty acids, phosphatidylserine, bacopa monnieri, and rhodiola rosea have all been linked with fighting fatigue, decreasing oxidative stress and reducing amyloid plaque build-up. Which all aid with the 'upkeep and maintenance' tasks required during the ultradian healing process. (2, 3, 4, 5)

5. Take the Break

If your workplace really does frown upon breaks, split your lunch hour into 3. Most places don't pay you for your lunch break. If this is you, then your lunch break is yours to take however you please. Talk to your manager about splitting it into three 20 minute breaks that are scheduled throughout the day. This way you get the reset you need without feeling like you're 'short-changing' anyone in the process.

There will always be times when we need to 'push through'. And for those moments, there's a lot we can do to ensure our brain is prepped, primed and ready. But as every great athlete will tell you, peak performance happens when work, effort, rest, and recovery are balanced.

When it comes to productivity, less can definitely mean more.

These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

This article is an opinion and explanation of current research given by the author. It is not an expression of a medical diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on as such.

The world's smartest brain supplement.

The world's smartest

Get limitless brainpower insights. Direct to your inbox.

Plus offers, discounts & early
access to sales.

Mind Lab Pro® - Facebook Icon Mind Lab Pro® - Instagram Icon Performance Lab® - LinkedIn Icon

© 2015 - 2024 Performance Lab USA Corp.
All Rights Reserved.
941 West Morse Boulevard, ste 100, Winter Park, 32789, United States

B Corp Certified

The statements on this page have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.