Wellness Tries: Working with Your Energy Levels

Lindsey Tries

Time Management: Working Based on Energy Levels

Each quarter, our wellness team tries and reviews a popular wellness trend. This quarter, we're trying time management strategies, and Lindsey is working based on her energy levels.

Headshot of Lindsey at the Garden of Hope next to a picture of her sitting on top of a rock overlooking a valley.

Ultradian Rhythms and Boost Breaks

Wellness Tries is a quarterly series in which members of the UF-UF Health Wellness Team try out different wellness trends. This quarter’s theme is time management.

This week’s time management strategies focus on working based on optimal energy levels and taking regular breaks to help with energy management.

How I Worked Before

Before starting this strategy, I worked on tasks and projects solely as time allowed. I was trying to squeeze things in where I could without giving much thought to how or when they would get done. The majority of my workday is spent in meetings so my time for responding to emails and especially working on big, multi-step projects is very limited. It was hard for me to transition immediately from a meeting into a big project.

What are Ultradian Rhythms and Boost Breaks?

Your body moves in rhythms throughout the day and night. While you are sleeping, this corresponds to the different stages of sleep. During waking hours, your body moves in waves of varying energy and alertness. For many people, these cycles, known as Ultradian Rhythms, can be around 90-120 minutes of prime performance followed by a period of recovery. It comes as no surprise that we are unable to sustain levels of high energy for extended periods without a mental break.

Graph representing Ultradian rhythms

Boost Breaks are short breaks throughout the day designed to help you re-energize and refocus. They could be a short burst of exercise, a social connection, doing a puzzle, meditating, having a snack, or anything that allows your mind an opportunity to recover from challenging tasks. In accordance with Ultradian Rhythms, Boost Breaks should be taken every 90-120 minutes to optimize energy levels and focus.

How Did It Go?

In order to find my most productive times throughout the day, I started tracking how I felt at regular intervals. I initially started with good old fashioned pen and paper, making notes about when I felt I was in a period of high productivity or more of a slump.

When I noticed that my numbers were starting to trend lower in Energy, Motivation, or Focus, I forced myself to take a Boost Break. Sometimes this was a stretch, a brief walk outside the perimeter of the building, or a chance to make a personal phone call or color on my mural. Allowing myself permission to take a break for a few minutes and shift my focus was very restorative and helped me return to my work with a renewed sense of purpose.

What I found during this tracking was that my most productive hours were at the beginning and end of the day. Most likely this is because these hours were less likely to be consumed with specific obligations and were blank space on the calendar that allowed me to focus on follow-ups and longer-term projects. My key hours started after I got settled in the morning until around 10:00 am, from around 3:30-5:00 pm, and the peak time where I felt most alert and productive and motivated was around 8:00 pm. I believe this late-night focused time was productive because I had a chance to go home, exercise, eat dinner, and then come back to it renewed and without as many distractions.

Will I Continue Following Ultradian Rhythms and Boost Breaks?

While I don’t anticipate continuing to track my most productive times hourly, I will probably do it a little longer to see if there are patterns that emerge on days when there are fewer meetings and interruptions. I will try to block some dedicated work time on my calendar at peak productivity hours to maximize efficiency.

I will definitely continue the Boost Breaks as these have been incredibly useful for me. I formerly had the mindset of working harder and longer to accomplish more, but I have found that incorporating intentional breaks during the day helps create more energy and attention to the tasks. When I am more engaged, the quality of my work is better. I am able to be more mindful of my responses and more thoughtful in my planning.

I would recommend this method of tracking peak productivity hours and to the extent possible, plan your day around them. Block time on your calendar for dedicated time to work on tasks or projects that require more intense focus or planning. Recognizing the times that you may tend to be in a slump will help you use those times for less mentally strenuous activities, combined with Boost Breaks.

I would also highly recommend Boost Breaks throughout the day. They can be scheduled or impromptu when you need a minute to collect your thoughts. They can even be as simple as a few deep breaths, taking a bathroom break, or a chance to refill your water cup. Allowing your brain time to rest will allow you to return to the task with renewed focus and energy.

Want resources to get you started? Check out the 45-minute Boost Presentation and the Boost Break resource page.